In episode 3 of The White Lotus’ second season, Harper Spiller (Aubrey Plaza) realises she’s underestimated her travel buddy Daphne Sullivan (Meghann Fahy). The unlikely duo, who have found themselves thrown together on holiday in Sicily with their husbands (former college roommates), are on a day trip away from their resort in the small town of Noto when Daphne reveals she pre-booked a night for them. and let her husband know last minute as a sort of power play on his FOMO. “I really want Cam to think that we just had so much fun that we wanted to stay,” she tells Harper as she treads water in the pool. Harper looks at her with a new appreciation as she states the obvious: Daphne’s playing games. “We both do it, it’s like hide-and-seek,” Daphne replies, “keeps things interesting.”
The implication is clear: Daphne has an edge. And she isn’t as oblivious and sickly sweet as she may have initially appeared. Up until this point, Daphne had been characterised as a run-of-the-mill stay-at-home mother and trophy wife, someone that Harper has looked down on. But this moment, albeit small, marks a change in their dynamic, which ebbs and flows from condescending to understanding, and provides one of the most interesting explorations of the season: the nuances of a female friendship.
For Aubrey Plaza, the relationship between Harper and Daphne was one of the things she was most excited about when she first read the script. Harper’s initial miscalculation of her fellow wife is so relatable to many adult relationships — and just relationships in general, she tells Refinery29. “It's so true that people sometimes make wild assumptions about other people and they make the mistake of judging the book by its cover,” Plaza says. “And I think that Harper is such an intelligent woman; she's an intelligent, kind of critical, judgmental person. So at first she is making a lot of assumptions about Daphne.”
“Female relationships are so complicated.This is a really, really juicy [relationship] because it just keeps changing. The pendulum swings back and forth."
Making friends is difficult at any age, but especially when you’re an adult. It’s hard building a friendship without a shared history or the familiarity of time and while navigating two very different personalities. For Plaza, having the couples be on vacation — entrapped in a five-star hotel — only heightens the forced familiarity. “Vacations really highlight who people really are, so it heightens the relationship because you're kind of stuck with each other,” Plaza says. “So you have to work it out. I love it.”
For Plaza, the forced proximity to Daphne brings up a lot for her character, primarily her own personal insecurities. “[Harper’s criticism is] coming from a place of quiet, almost jealousy in a way,” she says. Jealousy at Daphne’s affectionate relationship with her husband, the fact that she has kids, and her general happiness, even if those are all things Harper has made clear, at least on the surface, that she doesn’t necessarily need. Plaza points to a fight between Harper and Ethan (Will Sharpe) in episode 2, where the latter calls out his wife for her continued criticism of the couple and their “bogus” relationship, telling her: “You always do this with certain people, it’s like you have to find them deficient in some way compared to you.” According to Ethan, it’s a way to self-soothe when she feels threatened. Harper, of course, scoffs and denies that they — and Daphne — are a threat to her. But Plaza doesn’t buy it. “Maybe she believes that they're not, but I think deep down inside, it comes from a place [where] maybe she does feel threatened by someone that just seems like they have it all together,” she says.
Which can be a difficult reality to come to terms with, something we watch Harper do throughout the first several episodes of the season, as she fluctuates from talking down to Daphne to approaching her with an almost quiet admiration or at least understanding, something viewers see later when the women talk about the possibility of their husband’s — wealthy financial guys — cheating on them. When Harper asks Daphne if Cameron has ever cheated, she lets her in on a secret: “Maybe just once, that I know about.” But before Harper can pity her, Daphne makes sure to assert her own sense of power, telling her, “Don't feel bad for me. I figured out how to handle it…I do what I want, so I’m not resentful,” she says, emphasising, “I’m not a victim, that’s all I mean.”
“There's a real journey there for the two of them,” Meghann Fahey, who plays Daphne, tells Refinery29. “At the beginning, Daphne feels really eager to connect with Harper, and I think she can tell that Harper is less enthused about connecting with her. And then I do feel like once Harper sees that there's more to Daphne than meets the eye, I don't know that she ever really gets to a place where she thinks this is a woman that I want to be close to, but they both get to a place with each other where they they do have a better understanding of the way the other moves through the world.”
Which might be exactly what Harper is signaling —and adapting to — later in the season. Harper starts to emulate Daphne in many ways as she starts to unravel within her own marriage, both in her mentality and also in her clothing (trading in her flowy monochrome short sleeves for more glitzy Dolce & Gabbana-patterned bodysuits). As their marriages start to buckle around them, the pair almost band together as a way to survive. It’s kind of unexpected, but not entirely.
“Female relationships are so complicated,” Plaza says. “This is a really, really juicy [relationship] because it just keeps changing. The pendulum swings back and forth. There's no right or wrong, but they learn things from each other because they're so different and neither of them are better than the other.”
Part of what makes it so interesting to watch is the fact that explorations of these complicated relationships are still so rare to see on our TVs, at least in the context of women above the age of 21, or women who aren’t fighting over the same guy. (Films like 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, 2011’s Something Borrowed, and even this year’s Rosaline come to mind). “We're just so used to seeing female relationships be all centred about a guy or something like that,” Plaza says, “and we don't get to see females navigating friendships or two adult women that don't seem to go together, are kind of trying to be on vacation together.”
New episodes of The White Lotus drop Monday on NOWTV and Sky Atlantic.