One of the most confusing and dramatic combinations in the second season of “The White Lotus” were college friends Cameron and Ethan and their wives, Daphne and Harper. Ethan and Cameron were roommates in college. While Cameron was busy living up to the popular guy image, Ethan spent most of his college days cooped up in his room, working towards attaining his academic goals. Ethan’s focus and dedication resulted in his successful career. He had recently sold his company for an enormous amount of money, grabbing the attention of everyone in the business. Cameron was impressed by Ethan’s success and offered to have him, and his wife join them on their trip to Sicily. Clearly, Cameron had never met Harper, indicating that Ethan and Cameron might not have been the best of friends after college. But now that Ethan was successful, Cameron wanted to reconnect with his once-roommate. Cameron was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Daphne. Daphne was unrealistically cheerful, and their chemistry was textbook perfect. Meanwhile, Harper was a lawyer who did not mince words. Ethan and Harper’s relationship lacked intimacy, but they did not have space for pretense or dishonesty. They were the best of friends who confided in each other about every little detail of their lives.
Harper could not help but compare her marriage with that of Daphne and Cameron. While she was not envious of their public display of affection, she sometimes wondered if her marriage lacked excitement and sexual tension. From the moment she interacted with Cam and Daphne, she despised the couple. They were superficial and came from extreme privilege. They loved living in a bubble and watching only reality shows while steering clear of news channels. The reality was too raw for the couple, and why not? They could afford to live in an artificially happy world. Meanwhile, Harper and Ethan were not born into affluent families. They had to work their way up the ladder to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle they could afford now. As wealthy individuals, they worked for the upliftment of their community and families. They could not afford to be unbothered by what was happening around the world because they had seen the other side of life. Therefore, even after selling his company, Ethan was unaffected by it, or at least he had not completely lost his mind out of pride. He was still busy working and trying to reach his life goals. He did not care about the social aspect of becoming rich as much as Cameron did.
Not only was Cameron interested in Ethan as a business prospect, but he also wanted to introduce him to the lifestyle that came with becoming rich and popular. He never believed in monogamy, and he wanted to change Ethan’s idea of marriage. Ethan, on the other hand, could not imagine cheating on his wife. He wanted to protect the relationship he shared with Harper, but at the same time, he often overlooked the lack of intimacy in their marriage. His single-minded focus on the growth of his business was perhaps the reason why he was unconcerned about what his marriage lacked. Even when he was drunk and had two sex workers in the room, he could not imagine sleeping with them. He chose not to give in to the temptation to protect the sanctity of his marriage. Ethan clearly was not interested in other women, but Harper struggled to believe him once he confessed the truth to her. At one point, it seemed that Ethan might have been attracted to Cameron during his college years, and maybe they shared a secret, but the series refrained from toying with that idea. It rather seemed that there was an underlying jealousy, especially now that Ethan was successful.
Cameron enjoyed being the center of attention, and during college, he even dated every woman that Ethan showed interest in—a behavior that Ethan described as mimetic desire. Therefore, it only made sense for Cameron to show interest in Harper. He enjoyed being the troublemaker, even if that meant interfering in his friend’s marriage. For Cameron, it was always about getting what he wanted, and he wanted Harper only because she was married to Ethan. It was his way of showing that he could have gotten her if he truly wanted to—a typical way of exhibiting his dominance and power. Ethan knew what Cameron was after, and he was frustrated when Harper constantly lied to him. When she disclosed kissing Cam, Ethan was enraged and confronted him. Cameron felt a sense of achievement and simply laughed off Ethan’s anger.
Daphne was aware of her husband’s character, and she was not surprised to know about him and Harper. She preferred living in her bubble because she knew that finding the truth would only hurt her more. She had learned to live in the absence of her husband, but she could not stand when people sympathized with her situation. She wanted to believe that she, too, had control over her marriage and that she had ways to get back at him. Daphne loved the man she was married to, and even though he was unfaithful, she could not bring herself to leave him. Maybe she cheated on him, or maybe she wanted to believe that she could cheat on him if she ever desired to. No matter how cheerful Daphne seemed to be, there was always sadness in her eyes when she discussed her marriage. She knew that it was far from perfect; she was aware of how her husband cheated on her on a regular basis, and yet she preferred to live in denial. She would rather not confront Cameron and question his choices than watch her idea of a happy family fall apart. She was content knowing that her husband came home to her at the end of the day and that none of the women in his life could ever be as important as she was.
Maybe Ethan and Daphne shared a moment in Isola Bella, or maybe they developed a friendship over their mutual feeling of not wanting to be victims of life. But Daphne’s words of advice did help Ethan get past Harper and Cameron’s involvement with each other. While Harper had lost all hope in their marriage, Ethan revived the spark between them by making out with her. He established that he was not the victim of Harper’s infidelity; he had the authority to make their marriage work if he wanted to, and so he did. He could not let Cameron affect their marriage and destroy what he cherished. In some twisted way, they found a reason to express their love more than ever. While we do not know if Harper and Ethan’s marriage will work in the end, surely their relationship has changed with the turn of events. Ethan might turn a blind eye to Harper’s infidelity, just as Daphne did in her marriage. Seeking intimate pleasure outside their marriage might turn into a game for Harper and Ethan as well. Honestly, it is a toxic cycle considering that it all happens without the partner’s consent. Hopefully, Ethan and Harper will find better ways to keep their marriage exciting instead of emotionally damaging each other in the process.