Should We Be Worried About The Most Unassuming Character On The White Lotus?

Mike White has a knack for writing insidious men. From overly-flirtatious grandpa Bert (F. Murray Abraham) to casually unkind newlywed Greg (Jon Gries) to intimidating alpha male Cameron (Theo James), the Sicilian resort in "The White Lotus" season 2 is teeming with dudes who simply do not seem fun to be around. But in a sea of overtly and ambiguously bad men, there's also Ethan (Will Sharpe), Harper's (Aubrey Plaza) deferential husband whose only drama to date is that he doesn't seem to want to have sex with his wife.

Sharpe plays Ethan as a sort of low-key counterbalance to his wife's more obsessive, blunt personality, but Ethan also seems compelled to try to balance out the chaos of wealthy, vaguely amoral couple Cameron and Daphne (Meghann Fahy), too. He's a peacemaker, the kind of person who hears his old college roommate propose insider trading and responds with a smile and a non-sentence: "I'm sorry, I wasn't, you know." But that go-along attitude came to a head this week when Ethan nodded and shrugged his way into a debauched late-night party with Cameron and two local sex workers. By the time the credits rolled on "Bull Elephants," Ethan was very drunk, very high, and very conflicted about everything going on around him.

A closer look at Ethan's night out

While it's easy to look at the party scenes from last night's episode as a simple test of faith for Ethan, I'm convinced something more is going on beneath the surface. The relationship between the foursome has been fraught from the moment they stepped off the boat in Sicily. Whether it's Cameron dismissing Harper's work in employment law, Daphne waving away the idea of infidelity, or Cam exposing himself to Harper on purpose — uncomfortable, boundary-pushing things are always happening within this group. Ethan has mainly stayed on the sidelines during these exchanges, but his reactions are still worth keeping an eye on — especially in "Bull Elephants," which ends with a great performance from Will Sharpe and some of the most intriguing editing choices of the season.

On the surface, the final scenes of the episode seem pretty straightforward, but on closer examination, they reveal unnerving cracks in Ethan's composure, telegraphed to us as much via what's left off-screen rather as they are by what's shown. The first sign of trouble comes after Cam solicits Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), repeating Lucia's declaration, "Let's fun!" As Cameron rubs Ethan's shoulder and pulls him in to kiss his cheek, the scene is inexplicably cross-edited with three shots of the dark, roiling ocean. In one, a jagged rock surface stands out against the nearly-black sea. We see Ethan clench his jaw as Cameron kisses him, and then the moment is gone.

It's all in the edit

At first, this seems like a simple transition technique, meant to connect Ethan's night to Harper's (the next shot shows her high and staring at a mural) in an especially foreboding way. But in the episode's last scenes, the interactions we see between Ethan and Cameron only get more impressionistic. First, when a now-intoxicated Ethan sees Cameron kissing Lucia in the pool, he slowly blinks underwater and the scene fades again into the dark ocean. It's a short shot in which it's almost impossible to see what's going on, but it's also accompanied by operatic music that distinguishes it from the sequences on either side of it. Is Ethan thinking about the dangerous sea that we know will eventually claim one of the visitors? If so, why?

From there, Ethan begins to lose time — or at least, we lose sight of him. Right after the ocean fade-out, the night flickers back into focus with Ethan in his hotel room, hands covering his face in exaggerated stress, as he stands by the Testa di Moro statue. Cameron and the girls are knocking on the door and calling to him because he's apparently locked them out, but we never see what happened between the moment in the pool and this one. There's a ringing in Ethan's ears, and he seems to be holding onto a sort of muted anguish that seems at once vaguer and deeper than simple guilt about his marriage. Frankly, the guy seems to be disassociating, hard.

What's going on with Ethan and Cameron?

After he knocks his head against the door as if at once punishing and bracing himself, Ethan lets the group in, and they immediately dance their way over to the bedroom area. Cameron kisses Ethan quickly on the mouth this time as he passes by, and Ethan stands smiling at the group before the expression falters. There's one more time jump before the episode ends, too. We see a shot of Cam pulling Ethan and the girls down onto the bed, kissing Ethan's cheek in the process, and then suddenly Ethan is alone in the shower with all of his clothes on. Once again, we glimpse him looking worried and distant, then we learn that he's left the group. When he returns, the trio doesn't seem to have progressed very much, so it's safe to assume he made his exit soon after the shot we saw.

"The White Lotus" is so jam-packed with subtleties that it's easy to overlook the second-by-second strangeness of these scenes or to write them off as Ethan's anxiety about the prospect of cheating on Harper. But when pulled apart, they seem to be telling a different story, one that hints at a more complex relationship between Ethan and Cameron than either of the men has admitted to before. It's also one in which Cam's shows of affection make Ethan's mind wander to some blank abyss.

A dangerous game

In an interview with Collider, Theo James said that by cheating, Cameron "wants to — in a strange way — be closer to [Ethan]." He continues, "I think he loves him in his odd, toxic way, and he wants to get closer to him somehow in his f***** up way of rationalizing the world." We've heard about just how toxic Cameron's sense of affection might be, since he waved away the idea of workplace harassment claims as a whole during an early conversation with Harper, mentioning that his own company has been subject to bogus claims. 

Cameron seems to make a game out of pushing Ethan and Harper, and judging by everything we've seen so far, it's a game that started a long time ago. We probably won't know exactly how toxic the pair's relationship is until the series reaches its climax, but when it comes to decoding their strange, unhealthy connection, it's worth remembering the assertion Ethan made back in episode one: "we weren't friends, we were roommates." In the meantime, it's hard not to worry for Ethan. He may be one of the show's most unassuming characters, but after this episode, he now has a direct — if ambiguous — link to the deadly Ionian Sea.