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Sydney Sweeney Plays the Best Gen-Z Antagonist in White Lotus

Sydney Sweeney stars in the HBO Max satire comedy-drama White Lotus, which tells the stories of a group of rich people who vacation at the same resort in Hawaii.

Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady read by the pool during an episode of White Lotus.
Photo: HBO Max

If you haven't been watching HBO Max's White Lotus, I'll assume you're just uncultured, or maybe even more plausible, you lack a streaming membership. Whatever the reason may be, the truth is that you're missing out on some seriously good TV. In fact, this past summer, HBO Max has made me reconsider if keeping a Netflix account is necessary when they're dropping a long list of incredible shows such as Mare of East Town, Dave, and the Gossip Girl reboot. But let's focus on the juicy and drama-filled White Lotus, whose season finale took place tonight.

Sydney Sweeney stars as Olivia, one fourth of a typical American family who travels to the White Lotus resort for a vacation. Along her best friend played by Brittany O'Grady, Sydney is by far one of the most interesting characters of the show. Not only does she possess that je ne sais quoi that characterizes every single person who's a member of this generation, but her character hilariously embraces it.

Let me paint you a picture.

Olivia sits by the pool most days, reading Freud, Nietzsche, and every other psychologist we learned about in high school, but retained zero information about them other than their books were hard to understand and quite boring. Ironically, this detail plays a joke on Gen-Z, who seem to prioritize aesthetics over content and information. While reading Freud on vacation sounds like the absolute worse, that poolside read would make for a healthy post for the gram. We often see the two friends doing everything but having fun, simply cause they have a concrete image of how they want others at the resort to perceive them.

Not to mention, Olivia embodies the constant dichotomy between claiming to be "woke" and still being quite ignorant as a result of privilege. She is quick to check her mother, father, brother, and any hotel guest for that matter, about their language, but is hardly ever self-aware of what she says and how she treats others. One of my favorite scenes takes place when the family finds out the grandfather had been gay his whole life. Olivia tries to cheer her dad up by suggesting her grandpa could have been a "power bottom," to then accusing her father of being homophobic for asking her to stop talking about it. If anything, Olivia's machiavelous nature earns its power from others committing mistakes. If she's the one to screw up, then all power is lost.

In the show, Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) who plays Olivia's mother, is a genius foil to our Gen-Z antagonist. While there is a strong bond between them that comes out more in the later episodes, the two couldn't be more opposites. An example of this is Olivia's mom asking her to take it easy on her brother because nowadays being a straight white male is "difficult." Both characters know exactly how to push each other's buttons, but in the end, I call Sydney's Olivia a greater antagonist than her mom for the simple reason that she loves chaos.

Another unique part of the plot that plays on Sydney's villain-quality is her friendship with Paula. Doing her best to keep it a secret from her, Paula starts hooking up with one of the hotel staff members, Kai. We learn quickly that in the past, the girls' friendship was nearly ruined when Olivia got involved with Paula's ex. So, it makes sense that she wouldn't tell her about her vacation boyfriend. Secret conversations turn into late night rendez vous, which make it clear to Olivia that her friend is hiding something. Yet despite all the tension, the two get high together, hang out by the pool all the time, and gang up on the other family members and the hotel manager, Armond.

Even when Olivia finds out about Paula's secret, she pretends to know nothing, and instead, tries to seduce Paula's hook up. Despite discovering her plan (even after Olivia promised it'd never happen again), Paula stays quiet. Since I want to keep spoilers to a minimum, I'll just say she decides to mess with Olivia in a very surprising way. However, the season finale closes us to a point where we feel for Olivia, despite the chaos she has ensued. The last we see of her is comforting Paula while she cries, a sign that she's forgiven her for trying to get back at her and her family.

It's hard to agree on Sydney's villain potential unless you see her in action. While the White Lotus has certainly filled a gap that the Knives Out sequel hasn't yet, it still contains so many layers that can only be discovered by rewatching the show. It doesn't matter if you'll end up admiring Sydney Sweeney's character for her boldness and sincerity, or hating her for the selfish actions she commits, we can all agree that it's refreshing to get a villain whose biggest weapon is her age.


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