Haley Lu Richardson's White Lotus Season 2 Character Is A Scathing Portrait Of Gen Z

"The White Lotus" might be the first show on television that accurately captures Gen Z girls — and they aren't even the focus of the series. In the first season, series creator Mike White perfectly encapsulated the painfully self-aware hypocrisy of pseudo-intellectual, ultra-rich Gen Z girls in Sydney Sweeney's character Olivia Mossbacher. "The White Lotus" carries that tradition into the second season with Haley Lu Richardson's character, Portia.

Unlike the other guests at The White Lotus, Portia is a middle-class assistant on a work vacation with Tanya, played by Jennifer Coolidge. Portia joins Tanya on what is supposed to be a romantic trip with her husband. When they arrive in Sicily, her husband is enraged by Portia's presence. He insists that Portia leave, but Tanya secretly asks her assistant to stay hidden in her room so that her husband doesn't find out she's still there.

Richardson's character is conflicted. Portia is anxious about losing her job while she entertains a budding romance with Albie, a nice Italian-American boy she met by the pool, and she isn't even particularly passionate about either. "Portia is lost. She doesn't know who she is," the actress explained to The Daily Beast. "She's really trying, you know, she's desperately, with so much angst, trying to find her purpose and her fulfillment in life."

Portia's identity crisis reflects lots of elder members of Gen Z that are straddling adolescence and adulthood. Like Portia, they are struggling to find their niche and find happiness in a culture saturated with instant gratification, ever-shifting trends, and marketing. Portia has no trouble complaining about her lot in life but she struggles to take the initiative to change it. Through Richardson's character, Mike White has skewered another damaging Gen Z pathology.

Richardson styled Portia to look like she doesn't know who she is

The class-striving consumerism and insecure identity of middle-class Gen Z girls is reflected in Portia's fashion choices in season 2 of "The White Lotus." The character is dressed head to toe in micro-trend pieces like baby tees and '70s-inspired prints. Her styling makes her look susceptible to marketing and desperate to impress. By choosing such painfully contemporary pieces, Portia's fashion becomes instantly outdated. Richardson actually styled herself for the production and revealed that this look was completely intentional. "I liked taking cute pieces of clothing and then putting them together in a way that was not. She's trying to look upscale," the actress said.

The audience finally gets an idea of Portia's desires in Episode 2 when she goes on a date with Albie. "I just want to have fun," Portia laments. "I just want to feel fulfilled and have an adventure. I'm sick of TikTok and Bumble and screens and apps and sitting there binging Netflix. I just wanna live my life so badly."

Rather than take initiative and go on an adventure or find fulfillment by herself, Portia is waiting for a man — specifically a "caveman" who is "totally ignorant of the discourse" — to enter into her life and change things for her. She doesn't see her own behavior as a problem and doesn't seem to think that she herself has the agency to get off of TikTok and "live her life" as she so desperately wants. It is easier for her to complain about her circumstances and hope that someone else comes along to fix them rather than change herself. In the end, she concludes, "I think I just need to up my meds."

Portia is more like Tanya than Richardson thought

"The White Lotus" Season 2 is filled with characters that indulge their own suffering, and Portia is no exception. She is resigned to staying in her room, wallowing in her depression and remaining at her boss' whim. In this way, she is a lot like Tanya herself, who often stews in her own suffering, like when grieving her mother in Season 1 and in her tumultuous marriage in Season 2.

"When I was auditioning for the show and [had] my original ideas of Portia... [I] was like, 'Oh, so she's going to kind of be the more grounded, earnest character in this season, to all of these kind of crazy, narcissistic, totally unaware personalities,'" Richardson confessed to The Daily Beast. "And I quickly realized she's actually not. She's very selfish. She's kind of honestly like a mini Tanya in a lot of ways."

Unlike Olivia in Season 1, who frequently lashes out at her mother, Portia is sympathetic to Tanya, which makes her submissive. Olivia relies heavily on her mother but has little to no compassion for her. As her employee, Portia is in a transactional relationship with Tanya, but she understands the comfort that she provides Tanya and truly doesn't want to upset her or leave her alone.

Richardson auditioned for the role of Olivia, but concedes that Sweeney was "perfect for the role. She was so deadpan... .I'm so glad it worked out the way it did, because I do feel like Portia's a little bit more of an adult character." Sweeney has the emblematic droll of a spoiled leftist teenager but Richardson definitely has the frazzled sincerity of a 20-something blob girl, the likes of which haven't been seen since Lena Dunham one generation ago.