Portia is just a young woman trying to figure out what she wants and still has a lot of fans White Lotus can’t give him a break.
Portia, played by Haley Lu Richardson, is one of the new faces of the HBO comedy-drama. White Lotus for its second season. This time the story takes place in a luxury all-inclusive resort on the picturesque coast of Sicily. Fresh from community college at the resort, Portia finds her way into the upscale setting as the assistant to multimillionaire Tanya McQuoid, played by the smoky-voiced and unpredictable Jennifer Coolidge. As a normal, non-rich person, Portia’s character contrasts with the luxurious guests around her, and yet many online fans criticize the character for her fashion taste, personality, and even romantic decisions. It’s all part of a long and tired tradition of fans tearing apart female characters, especially when they don’t get it all. And it’s a sign of his tendency to judge whether a character is “good” or “annoying” rather than considering how he fits into the story.
Criticism started with Portia’s outfit. Her fans looked up to her fashion sense; his outfits ranged from a chunky look to looser cargo pants with a hood to more classic Y2K fashion. One of the most cited crimes was a zebra print bikini and rainbow knit bolero top. Fans online wore exaggerated versions of her outfits, calling them “Portia-core” and trolling her for her lack of taste. One comedy account even joked that the costume designer was Alex Bovaird, a costume designer who had worked on award-winning films such as No and The perks of being a wallflower — Portia should be demoted because of her dress.
And the criticism didn’t end with her fashion sense. Popular TikTok uses an audio clip: “Now I suddenly want to sit back and relax and enjoy the evening when I hear this exciting booming sound.” The video clip is directed at Portia, as the voice says “disturbingly”. Additionally, fans have scrutinized Portia’s romantic choices, such as her decision to date a guy with a neck tattoo instead of choosing the standard Stanford-bound nice guy Albie Di Grasso.
Fans ultimately criticize Portia’s wealth and inability to socialize with the elite. Her clothes? Not luxury enough. Her taste in men? Garbage. His behavior? Not cool and collected.
But this misses the point. Portia is a community college graduate and is young and thrown into a level of luxury that most normal people will never experience in their lifetime. It makes sense that she doesn’t look as good as other characters – like the super-rich stay-at-home wife or the wealthy and sharp-witted lawyer played by Aubrey Plaza. In an interview with Variety, Bovaird said that Portia’s costume was meant to convey a character who was still figuring herself out and didn’t have as much money as the other characters. “He’s young, he doesn’t really know who he is and he’s working on different ideas. Sometimes she dresses more elegantly, sometimes she dresses like a boy,” Bovaird said.
But the online fan discussion isn’t centered on the underlying questions of her motivations as a character or how her character fits into the story. Instead, fans seem more interested in theorizing, dragging characters, or shipping Portia off with Albie than engaging with story or character art.
It mistakes the character’s personal hatred for the idea that his character is poorly written and focuses on questions like Personally, do I like Portia’s sense of style? and Would I personally be friends with Portia? Instead of asking why Portia is the way she is and why her character might act the way she dresses or acts. Or how his commonality as the only non-rich person in this elite space might make this particular story interesting.
Of course, Portia simply doesn’t hold true to her experiences with younger audiences. Haley Lu Richardson imbues Portia with a kind of flightiness that gives her scenes a sense of uncertainty. This is especially true when he talks to Albie about what he wants out of a relationship while on a date. Holding a clean glass of white wine, he says he wants to “have fun.” He continues: “I’m sick of TikTok and – and Bumble and just… screens and apps and sitting there doing Netflix. And I just… I just want to live.”
In scenes like this, he looks confused and anxious. Portia, like the rest of the guests at the White Lotus resort, feels a bit weak and, to be honest, extremely shy. The conversations shared between the guests serve as social satire, offering their own form of horror beyond the hotel’s death. Portia is no exception. He is as angry as any hotel guest. When she talks to Tanya about why she likes Alby, she says, “He’s beautiful and smart. He went to Stanford and he’s not non-binary.’ Yes does what is peculiar to him is the bar by which people take his character.
White Lotus it’s a show about horrible, horrible people. Everyone “encourages” and “breaks” in their own way. Are we really going to ignore the two gigas acting like college boys on screen, the wayward grandpa, or the cheating dad who, God forbid, is trying to get his wife back? Season 2 presents us with a veritable smorgasbord of terrible men, and yet TikTok focuses on Portia’s fashion sense and masculine taste as she runs around Italy.
For those who focus on Portia’s shortcomings, I’m afraid the show is less a way to gloss over the necessarily selfish nature of the super-rich and more of an indulgence. Despite how effectively the show satirizes the ultra-elite, there are many of us who want to live lavishly and go to Sicily. Our peek into the beautiful lives of the rich is a mystery involving a possible accidental death or murder, and Portia prevents it.