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“Euphoria” Season 2: thinking about Cassie Howard

The unjust treatment of Cassie Howard in the writer’s room is revealed

<p>Cassie no longer has the complexity, and thus relatability, of earlier depictions of her.</p>

Cassie no longer has the complexity, and thus relatability, of earlier depictions of her.

This article contains minor spoilers. 

Since the release of its first episode, “Euphoria” has captivated teenage audiences with its stunning cinematography, its complex characters and its interweaving plotlines. Kicking off with a decidedly strong start, the new season begins with a party chock-full of all the series favorites interacting with each other, establishing themselves once again as the larger-than-life personalities from last season. 

However, over the course of the first four episodes, creator and writer Sam Levinson loses his grip on some of his beloved characters, examined most clearly through the character of Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney. 

In season one, Cassie is overly-romantic and ridiculously naive — but she’s not one-dimensional, either. For example, when she becomes pregnant with her then-boyfriend’s child, she muses on what it would be like to be a mother. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna have a baby, I just wanted to dream about it for a minute,” she says with a sigh when her boyfriend balks at her revelation. Despite her romantic ideals and her naivete, Cassie still has her feet firmly grounded in reality, allowing herself to calmly address the severity of the situation. 

Furthermore, when Cassie does eventually go through with an abortion, she is stone-faced almost the entire time. In times of crisis, Cassie collects herself, makes difficult decisions and is brave even in the face of harsh consequences. 

During season two, however, Cassie is hysterical, impulsive and incapable of accepting the consequences of her own actions, such as secretly sleeping with her best friend’s abusive ex-boyfriend Nate, played by Jacob Elordi. Her shallowness is no longer balanced by her compassion. Cassie’s flaws are exaggerated to the point of melodrama, while her more positive qualities — like her nerve — are eliminated. 

Cassie’s struggle to overcome her tendency to seek validation from men was easily relatable to young female viewers last season, which is a habit that many women are forced to unlearn over the course of their early lives. Indeed, viewers watch her struggle to remain faithful to her boyfriend in the face of attention from another man, revealing that her desperation to be validated by her male peers is not neutralized by her acquisition of a significant other.

But in season two, Levinson takes this notion to the extreme with Cassie, as she performs the most ridiculous actions to receive even a crumb of attention from Nate. Cassie even decides to lay her edges in order to look more like Maddy, her best friend and Nate’s ex-girlfriend, and is gratified by a second-long glance that Nate gives her in the school hallway. Once again, she is portrayed more as a caricature of the woman she was before, desperate to do anything for the attention of a man.

Levinson’s portrayal of Cassie in season two also constantly teeters on the edge of pornographic in the first couple of episodes, another way in which he has lost his grip on the character. 

In comparison to season two, Cassie’s occasional nudity and sexualization was not as unnerving or discomforting in season one. Instead, her sexualization was used as a tool to expose Cassie’s vision of her self-worth, examining how Cassie valued herself only insofar as she physically appealed to the men around her. 

In moments when she is partially unclothed, Cassie's search for validation and acceptance was revealed, as seen in the videos of her reluctantly letting her ex-boyfriends film her during sexual relations. Her nude scenes were almost always the result of subtle manipulation by a boyfriend — she exposed herself because she viewed it as necessary to maintain the attention of her lover. 

In season two, there seems to be an exponential increase in scenes where Cassie is nude, particularly in the first three episodes. But the nudity no longer feels like a tool to expose more aspects of her character — it seems more gratuitous and for the benefit of the show’s male viewers. 

Cassie’s numerous nude scenes might not seem so unwarranted if they were even slightly equaled by nudity from her co-star Jacob Elordi. It seems odd that in most of Nate and Cassie’s secret trysts, Nate is rarely even shown with his shirt off. Why this double standard? Cassie’s constant nakedness feels unjustified.

Levinson’s decision to shift Cassie’s development in this way makes her character feel unrealistic and unrelatable, as her hysteria and emotional state are not consistent with her past self. He has moved away from the more nuanced depiction of a woman figuring out how to decenter men in her journey of self-discovery. 

Instead, Levinson has morphed her into an overdramatic version of her past self with no redeeming qualities and no commentary on the challenges faced by young women. Cassie is no longer complex or relatable. She is a character with high entertainment value, but is unfortunately lacking in emotional resonance. 


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