Season 2 is no doubt darker in the complexities of each character and it's sending us into a whirlwind. I'm exceptionally impressed with their experimental filming techniques and their evident pleasure in toying with us viewers. I'll follow up with an in depth analysis on references that may have inspired their techniques.
But today, one of the harrowing plot points is this love triangle between Maddy, Cassie, and Nate. On the surface level it's the ultimate betrayal of Cassie going behind Maddy's back to not only sleep with her ex ("of three weeks and three days") but her actual abuser. The audience reactions to Cassie is severely polarizing.. while half are defending her.. the other are solid in their stance of her as the new Villain. While I need to make clear that I do NOT condone, nor excuse her actions and agree that sleeping with Nate behind Maddy's ex/abuser is an unforgivable act.. understanding a characters motive is an unbiased observation completely separate from what what a person may feel in real life. We are meant to extract our own projections and emotions to analyze the storyline at hand, that is point of media consumption and character analysis.
Shows centered around character development allow the audience to realize that it's not as black and white or Good vs. Evil. This is why there is a touching back story to Cal. Yes, he has done heinous actions but he didn't just manifest out of thin air like this. Our upbringings, reactions to trauma, and circumstances all play a part in how you move. This isn't to make you question your alliances, it's to tell a fictional story about real topics and understand human nature is a multi faceted entity. A lot of young adult shows do not add this element and instead focus on cheap plot points to keep the viewers surface level fed, like junk food. Which is why many of us at our big ass ages are eating this up.
It's clear that Cassie's upbringing has left trauma and a serious void with no healthy parental guidance to steer her. Sure, being told you're beautiful your entire life may not seem like the worst thing.. but if your own parents are placing one dimensional values on your worth then what are you without it? What does that ultimately gain you in life if you don't understand that it won't truly serve you if you're not already validating yourself every day? Her father leaving the family for drugs directly correlates a very common concept of abandonment into heavy attachment issues. Her useless mother hyper sexualizing her, while never acknowledging the older men in the family also doing this, only teaches her that our bodies are the only way to get men to love you. She is riddled with pressures of the Male Gaze, the desperate need to feel validated through their eyes, which is skewed at best.
The male gaze can be loosely defined as someone seeing our bodies as something to conquer and possess while projecting their own imaginative ideals onto a person.
The scene in which she wakes up everyday at 4am to hopefully catch his eye is a visual indication of how deep rooted her insecurities are. Yes we're told "it made her feel better to take care of herself" but it's not real. She dresses as herself, what she deems an elevated version of Cassie would be, Jules, and then Maddy. She isn't changing the way she approaches this situation nor thinking much about the consequences..but she is hyper-fixated on supplying Nate with her appearance. Outside of getting a aggravated reaction from him with her Maddy look; none of it works and she is distraught because in the end none of those costumes are her and he doesn't actually love her. She hasn't allowed herself to find out who she really is and will continue search for it in every man she meets to fill the void inside. Desperate attempts at love / male validation will cloud your judgement to the point where logic ceases to exist. This concept transcends characters, age, and race and unfortunately plagues so many damn people. I find this topic important because of this fact. So many people can relate to this and find it hard to break free and while follows you through each age and is rooted deep in society, it's even more evident younger viewers need to understand why they are seeing themselves in season 2 Cassie.
So, Cassie is point blank sleeping with her best friends ex. This is the part where we say "Team Maddy" right? Wrong, there aren't supposed to be teams. The show is clever in turning the tables on the viewers who are so used to a "one versus the other" mentality that it's easy to fall into that trap. It's a clear manipulation tactic of separating the two women just as Nate is doing in the show. The male gaze banks off the idea of pitting women together.
Maddy, while not perfect herself, is also a victim of the Male Gaze and Nate's abuse. These two characters are two sides of the same abused coin. Hyper confidence can also be perceived as needing to fill a void or masking pain in the specific context. This can be seen with her highly codependent and violent relationship with Nate while maintaining a routine of infidelities. She feeds off of the knowledge that other men want her and it can often aid into the pain of knowing the man she desperately desires is treating her less than. Nate makes her feel worthless and undeserving of love outside of their toxicity. Both girls are running away from their versions of their worst life (ie. Cassie and her lonely mother and Maddy with her alcohol father and unsatisfied mother)but it's ultimately pushing them into further problems but the root of it is within themselves. Are they absolved from the mistakes they actively made? No of course not. Trauma is not an excuse to hurt others..but it can shed some light on why these characters move they way they do. Eventually once they gain some strength to work through these deep rooted issues, it'll free them of these scenarios.
With anything superficial, if we put all of our attention and prioritize it to make us feel complete.. then you potentially give it the power to destroy as well.