If there’s something I know about TV it’s that, inevitably, female characters will end up on the wrong side of a fandom—or at least a part of it. Sometimes, there will be valid reasons for this; but more often than not, the character will have committed no other sin than being too pretty, caring too little about how she looks, being too confident, having too much self-doubt, being too happy, being too broody or sometimes, just existing.
That’s being a woman everywhere, and it’s particularly true about TV.
More than often than not, we fail to grasp how the way we react to TV is a microcosm of the way we react, to, well, life. This is, of course, much easier to combat and point out when it comes to fictional characters, which is why I’m here, following the example of season 2 Cassie, and just basically saying what needs to be said.
Because the truth is, we live in a world that holds women to impossible standards, all while it lifts men up for doing the bare minimum.
Exhibit A, and the topic of this article: Cassandra Railly in season 2 of 12 Monkeys.
The woman we meet in the first season of 12 Monkeys bears little resemblance to the woman we get to see in season 2 of the show. Cassandra Railly doesn’t ask questions first, consider her options later, not anymore. Instead, she has a job, she has the training to do it, and she’ll worry about the consequences some other time.
It was, I admit, a bit jarring at first. And by that I mean like 10 whole minutes, and then that was it. After all, who am I to judge Cassie for behaving in the exact same way Cole behaved for the entirety of season 1, especially when I never judged him for his the-ends-justify-the-means approach to his mission.
And that’s without even going into how many reasons Cassie has to become …well, season 2 Cassandra Railly.
Though for us, the viewers, the change happens overnight, for her this is a matter of months. This is the consequence of being thrown into a world she couldn’t have even imagined, no matter what Cole told her about it. This is who she had to become to survive, and Cassandra Railly will make no apologies for it.
Not that she should.
I’ve come to this show late—and that brings good and bad things with it. On the one hand, I didn’t have to suffer through months of the worst cliffhangers known to man; and yet, I also didn’t get to, in real time, push back against the frankly misogynistic idea that season 2 Cassie is somehow the worst because she.…What, made choices we sometimes didn’t agree with?
Again, may I remind you we followed and cheered for Mr-What-Is-A-Plan for the entirety of season 1?
Except that doesn’t matter to some people, because the inimitable Cassandra Railly, played by the brilliant Amanda Schull – who I fell in love with on Suits and didn’t know I could adore as a completely different character – is, first and foremost, a woman. And there are different standards.
The thing is, I’m not sure anyone told the writing team behind 12 Monkeys that.
Halfway through a show feels like a very weird place for me to be making definitive statements like: This is one of my favorite shows ever, or I trust the writers and the journey they’re taking me on, especially for an old-time TV cynic like me, but both of those are true. And the reason they are is…well, season 2 Cassandra Railly.
You know those standards I mentioned before? Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re using them to judge people. They’ve been internalized to such degree that breaking out of them is often a struggle. We believe women have to be kinder than men, that they have to be more sympathetic. They are the nurturers, our brains tell us, and men …Men are the protectors.
So what’s okay for Cole ends up looking a little dicey for Cassie.
Except 12 Monkeys doesn’t play those games. The writing doesn’t treat Cassie like any other female character. In fact, you could argue the writing isn’t treating her like a female character at all. There’s no gender differentiation in how 12 Monkeys writes characters, it’s all just about writing the most authentic, flawed, real versions of these people.
Men, women, it doesn’t matter. This show is writing humans.
And that means that characters don’t have to be good or bad, they don’t have to be villains or heroes. They can be soft at times, harsh at others, they can be funny and ugly, they can be mean and they can be brave. Sometimes, they might even be all those things at once.
No one exists in the black and yet no one exists in the white, either. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is made up of different shades of gray.
This isn’t just true of Cassie, Katarina or Jennifer; it’s also true of Deacon, Ramse and even Cole. It’s just that we’re used to men being allowed that, and very, very unfamiliar with women being treated in the same way.
With the respect that comes from true equality. Because this isn’t about writing a great, strong, female character. This is about presenting an amazing, flawed and yet sympathetic character that just happens to be female.
I didn’t always agree with the decisions Cassandra Railly made in season 2. I wasn’t always on her side. And yet, I’m not sure I have ever appreciated a character arc as much as I have appreciated how much she grew in the course of those 13 episodes. Because even though this show isn’t writing her as a heroine, in many ways, she is.
She’s proof that women don’t have to be just one thing, and they definitely don’t have to be the pretty dolls men can protect in order to be compelling. We can be anything we want to – good, bad or somewhere in the middle.
What a liberating idea.
12 Monkeys is available to stream on Hulu.