tv reviews

My Ode to Dr. Cassandra Railly

I started watching 12 Monkeys because of Aaron Stanford, he’s my favorite actor probably of all time. I never really cared for the movie, it’s a good time travel story but I was a kid when it came out. So a 12 Monkeys tv show didn’t really hold much significance to me besides my favorite actor was going to be a time traveler. That’s all I needed to be on board.

I liked the characters well enough. James Cole, I have a love/dislike relationship with. I don’t hate him, he just tests my patience a lot. Katarina Jones is a level of badass I aspire to be but suspect I won’t ever reach because I don’t have the accent to pull it off. And Jennifer Goines dreams of galaxies while the rest of us can barely comprehend stars. But it’s Dr. Cassandra Railly that has irreversibly burrowed a spot deep in my heart. She is everything, I’ve ever wanted in a female character.

Too often, women characters on tv are barely two dimensional, let alone three. Female characters usually are A) the love interest B) the “protagonist” that can only get things done with help from a man C) the reason behind a man’s pain or D) a complete and total bitch. Sometimes they can be all of the above, but it’s rare. And almost never are they all of those things plus more. We’ve come far in the world of television but for some reason, many shows still lack a quality, fleshed out, well-written female characters.

Dr. Cassandra Railly or Cassie for short is a rare kind of female character. Not only does she get to be all of those things I mentioned above but she soars beyond them and leaves those stereotypes in the dust. And I love her more than any other tv woman I’ve come across. So this is my love letter to Dr. Cassandra Railly and her fantastic character development.

In the beginning, Cassie wasn’t really on my radar. I appreciated her taking charge and telling Cole to shut up and listen but other than that I didn’t have much interest in her. It wasn’t until after “The Red Forest” did I start to notice little things about Cassie. The way she clammed up at certain things or her logical way of looking at the problems on hand. However, I also noticed a change in Cassie. Most chalked it up to her being traumatized from being kidnapped but I think her first time drinking the red forest tea truly did awaken something in her. She hasn’t been the same since then and for some reason, it was only noticed by everyone else in season two. Not only is Cassie smart, but she’s intelligent. A lot don’t know that those are two completely different traits and smart doesn’t always mean intelligent.

Cassie is how I like to think that I would handle a random man kidnapping me and telling me he’s from the future. The disbelief at first, the cautious agreement to help and finally the complete dedication to saving the world even if it means that I’ll be hurt in the end. Cassie keeps her feelings close to her and she’s not good at expressing them. She sticks to her medical science and the things she knows are fact and concrete. Feelings are never concrete so I don’t blame Cassie for being wary of them. What makes it so great though is that she’s allowed to do these things. She’s allowed to take the time she needs to be ready for a relationship, she’s not rushed into it for the sake of developing the man.

After “The Red Forest” Cassie’s change was so subtle that many missed it. I even missed it. It wasn’t until the end of the first season did I realize that the Cassie we started out with is not the Cassie we have now. But the change was so quiet, so small that her shooting Ramse was truly a shocking moment. No one saw it coming. And that, to me, is true character development. I think that we weren’t meant to notice Cassie’s change the first time around. The focus of stopping the Army of the 12 Monkeys was too intense. We only seemed to care about what Cole was going to do next. We missed the way Cassie was quietly struggling. It started with her not wanting to share what happened and what she saw with Aaron Marker. After he and Cole rescued her from the Army and she was back home, Cassie shut Aaron out. Which at the time I was overjoyed about. I never liked Marker, the way he dismissed Cassie and left her. But I really wish she had of least shared with him how much the red tea had gotten into her head. I wish Cassie hadn’t been suffering so silently while everyone else worried about the virus and the army.

Even before Cassie shot Ramse, there were always the signs that something a little deeper was going on with Cassie. Another example is when she seemed unbothered by Marker’s passing. Sure Cole found her crying in the coffee shop bathroom but Cassie was supposedly in love and going to marry Marker, so her brushing away her tears and demanding they continue on with the mission is odd. It just didn’t seem odd then because the show has us so focused on the mission and what needs to be done. Silently, Cassie slipped into the beginning of her development. She quietly built an arc in the series for herself.

Cassie went to unwavering lengths to help Cole in season one, from coercing a young Jones to help them out to tracking down a young Cole and convincing his father to help them. Cassie even defied government orders. Cole spends a lot of time dying and being in pain during season one. It’s up to Cassie and at times Marker, to fight against the army. Something that they don’t seem to get as much credit for as they should. Cassie even risks jail time and treason while Cole is in Chechnya with the case holding the virus in it. I always found it insulting how everything Cole did was praised and yet anything Cassie did was viewed as just assistance to Cole.

Season one Cassie was a set up for some seriously intense character development in season two. It’s the type of development a writer dreams about achieving. Cassie’s journey is her own, her reactions, her fears, her decisions. Everything that Cassie is in season two is almost a direct reaction to season one.

To put it plainly, season two Cassie is an absolute badass. She was thrust into a horrible situation that she couldn’t escape from and she adapted amazingly. It may seem hard for people to imagine but going from a comfortable, safe life to a post-apocalypse world is damaging. It’s traumatic. If Cassie hadn’t changed then I think the show would have greatly suffered for it.

Character development can make or break a show. The point of character development is to humanize a character in the story you’re trying to tell. Writers develop characters, give them story arcs and flaws to make them human. They make them relatable and they craft them so that the audience will care. If the audience doesn’t care about a character, then the story suffers.

Male characters, usually are always given thorough character development. Even if that development is bad. They take priority because in most cases it’s the male character whose story is being told. Female characters are put on the back burner. Or they’re slapped with the label of love interest and the only real acknowledgment they get is when the male lead decides he wants to be with them. It’s a small box with not much wiggle room but it’s a box that’s held for years on end. Female-driven stories are just beginning to be told regularly and the development of the characters still has a long way to go.

To me, 12 Monkeys is one of the first shows to break out of that box and give its women characters not only room to grow, but room to make mistakes and be human. The show gives Cassie, Jones, and Jennifer the chance to react like the humans they are and have emotional responses that are relatable. For a long time, women characters were only given hardships if it meant that those hardships would somehow affect the male. They never had their own problems to deal with and consequences that applied only to them. It’s nice to see there finally be a change. Cassie has had some of the best character development of any female character on tv. She’s got her own personal issues going on while dealing with the world ending and those issues aren’t put on the back burner.

I was excited about Cassie’s development, I was overjoyed about it. Then I got online, then I saw the weird hate that was being spewed in Cassie’s direction. Just like all other shows that have fandoms, if the show or the characters aren’t going in the direction people want, they begin to trash it. There’s a thin line in fandom that many fans cross constantly. I’m unsure if fans think the internet is a safeguard that gives them permission to be mean or if they think that the character they’re trashing isn’t played by a real person with feelings. Either way, when fandom starts trashing talking, things get ugly quick. And things got ugly during S2 of 12 Monkeys. I understand why the fandom was upset about Cassie, however, I find it to be a bit overdramatic. From the sounds of it, many were upset just because Cassie spoke harshly to Cole. She was called out of character even though this snippy Cassie has been here since she told Cole to shut up in S1E2. Cassie wasn’t out of character at all, she just wasn’t behaving the way fans thought she should. Her actions weren’t feeding into the ship fans were desperately wanting to happen. Shipping usually causes a lot of discourse in fandoms, with many ships in shows and/or films causing arguments deemed “ship wars” and keyboard battles that can last for months and even years. Fans can become obsessive in negative ways. They can become obsessed with the idea of two characters being in love. They obsess over the way the characters love each other. It’s fine for the most part but it causes problems when fans start to think they know characters better than the people who created them.

Cassie’s hate upsets me because in the day and age of all women claiming to be feminist, or claiming that they want better for women, the moment she didn’t fall at Cole’s feet and kiss on him, people started calling her a bitch. Any time she snipped at Cole or said something wasn’t in a cheery happy tone, fans trashed her. It’s strange and upsetting to me the way women will throw each other under the bus in the hopes of looking good for a man. Cole is a grown man, he literally can handle himself and he was never upset at Cassie for being hardened in S2. The fans projected their feelings of being angry at Cassie onto Cole, saying that he deserved better and that was Cassie was out of character because they thought him loving her was more important than the trauma Cassie had faced. Her pain meant nothing. It was upsetting and shocking. As for the male fans, because I know something will be said if I don’t address them too, it seems they were taking Cassie’s words personally as if they were the ones she was directly talking too. Again, weird.

I cannot fault people for behaving in the ways we were conditioned to behave. It’s all too common for women to be expected to just go along with whatever the man says and or does. She has to quietly be angry at him but still smile at him and kiss him because of the “wonderful” thing called love. She has to suffer in silence because a man admiring her is more important. It’s the way we were raised but it’s not the way we have to continue to be. I defended Cassie every single time someone said something negative about her. Most of the fandom disliked me for my constant defense of her and I ended up having to step away from the fandom because my defense of Cassie was taken as hate for Cole. Which is a whole other problem by itself. I do not hate Cole, I just think he has dumb moments. I critique him because he’s supposed to be saving the world. If he’s gonna do that he needs to get it together. However, because Cole is the lead of the show and because of the way we as a society are conditioned to behave, fans will excuse everything he does no matter what. They also excuse his behavior and actions because Aaron Stanford is handsome, which in turn makes Cole handsome. It’s weird but it’s expected and it’s routine. The second season of the show is spectacular but the fandom treatment of our female lead blew the air out of a lot of my excitement. It got better once the season was over and news of the third picked up steam but yet a whole three years later and I still find myself having to stick up for Cassie and explain simple character development because people automatically think if a woman isn’t smiling in a man’s face she’s being a bitch. And to be perfectly honest, there is nothing wrong with being a bitch. If you need to be a bitch to people to keep yourself safe, then by all means, be that bitch.

Cassie has saved Cole’s life many times over. She’s saved Hannah. She saved Deacon. She saved Jennifer. All Cassie wanted to do was save people and stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys. She had a mission that needed completing and she dedicated herself to that. I wish people were able to be more thoughtful and put themselves in Cassie’s shoes. This man who kidnapped you brings in this unbelievable idea that time travel is real and he needs your help to save the world. You agree to help and your life is turned upside down, friends start dying, you have to go on the run, you’re tortured, you’re shot, you’re sent to the post-apocalyptic world where everyone is dead and nowhere is safe. Yet people want you to remain the same throughout all of it. They want you to focus on only how handsome a man is and how often you two kiss. It’s weird, right? It’s unrealistic and it’s boring.

Cassie developed even further in S3, she became a mother. As if a switch had been flipped, suddenly people were back to loving her. Part of me thinks it’s only because she was having Cole’s child but I’m trying to have more faith in people. Now, she’s given even more reason to be vengeful as her child is taken away from her and she only sees him twice more, when he’s a kid and when he’s a grown man. However this time around, her vengefulness is seen as inspiring and great. Her need to find and protect her son was apparently the Cassie fans had been waiting for all along, even tho she hasn’t changed from her S2 self, her focus just shifted. I find it odd how Cassie was suddenly meaningful again because she had a kid. It’s an unconscious belief in many that women are only worth something if they’re being loved by a man or if they have a child. Or rather, it’s the only way they can be of relevance. Cassie is meaningful because she’s Cassie, not because Cole loves her and not because she is Athan’s mom. She’s a full person with emotions and ideas. However, most only look at 12 Monkeys as something to entertain them, I find myself looking at it as a learning experience. A goal of mine is to someday, hopefully soon, write for tv. So I spend a lot of time looking at a show through the lens of a writer. It probably drastically changes my opinion of things compared to those who only watch to be entertained.

As a writer, the development of the women characters on 12 Monkeys is really fantastic. All of the women are fleshed out and given something to do. They each have a purpose, they have believable stories and understandable reactions. And that’s really important to me. Before when I wrote, I used to write very much like a man would. Making all the important characters male except for that one female love interest. The men made all the decisions, the women followed them. It’s a habit I’ve been working hard to break out of. Now I pay more attention to the way the women characters of a show are treated. There’s a lot of room for improvement on most shows, there’s a lot of room for women characters to be given more to do. These days, there should be no women characters that are sold as the lead of a show but in actuality are only plot devices. There’s a difference between giving your audience the idea of a strong woman and actually producing a character that is a well-rounded lead who also happens to be a woman.

From an audience standpoint, Cassie should go down as one of the best female characters on tv in a long time. Her kindness, her heart, and her determination are just a few of the characteristics that make her the fully grounded person she is. Cassie’s dedication to making things right, no matter the cost is often downplayed in favor of Cole’s dedication when they both should be praised for the efforts and sacrifices they’ve had to make over the last three seasons. Out of all the characters, Cassie and Cole have given up the most. They can’t even really be in love and be happy because the circumstances around them demand something different. They really are star-crossed lovers in a galaxy that isn’t supposed to exist. It hasn’t escaped me that Cole and Cassie’s happiness was built outside of time, meaning it could have lasted forever. But in order to stop The Witness and the Army of the 12 Monkeys, nothing can exist outside of time. Not even a love as strong as Cole and Cassie.

I’m protective of Cassie because I see myself in her, I’ve always been the one to put a goal above my personal feelings. In turn, I’m also super protective of Amanda Schull. I think she’s an incredible actress and the life she breathed into Cassie has been absolutely amazing. I’m not sure anyone else would have been able to make me care so much about Cassie the way Amanda has. She’s beautiful inside and out and kills every scene that Cassie is in. I’d love to see more shows in the next few years that model their female characters after the ones written in 12 Monkeys.

A good female character could be designed after any of the 12 Monkeys women; Cassie, Jennifer, Jones or Olivia, they’re each vastly different and amazing all the same. They’re rounded and fleshed out fully, they make you care about the show Terry Matalas and his crew have created. My praise for the show cannot get any higher, I’ve loved it from the start and I’m incredibly sad about it ending. But I’m also happy it’s been given the chance to end and not snatched away from the audience before the whole story could be told. Whether or not I believe in fate, I’m glad to be placed in a cycle where this show and Dr. Cassandra Railly exists.

-Danyi

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