'Euphoria's Cassie Howard Is Our Inner "Pick Me Girl"
In defense of the characters we love to hate.
With only one episode left of Euphoria Season 2, many fans are wondering what the HBO Max drama has in store for our favorite chaotic teens, particularly Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) as much of the series’ latest installment revolves around her fling with Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), her best friend Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) abusive ex-boyfriend.
Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Euphoria.
As Cassie tries to comfort a furious Nate after watching that scene during Lexie’s brutally honest play, he pushes her away, leaving her staring frighteningly wide-eyed through the theater doors, looking like a modern-day Carrie, presumably plotting her revenge on her younger sibling.
While it’s easy to dislike Cassie for obvious reasons (sleeping with a friend’s ex is bad, an abusive and psychopathic one is much worse), it’s hard not to sympathize with her too. Cassie is the perfect example of the “pick me girl” who we love to hate, but upon closer inspection, is just like many of us. For those unfamiliar with the term, Urban Dictionary defines the TikTok-coined expression as “a girl who seeks male validation by indirectly or directly insinuating that she is ‘not like the other girls.’” (It’s worth nothing this social media trend essentially devolved into women making fun of women for their internalized misogyny). While Cassie defines herself through her unabashed femininity, her unrelenting hunger for external male acceptance is achingly clear.
@hannah.montoya the two types of “pick me” girls #pov #comedy #pickmegirl ♬ original sound – hannah montoya
As Cassie witnesses Nate’s complicated yet enduring love for Maddy as he gifts her a Tiffany & Co. necklace for her birthday, she’s distraught, drowning her sorrows in Smirnoff Ice. Despite getting his attention in a racy swimsuit, she’s by herself, dancing amongst pink balloons, while Nate and Maddy watch on, filled with second-hand embarrassment and semi-disgust. Hearing Maddy mock Nate for his past faults, not “treating her like a goddess” yet wanting kids with her, Cassie is overwhelmed, throwing up on herself and everyone in the hot tub, unable to use her “womanly charms” to command Nate’s attention the way Maddy has.
Cassie’s best and worst trait is that she just loves love. As Rue says in the first season, the older Howard sister “fell in love with every guy she ever dated. Whether they were smart or stupid or sweet or cruel, it didn’t matter. She didn’t like to be alone.” We’re reminded of her deep yearning for male validation and approval as we watch her manic 4 a.m. beauty ritual in Episode 3. Although Cassie furiously scrubs her face each morning, diligently perfecting her appearance to catch Nate’s eye, the only time he notices her is when she’s dressed exactly like Maddy, his ideal version of femininity. Sweeney’s superb acting skills show us how much this small acknowledgement means to her, as a fictionalized version of herself in Lexi’s play later shows Cassie giving Nate full control of her clothing, food, even who she speaks to, all in the name of love. Not caring if people “look down on her,” as Nate warns her may happen, she places the warmth of his gaze above all else, even her long-standing female friendships.
Raised in a society that tells women our value is based on the way we look, Cassie has learned that she can gain that coveted and elusive affection she craves, in large part due to her figure. Witnessing Cassie’s elaborate routine, I’m reminded of the overwhelming male attention and pretty privilege I gained after a “glow-up” in college, suddenly inside of a conventionally attractive body. Bestowed with this newfound external approval, I stopped at nothing to seek it out, as the desire to feel wanted is universal. While we may not like to admit it, we’ve all done things in the name of the male gaze. Given the nature of our patriarchal society, it is hard not to internalize the rampant messages that place a supremacy on romantic love and archaic gender roles that put women in the role of the object. Although Euphoria’s content is mature, many viewers tend to forget how young Cassie is, so it’s no wonder that she continues to place her worth in the men around her as she develops. Cassie’s trusting nature is not to blame, but it is her constant need to escape from herself, using love as a means of distraction.
Hyper-sexualized at a young age, sexually coerced by past boyfriends and abandoned by an absent and sporadically affectionate father, Cassie is perfect bait for a master manipulator like Nate. While she is not entirely the victim in this situation, it’s hard not to empathize with her given her traumatic past. Juxtaposed with Rue’s crippling addiction or Maddy’s abusive past, her issues pale in comparison, but it is still trauma nonetheless. A victim of revenge porn, sexual coercion, not to mention someone who is recovering from an abortion, Cassie is coping with deep wounds by masking her pain with pin-straight hair and Barbie doll clothing. As Lexi’s play depicts a tender moment between her older sister and her now-ex best friend Maddy, Cassie storms out, unable to face the truth of her betrayal. Breathing deeply and smiling through her tears, we’re gripped with the reality that Cassie is deeply unhappy with herself and needs to be with other people in order to avoid confronting the parts of herself she can’t bear to look at.
While most viewers are shaking their heads at Cassie’s poor choices, the truth is, we cringe at her desperate behavior because it reminds us of our worst moments and the low-grade trauma women face in a stifling society. Judging by her face in the Episode 7, it doesn’t seem like Cassie will be choosing herself anytime soon, but we can only hope she’s due for a reality check.