The Flight Attendant: Cassie Bowden, the millennial Carrie Bradshaw The Talks Today
The Flight Attendant: Cassie Bowden, the millennial Carrie Bradshaw

The Flight Attendant: Cassie Bowden, the millennial Carrie Bradshaw

We are passing through the last days of the so-called golden age of anti-heroes. The early 2000s saw a wave of morally corrupt but charming characters – Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Tommy Shelby – who won the hearts of audiences despite their reprehensible actions. After all, it was about liars, murderers, drug lords and mobsters, but the viewers couldn’t get enough of them. At the same time, the trope’s female counterpart, the anti-heroine, began to make a small but significant appearance on television, albeit under very different circumstances.

While the anti-heroes enjoyed the freedom and power that came with their horrific actions and were celebrated by the audience, the anti-heroines suffered for their choices and were condemned by the audience. While Don Draper got a free pass for identity theft and general selfishness, Betty was condemned for sharing the same coldness and detachment. While the audience forgave Walt for cooking the drugs and the actual murder, they couldn’t get past Sylera’s cheating. Anti-heroes represent the male power fantasy, but anti-heroines represent the worst things a woman can be. Nowhere is this more evident than in arguably television’s most notorious anti-heroine, Carrie Bradshaw.

Carrie, the original anti-heroine

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Carrie debuted in 1998 when she Sex and the city crazy the world. Flawed, overly vulnerable, selfish and unapologetically self-destructive, Carrie was everything the so-called “strong female character” was not. She didn’t have a prominent job, she didn’t show any particular ambitions to improve her life, and she indulged in materialistic urges. Above all, Carrie had one occupation that ruled her life: love. Carrie wasn’t afraid to shout to the world that she wanted a man in her life; in her words, she was someone who wanted a “funny, awkward, exhausting love that can’t live without each other.”

Throughout Sex and the cityThe original reception, critics and audiences towards Carrie were mostly positive. Sarah Jessica Parker won four Golden Globes and an Emmy, and the series became a cultural milestone, hailed as the rebirth of the female protagonist. Things changed when the male anti-hero began to gain prominence, and fans suddenly began to rebel against Carrie.

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The things that once made her so fresh and uncomfortably charming have become disgusting and boring. Her openness about love turned into an uncomfortable need, and her self-centeredness became toxic. Carrie went from being a subversive anti-heroine to a prototype of a female character it should not be be. Her widespread condemnation suggested that the anti-heroine would never gain the fan recognition her male counterpart had, but HBO, home of morally complex characters, dared to give her another shot.

Cassie, the modern anti-heroine

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2020 brought Stewardess as part of HBO Max original programming. Kaley Cuoco, who has completed her 12-year tenure, stars in the lead role Big Bang Theorythe series follows an alcoholic and reckless flight attendant who wakes up in Bangkok after an unconscious night next to the dead body of a man who was a passenger on her previous flight.

Cassie is a frustrating, tragic and incredibly believable character. Bolstered by Cuoco’s tour-de-force performance and a script that never forgets how reprehensible Cassie’s actions are and isn’t afraid to call her out on them, Stewardess prevails where Sex and the city failure. Cassie is imperfect, and the show never tries to hide it; on the contrary, each episode sinks lower in Cassie’s self-destructiveness, showing how she is the architect of her own misery. Ironically, this allows Cassie to be her own savior, emerging from her lowest point by facing her greatest enemy: herself. And though Cassie emerges victorious, becoming arguably the first television antihero to earn and retain audience empathy, it comes at a high price.

Like Parker before her, Cassie brought Cuoco critical acclaim. After being unfairly ignored for her scene-stealing performance in the Big bangCuoco earned Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice and Emmy nominations for her work in Stewardess, confirming that, despite the mixed audience reception, anti-heroines remain a desirable role to deserve attention, mainly due to the wide range of emotions displayed. Anti-heroines are among the most layered and complex characters, so why do they remain so divided among audiences?

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The role of an anti-heroine

Mr. Big and Carrie on the floor laughing in Sex and the City.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Anti-heroines don’t have the luxury of letting go and being proud of their badness, unlike their male counterparts. Indeed, an element of degradation comes with the anti-heroine; the audience must see her go through hell and back to earn her redemption. Think of some of literature’s most notable anti-heroines, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovarys and Miss Havishams. They all die tragically, redeeming their actions in the reader’s mind. Because while we can forgive Mr. Rochester for hiding and denying his mentally ill wife or Raskolnikov for committing murder and remaining unrepentant, we cannot see beyond the infidelity of Anne or Madame Bovary.

Anti-heroines are held to a higher standard by fans because, unsurprisingly, they hold women to a higher standard and will always expect some kind of punishment for these characters. It doesn’t necessarily have to be death, but the “anti” trope requires pain, physical or emotional, for these characters to realize the dangers of their actions. This is part of the reason Carrie’s character has aged so badly for audiences. Sex and the city she always refused to call Carrie out on her bad choices, whether it was sleeping with the married Big or demanding that Charlotte sell her engagement ring to pay for her apartment.

revival, And just like thatsuccessfully passed Sex and the city back into the mainstream, but she still refused to let Carrie learn and grow from her mistakes. Even after years of a seemingly stable marriage to Big and his untimely death, just one line in his will was enough to return her to the uncontroversial behavior she was so familiar with. But would the anti-heroine be as fascinating if she didn’t have that deranged quality? Audiences want their anti-heroines bold and unyielding, but they also want them self-aware and capable.

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The future of the anti-heroine

Cassie Bowden looks surprised in Stewardess.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Stewardess admits that Cassie is a mess and challenges the audience to empathize with this reckless woman who makes one bad choice after another. Cuoco gives it her all, creating a fragile and broken character that’s easy to root for, even at her lowest point. Stewardess he may follow the classic anti-heroic walk of shame, but he doesn’t let Cassie fall. In a refreshing twist, she thrives, emerging from her darkness and improving her situation, allowing her to enjoy the rewards of her journey. Few female anti-heroines have the same privilege, which hints at a brighter future for the trope.

Still, there’s no denying that Carrie walked so Cassie could fly. In fact, Carrie walked so many modern female characters could even get a chance, and her legacy is ever-present, for better or worse. But Cassie is the next step for the modern anti-heroine. She’s still on a path of mayhem—in fact, the second season announcement confirms that she might be back to her old ways. “For choosing well!” the character proudly announces in a dream-like sequence, proving her journey isn’t over. That’s the whole point of the “anti” trope, though: to see them give in to and fight their demons and worst urges.

But unlike many anti-heroines before them, Cassie and Carrie carry on, adding more layers to the anti-heroine. And with the second season Stewardess already launched and the recent announcement that And just like that… will indeed get a second season, the future looks bright for the television anti-heroine, with characters like Cassie and Carrie joining her Somebody SomewhereBy themselves Morning showAlex and Bradley lead the charge. So if we’re living in the last days of the golden age of the antihero, then we may be on the cusp of something new: the golden age of the antihero. And frankly, it was about time.

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