A Look at Disney: Villains Profile: Cassandra
Today on my birthday, I’m kicking off a new series of Villains Profiles.
As I delve deeper into various types of villains, I’ve decided to look at a category of villains that has always fascinated me, the Fallen Hero. Starting with Cassandra from Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is the type of villain that falls under the trope of a Fallen Hero. To explain what a Fallen Hero is, we can look at this definition:
As the name implies, the Fallen Hero used to be a hero before doing a Face–Heel Turn. They may even have been an Ideal Hero or another equally optimistic archetype, up until the moment when they suffered something bad enough for them to lose all faith in good and idealism, be it the loss of a loved one, too many good deeds coming back to bite them hard, betrayal by someone they trusted the most, too much distrust from those who should have been allies,
I have looked at a Fallen Hero once before and funnily enough, it was from the first season of Tangled being the character of Varian.
With Cassandra, this is interesting because we spent the first two seasons of Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure with Cass as one of Rapunzel’s closest allies. Still, at the end of the second season finale, Cassandra turns on Rapunzel stealing the moonstone that the characters had been going after all season.
Many fans have taken issue with this heel turn and said that Cassandra seems to act out of character as a villain after how we saw her as an ally in the first two seasons. I agree with this to an extent and it’s also hard not to overlook how the show repeated having a friend/ally of Rapunzel turn on her as they pulled this same stunt in season one with Varian in the season one mid-finale, Queen for a Day as I mentioned.
I love Varian and he is my favorite Tangled: The Series character I do agree that his reason for turning on Rapunzel made more sense considering he turned to Rapunzel for help saving his father but that help never came. Why did Cassandra turn on Rapunzel? It’s a combination of feeling as though she has been in the shadows of Rapunzel for far too long, oh and she finds out Mother Gothel is her biological mother.
Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts on this. I don’t exactly think tying Cassandra into the villain of the Tangled movie wasn’t the most excellent idea. I get the idea that she feels as though Rapunzel has stolen her life and is grieving the life she never had. But there are a few issues with this because as Rapunzel attempts to point out to Cassandra, she didn’t have a choice in being kidnapped.
I understand that this season wanted to focus more on the relationship between Rapunzel and Cassandra and that is seen in how one of the episodes is titled A Tale of Two Sisters but I still think the Captain should have been more active.
Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure filled its cast with actors with musical theater experience. Varian for example was played by Jeremy Jordan and that is no different here as Cassandra’s voice actor, Eden Espinosa also had theater experience before joining the cast of this show. Most notably playing Elphaba in a production of Wicked.
I am not just bringing this role up because it was played by Cassandra’s actor, there’s also a similar throughline to both of them. All of Oz in Act II believes Elphaba to be wicked and she decides to lean into that as she thinks she’ll never be seen or loved by the Ozians. Cassandra goes through a similar moment in the penultimate episode of the series where after trying to make peace with Rapunzel after learning the truth of how the show’s bigger bad was using her, she is mistakenly attacked by the citizens of Corona and she ends up quoting her mother.
Fine now, I’m the bad guy
When Donna Murphy spoke this line, there was a sense of tiredness and just deciding to reveal that yes, she is the bad guy whereas with Cass much like Varian, she feels like she has been pushed into being the villain. Fair considering there is a wanted poster with her likeness on it. But she chose to do the things she did. Yes, she was being manipulated but blaming people or rather someone who had no choice in what happened to her as a child just seems so odd.
Now, there are a few ways that I want to look at this. Her first in-show appearance, a flashback episode that is set before the events of the movie, and her first outing as a villain. Let’s start with her first in-show appearance, Cassandra makes her debut in the pilot movie, Tangled Before Ever After where we learn that she isn’t exactly thrilled with her position as Rapunzel’s handmaiden and later a lady in waiting.
At first, she seems to be the opposite of Rapunzel and yeah, I get what they were going for, and no, that isn’t referring to shipping (So many Cassunzel shippers). More what I’m referring to her is Rapunzel is a friendly person, almost to a fault. This is seen in the flashback episode when Eugene even asks Rapunzel why she wants to become friends with Cassandra and Rapunzel even admits that she isn’t sure but there’s something about her.
And then finally we have her debut as a villain, the second season did seem to be hinting at this as there was a divide forming between Rapunzel and Cassandra, this seemed to start around the time of Rapunzel and The Great Tree. Admittedly, I did not re-watch this episode as I mostly focused on Cass’s time as a villain, but this episode seems to be a prologue to her downfall. The best way to put it is she feels as though she is stuck in the shadow of Rapunzel and is tired of being stuck there. This does make some sense as Cassandra is the type of character that wants to prove her worth. Before she fell into villainy, her dream was to become the Captain of the Royal Guards following in the footsteps of her father but that kinda gets washed aside the moment she decides to become a villain. And this moment is a bit confusing to explain, we learn in the show that the flower that saved the life of Rapunzel’s mother was imbued with something called the Sundrop and Rapunzel is the embodiment of it, and the second season of the show is about our heroes looking for its counterpart, the Moonstone as they are meant to be together. But Eugene is warned that one of Rapunzel’s friends will betray her when they reach their destination, The Dark Kingdom.
Eugene spends the entire second season finale believing he is the one that will betray Rapunzel after learning that his biological father is the ruler of The Dark Kingdom. And honestly, while I kinda figured the show wouldn’t go that route, they made it believable. This is the same show that made you think Pascal was going to die in the first season’s mid-finale.
Yeah, this is a show that tears your heart out and stomps on it every season. But no, it wasn’t Eugene who betrayed Blondie. It was her new best friend in the final moments of season two with the most chilling words.
I tried to warn you Rapunzel. You have to be careful who you trust
There were months between the season two finale and the season three premiere. So fans were left with this cliffhanger wondering how it’d be resolved. We’d get the answer when the season three premiere, Rapunzel’s Return debuted and it also gave us insight into why Cassandra betrayed Rapunzel. This brings us to a new category for Fallen Heroes that I want to look at before I get to Personality and it does in a way tie into the idea of their Grand Desire but I still think it is vital to look at.
Why She Fell
It’s a bit twofold as to why she fell and part of it comes from her learning the truth about her mother being Gothel in a twisted moment that seems to be an inversion of what the Ghost of Christmas Past does. Cassandra isn’t shown her past to become a better person but to come and hate Rapunzel.
Okay, I have a couple of issues with this reveal. Gothel was not a good woman and we even see that in how she treats young Cassandra. To her, Cassandra is used for child labor, and while she wants to blame Rapunzel for her mother choosing her over Cassandra, that doesn’t work either and Rapunzel even points this out.
Cassandra: Oh sure, let’s have another chat about how my mother chose you over me.
Rapunzel: Cass, Gothel took me and held me against my will, it wasn’t my decision, you know that.
Cassandra: Well, was it your decision to push her out a window?
Okay, let’s break this down a bit. I am sure Rapunzel had told Cassandra about the horrors of the Tower before and she should be aware of how much Gothel messed her up. There was fear on Rapunzel’s face when she has to go back there to find Pascal after he ran away back to the Tower.
Cassandra knows what Rapunzel was put through at the hands of Gothel and I’m sorry but I feel as though she is victim-blaming here. Knocking Gothel out of the tower was an act of self-defense on the part of Rapunzel and also Eugene. If they hadn’t, Rapunzel would likely still be in those chains serving as Gothel’s prisoner.
Also, Pascal tripped Gothel out the window, are you going to swear vengeance against the lizard?
Furthermore, Cass had something that Rapunzel didn’t. A loving parental figure, the Captain of the Royal Guards adopted her the night Gothel ran off after kidnapping Baby Rapunzel. And as I mentioned in the introduction, this drives her father crazy and makes him believe that he has failed as a father when that couldn’t be further the truth. To the point that he makes a wish to start over with his daughter on a dangerous island where wishes go awry.
Yes, he could have told Cassandra the truth about who her mother was but I have to wonder what good that would do. I almost imagine that she’d be racked with guilt seeing Rapunzel going around the castle if she knew the truth but at the same time, she could perhaps talk it out with her instead of going to such extremes as she did. She is so caught up in finding proof that Gothel loved her even though it doesn’t exist and I don’t understand why. This comes up in the episode, A Tale of Two Sisters when she is tricked by the show’s bigger bad, Zhan Tiri into believing that Gothel loved her and that Rapunzel was hiding this memory from her.
Really!? The one mirror showing that Mother, MY mother, had a SHRED of affection for me, and it just happens to wind up in your bag!
Do I need to break out the mirror scene from the movie? I feel like I need to break out the mirror scene.
Gothel didn’t love anyone. She abused both her biological daughter and the girl she raised to believe was her daughter. And Cass, I’m sorry you had to find out as that is harrowing but the Captain loved you and tried to do right by you. This whole situation reminds me of Yondu’s line from GOTG Vol. 2.
I can understand how learning the truth about her parentage could hurt Cassandra but again, I think it was a mistake to tie it back to Gothel. Honestly, in my view, there is such an easy fix for this, Zhan Tiri showed Cassandra this is a master manipulator and that leads to my suggestion that could have made this more palatable, the reveal of Gothel being her mother should have been a lie.
If it had been revealed that Gothel being her mother was a lie, I think Cassandra would come to terms sooner with how senseless what she had been doing truly was. In the first two seasons of the show, Cass was shown as the most logical member of the Tangled friend group and quick to question anything that seemed suspicious. Yes, I get that her emotions were being played with during the reveal and that made her vulnerable but I think it also speaks to the larger issue, I have. I get that Cassandra was in a vulnerable state and that sucks and she does eventually realize what a fool she’s been but I also think if she learned that she had been lied to, the audience would be more willing to go back to siding with Cassandra. Well except for the people on the Cass is Right Subreddit who seem to think she wasn’t in the wrong, which is a big no.
Before her descent into villainy, Cass as I mentioned was logical and thought things through. She always kept her guard up. But when her friendship with Rapunzel started to fracture. So did Cassandra’s function to think rationally, she wanted to blame Rapunzel for everything that went wrong in her life. This I do get as you don’t think rationally when you are angry and you are more than likely going to lash out at someone even if they don’t deserve it. The problem here is that it takes Cassandra too long to recognize that Rapunzel shouldn’t be the target of her hatred. I know some Cass fans have wanted to argue this and say that Rapunzel was a bad friend but I can’t go with that. Rapunzel never gave up on Cassandra and believed that there was still some good in her friend deep down somewhere. I saw some people argue that the show was going for an Elsa/Anna or Elphaba/Glinda-type relationship between Rapunzel and Cassandra.
I get the want to compare Rapunzel and Cassandra to these relationships as they are two that are also broken. But the situations feel different, Elsa never stopped loving Anna and did what she did in a misguided attempt to protect her little sister. Elphaba and Glinda weren’t pulled apart by a falling out of their making but rather the politics of Oz forced them apart and there is no denying how much that hurt the two witches. The difference here is that while yes, the falling out breaks both Rapunzel and Cassandra, it takes them a while to open to the truth. Rapunzel does admit to Eugene that Cass betraying her hurt her whereas Cassandra does seem to have moments of realization of what she is doing is wrong but instead of confronting those feelings, she tries to bury them. This is best seen in the mid-season finale, Cassandra’s Revenge during the number, Nothing Left to Lose as she seems to question what she’s doing but she stops and instead breaks a painting of Rapunzel as ay to show that their friendship is over.
Part of the problem here with the whole Cassandra villain arc is encapsulated at this moment, this should have been her wakeup call that being the villain was the wrong path and the people that loved her were not going to give up on saving her even if she didn’t want to be saved. Instead, she dug her heels in even further and committed even more to being a villain. If the show had started her redemption arc at this point instead of waiting until the show was almost over, there’d been more willingness to believe that she felt regret for her actions.
Honestly, she’s not sure what she wants. And no I am not using this as a copout but it is something of the truth, her mind is so clouded from being manipulated by Zhan Tiri. At first, it seems like she may want validation that Gothel loved her but as I have discussed at length, she was never going to get that. The bigger picture idea of her desire is that she wanted Rapunzel’s destiny. What does this mean though? Did she want to be the one to bring the Moonstone and Sundrop together? Something I haven’t brought up yet is the show’s biggest MacGuffin are these Black Rocks and after Cassandra takes the Moonstone, she has power over them but she is led to believe that Rapunzel had stolen some of her power.
What Cassandra seems to want is a bit ill-defined and I’d like to think part of that is by design as it could tie into how someone isn’t thinking clearly when they are only acting on anger.
Using the word lackey here is a bit misleading as they weren’t willingly serving Cassandra. Moreso, this group known as The Brotherhood had sworn allegiance to the Moonstone and it is an oath that they take seriously. Part of the problem comes from the fact that they are essentially being brainwashed by Cass. This’ll take some further explanation but you see early on in the season, Cassandra goes looking for something called the Mind-Stone Trap, and if the person wielding this also has the Moonstone, they can control The Brotherhood.
So, as I said this group is not acting of their own accord but is brainlessly following the orders of Cassandra. The show made this sting that much more by having The Brotherhood be made up of characters we had already met and have relations with other characters. For example, the leader of this group the king of The Dark Kingdom is Eugene’s dad. Another example we learn of is that Varian’s father, Quirin is also a member but Varian takes some precautions and puts some sort of shock device in his helmet in the case of him being brainwashed by the Mind-Stone Trap.
So, this speaks again to how much Tangled wanted to twist the knife by putting these characters people have to come to care about through the wringer.
We’ve got a lot to look at here. So, let’s just get started.
Waiting in The Wings
This is a beautiful and heartbreaking song that in many regards serves as a prologue to Cassandra’s downfall. At the time of this song, it was easy for the audience to still be on her side as yeah, everyone has felt outshined by someone else and it’s natural to want your moment in the spotlight. This song also elevated Alan Menken to EGOT status as it won a Daytime Emmy and rightly so as it is hauntingly beautiful.
With You By My Side
Originally, I wasn’t going to look at this song until I visited the Tangled Subreddit and saw some interesting points about this number. Let’s start with this number comes at the beginning of the season two finale, in which Cassandra would end up betraying Rapunzel at the end. The lingering question seems to be had she made up her mind by this point that she was going to betray Rapunzel. I am honestly not sure but there are a few lines that lend credence to this idea.
Maybe tomorrow we’ll find to our sorrow. Our story has come to an ending
There is a sense of conflicting emotions in Cassandra’s voice when she sings this. Does she stick by her friends or does she betray them to better her life? She has a mental tug-of-war going on during this moment. I think she is trying to hold onto the love she has for Rapunzel but it is slipping away the more she thinks about going after her own destiny.
Waiting In The Wings (Reprise)
This is when we get the revelation that Gothel is Cassandra’s mom in that inversion of A Christmas Carol I mentioned. The music box that baby Cass is holding is playing the Waiting in the Wings merely, so that means Cassandra must’ve remembered this song from childhood. The duet between both young and adult Cassandra is beautiful and speaks again to how Cassandra has felt left out all of her life. That is a hard thing to realize and bringing it back in a reprise in this fashion revealing that this song had been with Cassandra her whole life shows how much she has been hurting.
Crossing The Line
I have seriously mixed feelings regarding this song. Removed from the context of the show, it’s an excellent power anthem and it’s not even that bad of a villain song. At this moment, I feel as though the show wants you to root for Cassandra considering how empowering the music backing her up is. My issue comes with the lyrics and what she says to Rapunzel. I get that she is lashing out and is angry but some of what she says rubs me the wrong way with what we know of Rapunzel’s past. In particular these two.
But I’ve never gotten the chances you were given
You don’t know how much I’ve denied
On the surface, I can see where Cassandra is coming from as Rapunzel is a princess and she is just a lady-in-waiting meaning that she will not be afforded the same opportunities but my issue comes from this, Rapunzel has only been a princess for three years and to act like she has had a better life than you is preposterous. I’m starting to feel like a broken record but Rapunzel never had a chance at real life until she escaped the tower. Yes, Rapunzel triggered Cassandra when she said this.
And everything we’ve had is lost
I get that is a trigger word for Cassandra as she is tired to be recognized behind Rapunzel but what happened to Rapunzel is not her fault and to say she has gotten to live a better life than you feel like a gross misunderstanding of everything she went through.
Nothing Left to Lose
This is easily my favorite song from the whole series. The brilliance of this number is here you have the two big villains that betrayed Rapunzel singing together. There is such maturity on Varian’s part as he is singing from experience, he knows how much it hurts to betray people you care about. It’s as though you see his mind flashing back to this moment while trying to save Cassandra.
He wants to save his friend and he has come a long way from being a dorky alchemist that had a crush on Cassandra to knowing it’s not too late for her to save herself. Just the way he grabs her hand when he tells her becoming the villain isn’t the answer is heartbreaking.
There is hope that Varian can break through to her as you can start to see the doubt on her face but as soon as he says she’s the villain, her anger comes full center and she is so blinded by her anger to not realize that yes, she has become a villain. There is something about the show’s first villain now reformed trying to save the current villain that is so heartbreaking. This song is an intervention that Cassandra refuses to listen to. Something that makes this number so strong is that Jeremy Jordan and Eden Espinosa recorded this together.
Having two powerhouse musical theater voices in the same recording booth for this song adds so much more weight to the number and makes it all the more tragic as they are giving it their all. I’d love to hear Jordan and Espinosa perform this number live.
Most Evil Deed
There are a plethora of options I could choose from Cassandra covering the kingdom of Corona in Black Rocks in the series finale.
But I want to go with something a bit more personal. During the third season, she builds a tower out of Black Rocks at the location of the old tower and kidnaps Varian after drugging him with his truth serum he tries to get through to her but to no avail, so instead she cages him and pushes him out on a ledge hanging out of the tower.
Why am I going with this moment as Cassandra’s evilest deed? Well, it comes down to the fact that Varian was trying to reach out to her, and get her to understand. Think of it like an intervention and he knows what he is talking about as he has been down this dark path before. Cassandra has decided that she doesn’t want to listen to anyone and would rather push away any type of help. This moment quite literally displays that as she sends Varian over an edge after trapping him in a cage made of Black Rocks.
She is so lost at this point, that no matter how much people like Varian or Rapunzel may want to save her, there is just no getting through to her. She’s made up her mind on how she wants to act. She’s that Tommy Wiseau meme.
The problem here is though that’s not the case, she made these choices and she betrayed herself. If she had just stopped and listened and talked it out with either Rapunzel or Varian, she might not have gone so far off the deep end. Look, I get that “wait” is a trigger word for Cassandra but to go back to Wicked.
I guess there’s blame to share
If Cass had acknowledged this before the final episode and woken up to realize what a fool she’d been, I’d be not more understanding of this arc as I don’t think it works but rather more forgiving.
I’m a bit mixed about Cassandra’s fate. It does make sense for Rapunzel to forgive her and for the two to make up.
I mean I get it and I imagine people would have been upset if she hadn’t been forgiven but let’s compare this back to Varian, after everything he did he was arrested. And while Cassandra did aid in helping take down Zhan Tiri in the end, her actions during her time as a villain were so much worse than what Varian did.
Now ultimately, Cass does decide to leave Corona to find her own destiny. Yeah, I get and it does fit her character but again, I feel as though she is let off too easily for everything she does.
Under most circumstances, I’d be all about this. After all one of the core themes of Tangled, is to follow your dreams and find what makes you happy. I’d be all for Cassandra living her new dream and finding her destiny if she had faced any sort of consequences for what she did to Corona. She doesn’t, she may not have kidnapped the queen like Varian in the first season but she does put the entire kingdom in jeopardy numerous times and does attempt to destroy the kingdom. Again, I understand that she is one of the main characters and you do want some type of happy ending for her and while it isn’t completely happy, what she ends up with still feels unearned after everything she did.
Does Cassandra Work as a Villain?
You’ll notice that I reworded the final category for when I look at villains and that’ll remain the same for the next three. And to answer that question, no she doesn’t. Her character was severely derailed by making her a villain. I like Cass a lot and I think she is a good counterpart to Rapunzel’s cherry nature but tying her past back to Gothel tanked one of the show’s best characters in my opinion. Instead of actually doing something interesting with her being a villain, it was a back-and-forth of Rapunzel trying to save her and Cassandra lamenting how much she now hated Rapunzel. Honestly, at some point, I feel like Rapunzel should have given up on trying to save Cassandra as you can’t save people that don’t want to save themselves. I still love this show and these characters but making Cassandra a villain will remain a decision that leaves me scratching my head as it does not fit with the character we came to know during the first two seasons.
Join me next time as we head to the kingdom of Avalor to look at what happens when a family member is forced into the villain role by past actions when I look at…
2 thoughts on “A Look at Disney: Villains Profile: Cassandra”
I still haven’t watched any of Tangled, but I remember you’ve talked to me on Twitter about Cassandra’s descent into villainy, and now that I’ve seen it laid out in fuller detail – yeah it really didn’t make much sense turning her into an antagonist when she had no real motivation to do so. But when you think about it that’s sadly true to real life – some people can’t acknowledge that the things that go wrong in their lives, the tragedies and injustices they endure, are completely out of anyone’s control. They NEED to find someone to focus that anger on, a scapegoat for all the wrong they’ve endured. And they just dig deeper into that to further rationalize when they cross more and more lines.
Do have to chuckle at you’re last line considering her first villain song is called Crossing The Line and you are right people to internalize all the trauma they went through and want to pin the blame on someone. This is something Cassandra does to Rapunzel but as I said, seeing how she acted in the first two seasons and having this character shift felt rather abrupt.