Skins Pure, meanwhile, ditches Sid altogether. We find Cassie a changed woman, but in a much more convincing way than Effy, whose turn as a high-powered hedge funder in Skins Fire seemed like a different character altogether. Cassie’s barreled through her wild and crazy phase and settled into the depressing reality of young adulthood in the big city, working as a waitress in a tiny London café. She spends her post-high-school malaise living a relatively tame, anonymous life, socializing with coworkers and starting a very tentative friendship with another resident of her hovel. It’s a far cry from the drug-fueled partying of her youth. The drama starts when Cassie discovers she’s being watched: someone’s been taking pictures of her standing at her apartment window, staring wistfully at the cityscape. That someone, it turns out, is the café’s scrawny, socially awkward cook.
On a lesser show, Cassie’s discovery would be the beginning of the end of her admirer’s journey of self-discovery. Cassie would listen to what several other female characters tell her: that the photos demonstrate his reverence for her; that only someone who sees how beautiful she is could capture her so perfectly; that someone taking photos of her without her permission and posting them on the Internet is endearing and sweet and not in any way skin-crawlingly creepy. Instead, Cassie takes matters into her own hands: she follows her coworker, tells him off, takes his camera, and lets him know in no uncertain terms that what he’s doing — assuming he has the right to make her into an object of his desire and present her to the world in that context without her consent — is Not Okay. Eventually, Cassie finds it in herself to forgive her coworker and allow him to photograph her, but their relationship is reestablished on her own terms, and she flatly informs him that romance is out of the question.
Cassie’s message comes across loud and clear. It’s not simply that she’s her own person with wants and desires that might not be one and the same with her admirer’s (though that’s a worthy takeaway in and of itself). It’s that she doesn’t exist as a means of getting some guy famous, or self-confident, or laid. And in the real world, men treating women that way doesn’t and shouldn’t end with a meet-cute or a romantic reunion on a park bench, á la the Season 1 finale of the original Skins. It ends with women being shocked, horrified, and very much not inclined to sleep with the men that try to convince us objectification is a form of flattery.
It’s no accident, I hope, that all this reads as an argument against the MPDG and the writer-director mindset that gave rise to her. If Skins Pure carries through with this logic in its second half, which airs tonight, it has the potential to leave a lasting impression with its mostly (but not entirely!) teenage audience. To men, of course, it serves as a reminder that the MPDG is a fantasy, and a harmful one at that. But to girls, it says something more powerful: that we should never stand for being treated the way Cassie has, and that we’re not frigid or bitchy or any other gendered pejorative for not being impressed by unwanted advances. Because the Manic Pixie Dream Girl isn’t just harmful for how she teaches men to perceive women; she’s also dangerous for how she teaches women to behave — namely, as passive recipients of romantic advances, not protagonists in our own right who can and should put our own problems first. But Cassie Ainsworth isn’t a Manic Pixie Dream Girl anymore, and she no longer has to act like one. Neither do we.