Maddy Perez Is the Anti-Mean Girl "Euphoria" Needs
Maddy Perez is a b****. There, we said it — and if you watch HBO's "Euphoria," you might think so, too. Fierce and filterless, Maddy, played by Alex Demie, is center stage in every room and relationship. With a tight circle of friends who sing her praises and a rollercoaster relationship with a popular football jock, she appears, at first sight, to be right out of a page of the "Mean Girls" Burn Book.
We're introduced to her in a scene worthy of the OG mean girl, Regina George. Maddy combs over her physique while scrutinizing herself in the vanity mirror of her plush pink bedroom. She nitpicks at her 17-year-old body while her friends rebut each flaw she points out. Like Regina George, she's a glammed-up, scantily-clad head cheerleader — the "it" girl among her peers. But that's where their similarities end.
Regina's popularity was buoyed by wealth, a spoon-fed upbringing, and a servile clique of lackeys. Maddy's home life stands in stark contrast, but fans still assigned her the mean-girl template in season one and wrote her off despite the fact that she'd never actually Regina George-d anyone.
In "Euphoria" Maddy's evolution is dominated by one overarching quality: confidence. Her confidence brings her a long way, just as it muddles our perceptions of Maddy's milestone moments — like her first sexual encounter at 14 years old with a 40-year-old. Maddy's domineering cockiness is so abundant that Rue's narration suggests that she was "in control" of the situation. But she wasn't, and no amount 14-year-old confidence could negate a clear case of statutory rape. Similarly, there's no amount of confidence Maddy could possess that would make it easier to navigate an alcoholic father and a loveless, bitter marriage between her parents.
"Euphoria" has a habit of forcing Maddy's vanity to precede her vulnerability.
It's almost inevitable that she anchors her heart to the volatile Nate Jacobs. No matter how toxic, the relationship grants her the love and protection her home life lacks. For her, Nate's intensity is a brunt worth bearing — even if it means putting an innocent man in jail, a bruised neck, and a gun to her temple.
"Maddy will do everything in her power not to end up like her parents," Demie observed in HBO's Unfiltered. "She doesn't want that life, so she's trying to find a way out in any way she can. . . . Even though [Nate] hurts her, she thinks it's better than what she's grown up watching."
Maddy's relationships with her friends and peers also subvert mean-girl status. Maddy centers sisterhood in her friendships, lending a hand to practically anyone at East Highland High who needs it. Sharing earnest moments with Jules, Rue, and even the young child she babysits, Maddy rejects the need to other those outside her circle. Even after discovering d*ck pics on Nate's phone, she keeps his secret close.
Still, the fandom still seems largely devoid of empathy for Maddy — especially relative to her bestie-turned-traitor, Cassie Howard, who's a much better fit for the Regina George mold. We're wired to extend more empathy to Cassie, the show's blonde-haired, blue-eyed sweetheart — but while she has her own share of trauma, she's far from harmless. Her mean-girl moments manifest more covertly: meltdowns triggered by the slightest emotional inconvenience. She eggs Maddy on to "say it to their fucking face" when Maddy fumes over Nate's family's contempt towards her; her initially supportive words during Rue's attempted intervention shift to scathing put-downs after Rue reveals her affair with Nate.
Cassie's Regina-like characteristics only highlight Maddy's vulnerability. In a scene where the former besties are separated by a door, Maddy shares her heartbreak. "I'm sick of it — he put me through hell, and now he's with my f****** best friend. Like, what the f***? When is it gonna end?" Maddy's loyalty to sisterhood overrides her fury. The object of her ire is her ex-boyfriend, despite the fact that she was equally betrayed by her best friend.
"Euphoria" has a habit of forcing Maddy's vanity to precede her vulnerability. While season two finally reveals the latter, Maddy's character development is, until that point, limited to the mean-girl trope. As Rue puts it, "Maddy knew she had an optics issue." By writing off the lone Latina lead as a stereotypical mean girl (while an actual Regina George stands right beside her), it appears that anti-Maddy "Euphoria" fans have an optics issue, too.