Is there a justifiable reason to betray your friends? Both Varian and Cassandra took a trip to the dark side in Tangled:The Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.
In this article I examine who they are, what motivated them to descend into evil and if it could have been avoided.
This article contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen Tangled:The Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, please do not continue reading.
Although Tangled:The Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure was full of amazing songs, my favorite is “Nothing Left To Lose.” For this reason, I wanted to write a Varian/Cassandra article. The lyrics spoke to the ramifications when one chooses to follow a path of hate and revenge. It is a powerful musical piece for the characters of Varian and Cassandra. It showed Varian had grown up and learned from his wrong decisions. His feelings for Cassandra were different from when we first met him. The old Varian was a boy with a crush whereas this new mature Varian was someone determined to save his friend from making a disastrous mistake…a mistake she couldn’t come back from.
Varian and Cassandra’s story arcs brought them full circle from protagonists to antagonists and back to protagonists again. Both Varian and Cassandra played integral roles in Princess Rapunzel’s life. She depended on Varian for his scientific knowledge and expertise. And Cassandra as her best friend was Rapunzel’s anchor and the person she turned to for support and advice. So the Princess of Corona never expected two people she trusted to turn on her and threaten Corona.
Having Varian and Cassandra as villains gave the series some of its best episodes. From a storytelling point of view, seeing a character sink low and rise again helps peel away the layers of who they are as people. And the similarities between Varian and Cassandra were eerie. Both craved approval, often felt misunderstood and wanted to be taken seriously by their fathers. In Season One Episode 8 “Great Exposition” Cassandra tells Varian her dad’s standards are harder for her than anyone else with Varian adding his dad is also hard to impress. And later in the episode, Varian admits he wanted Cassandra to see something special in him just like Cassandra wanted to be seen to the people of Corona as something other than Princess Rapunzel’s lady in waiting.
In order to decide whether the hurt they brought could have been avoided, we must look at what got them to the point of no return.
From Alchemist to Bad Guy
“Anybody who stands or stood in my path they’re going to pay.” – Varian (“Queen For a Day, Part Two”)
“I’m the bad guy, that’s fine. It’s no fault of mine. And some justice at last will be served. Now it’s time to step up. Or it’s time to back down. And there’s only one answer for me. And I’ll stand up and fight. Cause I know that I’m right. And I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready. Ready as I’ll ever be.”- Varian (“Secret of the Sun Drop” )
Varian lives in Old Corona with his father Quirin. But instead of spending time with children his own age, Varian spends his days in a lab in his basement working on his latest alchemy experiment. We learn that in addition to his science aptitude, he’s skilled in engineering and translating scrolls. The only adventure he gets is from reading books about the escapades of Flynn Rider. And the only companion he has to talk with is his raccoon Ruddiger.
Old Corona appears to be a village of farmers and the citizens there seem to hold Quirin in high esteem. I think they really don’t know what to make of Varian. Quirin loves his son, but can’t relate to his interests. Varian admires his dad and wants to spend time with him. As seen in Season One Episode 16 “Queen For a Day” he is excited to go with Quirin on the road trip to the castle. I guess father and son rarely do things together.
But once at the castle, Quirin didn’t allow Varian to join him when he went inside to talk with the king saying “Children have no place in court.” Since Quirin had no intention of telling King Frederic about the black rocks, obviously Varian being with him to explain the science wasn’t needed. Varian is confused when he overhears Quirin lie to King Frederic. Varian confronts Quirin about his deceit. But Quirin doesn’t listen to his son. I think the biggest problem between Quirin and Varian is the “children should be seen and not heard” mentality. As the father, Quirin wants Varian to accept everything he does without question. I can’t fault Quirin for wanting to protect his son and keep him safe. But as soon as I heard Quirin’s edict to “stay away from those rocks,” I knew Varian wouldn’t listen and something tragic would come from his defiance. Sure he wants to save his village, but Varian’s main goal is to make his dad proud. And solving the mystery of the strange rocks counts in the young alchemist’s mind. Of course this backfires when the chemical element he makes creates an amber trapping Quirin inside. Varian’s always relied on science and now it turns on him!
So it’s off to the castle again in the worst snowstorm Corona has seen to get Rapunzel’s help. But Rapunzel has her hands full with her parents away. As acting queen, she must make a decision on whether to evacuate the island and can’t go back to Old Corona with Varian to save his father. Rapunzel’s heart breaks hearing Varian’s cries of “You promised” as he’s dragged out of the castle by the guards. But in defense of Rapunzel, her actual promise was for Varian to give her until her parents returned. A little nitpick for me was I bet not one guard escorted Varian home to see he got back safely. They talked about the danger of being out in the storm but allowed this kid to trek all the way back home alone. Unless they figured if he got to the castle, he could get back home. But probably more likely Varian’s safety didn’t cross their minds.
After finding Quirin now completely entombed, Varian is committed to two things: Freeing his father and making Rapunzel and Corona pay. Besides for Ruddiger, Varian spent weeks alone looking at his father’s encased form while plotting his revenge. The feeling of guilt (for creating the amber solution), betrayal (Rapunzel breaking her promise) and rejection (being thrown out of the castle by the guards) possibly drove him mad. Gone was the sensitive boy…in his place was an obsessed with revenge teen. And what made Varian dangerous was his high intelligence and scientific mind. Varian blamed Rapunzel for breaking her promise as he didn’t want to face the truth that it was his chemical compound that trapped Quirin. By facing this, Varian would have to admit what happened to his father was his fault. I think by placing the blame on Rapunzel it helped him coped better with the situation.
Drugging, deception and kidnapping follows concluding in a big battle involving huge automatons when Rapunzel, King Frederic, Cassandra, Eugene and Lance lay siege on Old Corona to rescue Queen Arianna from Varian’s clutches. Even as he’s defeated, arrested and taken off to the dungeon for his crimes, Varian vows to make his dad proud.
Season Three saw Varian’s return. He planned to synthesize the power of the Saporian Wand of Oblivion used to erase King Frederic and Queen Arianna’s memories into a gas named Quirineon (after his father) to wipe out everyone’s memories in Corona so they’ll forget everything he did. He also now has partners in crime: Andrew and the Separatists of Saporia. But their nefarious scheme involves using Quirineon to blow up Corona! Not wanting to see anyone hurt, Varian switches back to the side of good. And he rekindles his friendship with Rapunzel. They work together to defeat Andrew and the Separatists of Saporia and save Corona. Then, Rapunzel finally keeps her promise to Varian by using the Moonstone’s Decaying Incantation on the amber, thus freeing Quirin. Relieved his father is still alive, Varian rushes into Quirin’s arms. Varian learns the letter his father wrote before being swallowed by the amber was to tell his son he’s always been proud of him. Though I believe Quirin actually revealed the truth about the Moonstone as that letter was way too long to just say he was proud of Varian. Unless Quirin listed Varian’s accomplishments…which is highly unlikely.
Although Quirin told Varian he’s always been proud of him, viewers got to see it in the Season 3 finale “Plus Est En Vous” when Varian becomes Corona’s Royal Engineer and father and son work together to bring the kingdom hot running water, Varian’s goal since the first episode.
More Than Just A Lady In Waiting
“There’s a line between the winners and the losers. There’s a line between the chosen and the rest. And I’ve done the best I could. But I’ve always known just where we stood. Me here with the luckless. You there with the blessed. And that line between the beggars and the choosers. Is a line you’ve never let me quite ignore. How I’ve tried to jump that great divide. But I’ve never got the chances you were given. You don’t know how much I’ve been denied. Well, I’m not being patient anymore. I’m crossing the line!” – Cassandra (“Rapunzel’s Return”)
Although Cassandra cared for her friend Rapunzel, she also harbored a jealousy deep down for the Princess of Corona. This was first noticeable in Season One Episode 4 “Challenge of the Brave.” Cassandra wanted to win the contest to prove her bravery to all of Corona. So you can imagine how annoyed she was seeing the attention crowd-pleaser Rapunzel received when she entered. As the series progressed, we saw other incidents where Cassandra was in competition with Rapunzel.
In Season Two, Rapunzel travels from Corona to follow the black rocks to her destiny. Cassandra is by her side. Did she resent putting her own life on hold for her friend? Probably.
I think one of the major problems in Cassandra and Rapunzel’s relationship is their clashing personalities. Rapunzel is all about the sharing and wants Cassandra to be the same. She can’t understand why Cassandra wouldn’t want to open up to her. (“The thought of opening makes me queasy”- Cassandra in Season 2 Episode 17 “Rapunzel Day One”) I don’t think Cassandra needs to tell Rapunzel everything. But Cassandra allowed her feelings of resentment for Rapunzel and the advantages the young princess had fester. Why was Rapunzel’s destiny paramount?
Destiny Fulfilled, Friendship Lost
Chinks in the armor of Cassandra and Rapunzel’s friendship became noticeable in “Rapunzel and The Great Tree Part Two” when Rapunzel sided with Adira over her friend. Again, Cassandra felt sidelined and second best and expresses these feelings in the song “Waiting In The Wings.” Rapunzel chooses to use the deadly Moonstone Incantation on The Great Tree over Cassandra’s suggestion of the spear to destroy. In the process, Cassandra’s hand is badly burned.”When did you stop trusting me?” she asked.
When Cassandra claims the moonstone for herself in “Destinies Collide,” she setting herself on the path of evil. She was now Rapunzel’s enemy.
This development escalated the battle between Team Awesome and Zhan Tiri, with Cassandra being the ancient warlock’s pawn and general.
It was sad to see Cassandra as the villain. It was a great move for the writers to make Cassandra Mother Gothel’s daughter as it took their conflict to new heights. Worst still she blamed Rapunzel for Mother Gothel abandoning her for Rapunzel.
A sly Zhan Tiri capitalized on Cassandra’s insecurities to get Cass to do her bidding. Destruction rained upon Corona before Cassandra realized her mistake. Fortunately, she and Rapunzel were able to mend fences before irrevocable damage was done to their friendship. I feel all they’ve been through will make their relationship.
As far as whether Varian and Cassandra descend into evil could have been avoided, it’s hard to say. Of the two I’d probably venture a guess and say Cassandra allowed things to go too far. Once she accepted her path was dark, she should have asked herself “Is this worth it?” But again if she believed it was her destiny, she might have believed the choice was out of her hands. I do think although they can be forgiven, both Varian and Cassandra can’t be excused for the choices they made. The Tangled fandom seem to be more forgiving and accepting of Varian’s mistakes than they are of Cassandra’s. I think it’s probably because he’s a kid so they’re more protective. There’s a lot of controversy in the fandom that Varian was punished for his crimes by being carted off to the dungeon while Cassandra got to leave Corona and explore the world in search of her real destiny.
Eden Espinosa and Jeremy Jordan’s Broadway training alleviated their songs to a different level. You could feel Varian and Cassandra’s pain and regret in every note. “Nothing Left to Lose” was a tour de force ballad that impressively showcased Espinosa and Jordan voice talents.
The tale of Varian and Cassandra’s fall from grace raised Tangled: The Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure above the standard Disney’s cartoon fare.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Disney Channel