There are two things that Catfish co-creator Nev Schulman says in the introduction to the season-two premiere that, despite being cheesy, sum up why the MTV “docu-drama” is so addictive. First he asks, “Will hope become love, or is love in for a giant shock?” Then (and there’s no way he actually crafted this perfectly polished turn of promo phrase), “A little bit of fiction can lead to a whole lot of reality.”
For the uninitiated, hope always becomes love and love is always in for a shock on Catfish, the series based on the social phenomena chronicled in the 2010 documentary of the same name. There would be no show if there weren’t deep feelings and deeper lies. Nobody comes out of Catfish not being catfished — a term coined by the show to mean deceived intentionally in an Internet romance — which is precisely where the reality comes in. Scandal, Nashville, really most prime-time soaps — they’re as much about character development as they are about juicy plot twists, but most viewers don’t navigate in the real-life equivalents of these worlds in any way. But Catfish is one of the realest shows we have, for a certain group of Internet users. The viewers who can appreciate the openness of Catfish the most are the ones who remember when it was actually socially frowned upon to engage in romance (not dating) on the web. They were taught that trusting people on the Internet was serious business — something that, if Catfish were to be used as exhibit A, does not happen so much anymore. “Oh hey, this guy’s got a Facebook with six pics and 94 friends, he’s a Real Dude, so let me just talk to him for two and a half years without meeting him.”
Which brings us to Tuesday’s season-two premiere. It is actually incredible what human beings can will themselves to believe when love is involved. Cassie wrote to Nev and his sidekick, Max Joseph, with an opening line that has got to go down in the history books: “I need help meeting my fiancé.” So it’s pretty much a no-brainer that, out of the nearly 10,000 e-mails Schulman received since Catfish season one ended, he selected Cassie. The episode did not disappoint — it was among one of the show’s best, both in terms of the twist and the pulling of heart strings. Usually Catfish either commits to the Drama or the Emotion (the Mhissy episode last season being the prime example of the former), but here, both are in equal measure. And that’s because they got dead people involved.
Miami-area student and radio station employee Cassie “hit rock bottom” following the brutal murder of her father in 2010. She was numbing herself with sex and booze, in turn shutting out those who cared about her the most. Her best friend, Gladys, took precautions to make sure Cassie didn’t “screw up [her] life forever” and get pregnant. She did what any modern woman would do and created a fake Facebook profile using photos of a professional male model in order to seduce her best friend so that she could save her. And it worked! The model, Deonee Arnez, became aspiring Atlanta rapper Steven Gomez (a.k.a., S-KILLA), who, with a little help from Gladys’s musician cousin, had a soundtrack. Actual. Terrible. Music. to share with Cassie, making her believe that his dubstep raps kept him in such high demand that he barely made it out of the recording studio or off the road, despite the fact that Cassie works in music and had never heard of him.
As is usually the case with these long cons, the engaged couple had never video chatted. Cassie told Nev and Max that they had tried once, it didn’t work, and she never asked again. But apparently their phone sex life was very active. Cue the cousin, Tony, who, as it turns out, IS into Cassie. “It felt real to me,” he told Cassie during the big reveal, but she was not having none of his stoner-dude ponytail and we never hear from him again (at least you got two years of phone sex?). While Gladys was in control of Steven’s texts and Facebook with a second iPhone, Tony was the one talking to Cassie on the phone. Nev and Max pulled two strings and there Tony was. They didn’t even have to bust out the reverse Google search this episode.
In the end, the winner here has got to be Gladys. She had good intentions behind her lies, but it’s hard to be on her side when her immediate reaction when the whole thing went down was “I have a headache” and her justification was, essentially, “I don’t want to call her a whore buuuut.” A day later, Cassie forgave her, saying that she “couldn’t ignore the fact that [she’s] a better person than she was before [Steve]” and was “a lil’ mad” but that they’re still going to be friends. Frankly, Gladys doesn’t deserve to be Cassie’s friend — not because she did what she did, but because she let it get to the point that it did. Cassie was mortified (“I feel embarrassed and dumb as fuck right now”), like levels of mortified not seen onscreen since the “I’m a fucking bet!?!” scene in She’s All That. Just like Rose in the Joe and Kari Ann episode last season, Gladys should have confessed the minute Cassie told her the Catfish crew was coming to town. One step backwards for female friendships, one step forwards for Catfish ratings.
Cassie’s Delusion Score (out of 10): 9.3
Outcome: More catfish than Popeyes’ new menu