As NBC’s The Player heads toward its explosive finale, we’re spotlighting the four characters – and actors – that make this show the unsung class of television. Today, the spotlight is on Cassandra King, the “Dealer” for The House whose cool demeanor belies a varied skill set and a series of complicated motivations brought to the surface by Charity Wakefield.
Like her employer Mr. Johnson, Cassandra is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be working for a secret organization that facilitates gambling on crime. She’s calm under pressure, introduced by hitting Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) with her car and absolutely not caring about it, before she returns to help him escape police custody. A whiz with computers and with the most powerful technological system – known as ADA – at her fingertips, it doesn’t seem like anything gets past her either physically or emotionally.
Her function in the show is as a very elite form of tech support; she is Alex’s ultimate and primary resource, enabling him to complete his tasks in every way possible – and a few that seem like they shouldn’t be. Whether it’s getting him the access code to a fire system control panel (as seen in the pilot), spotting him with an impressively sized sniper rifle (“L.A. Takedown”), or just keeping tabs on where he is (seemingly all the time), Cassandra acts as the bridge between Alex and The House.
But to consider her the resident computer expert is doing a disservice to perhaps the series’ most nuanced character. Every procedural in the modern era has learned to rely upon the one character who sits behind a keyboard and provides information and/or exposition to the the people who actually get their hands dirty. While that is sometimes Cassandra’s task (she usually relays to Alex and the audience the facts of the week’s bet), she is one of those people who gets her hands dirty.
The Player has smartly used her as its own resource, moving her away from the monitor and out of the Occam on numerous occasions, both alongside Alex and on solo errands. Audiences learn in “L.A. Takedown” that she has British military training, and it’s established at the end of the pilot that Cassandra was a friend of Alex’s ex-wife Ginny Lee (Daisy Betts) when the latter was overseas, giving her a separate interest in seeing Ginny located that she pursues through the later episodes. Cassandra isn’t “the techie character,” she’s a fully developed and very powerful woman who can’t be penciled into one box – and there are more revelations about her on the way.
From a story perspective, she also stands between Alex and The House as far as the audience is concerned. Cassandra is allied with Johnson (Wesley Snipes), but beginning with the pilot has a certain sympathy toward Alex, and it becomes clear as the season progresses that she and Johnson are not always a unified front. Watch the scene in the first episode where Cassandra tries to convince Alex to join the game, talking about how much good he could do with The House’s resources – that’s not an act. There’s a genuine belief in what she’s saying. She’s not just trying to get him on her side; she’s trying to get him on everyone‘s side.
Cassandra moves through the series displaying an honest concern for Alex’s survival, appearing visibly worried when she can’t reach him and doing everything she can to help him survive. That emotion paints her as much more than “The Dealer.” If the situation were strictly business for her, she could simply fulfill her obligation and if he got himself killed, so be it. There’s always another player. But Cassandra has compassion, further distinguishing her from that TV trope where emotionless would-be robots are somehow cool to watch.
Believe it or not, she’s the one who comes closest to holding all the cards in The Player‘s complicated game. By virtue of her position in The House, Cassandra is privy to all those unwritten rules and the subtle moves of Mr. Johnson as he manipulates everyone from Alex to high-ranking government officials. But because she’s also interacting directly with Alex, she knows what he’s thinking and feeling, too (he’s not very private sometimes). With these two ideologically different and sometimes physically at each other’s throats, that gives her a unique perspective, because she doesn’t have to be beholden to one or the other – or either of them, if she so decides.
The beauty of Cassandra is that she’s not middle management. She plays off both Alex and Johnson, but she’s allowed to have her own point of view, her own story arc and her own life. It was revealed earlier this season that she didn’t accept her role with The House entirely of her own volition. We’re still waiting for specifics on the extent of her relationship with Ginny, yet we do know that she was until recently involved with a great guy named Nick (Revenge‘s Nick Wechsler), even if he never knew her real name. Speaking of real names, don’t assume that Cassandra is her real name either – our money is on that being a reference to the character from Greek mythology.
What we have, then, is a character in which everything or nothing could be true, who could be on one side in one episode and on another the next. Almost everything about her is truly fluid, creating an unpredictability that’s really unheard of on television. Who is she really loyal to? How much does she know about any given situation? Could she be the character that makes the difference as The House is under siege and Alex is desperate for an ally in his search for Ginny? It’s hard not to think that Cassandra could tip the entirety of the show in any direction that she wants.
That also makes her probably the most difficult of the main roles to play. But Charity Wakefield has been something of a revelation in the part, able to convey all the many pieces in motion for Cassandra in the most subtle of ways. She rarely gets a scene to devote strictly to what’s going on inside her character, but she can show the wheels turning in the delivery of a line or one shot that might be hiding a clue. You’re usually learning about her while something else is going on, and yet there’s always something in her performance somewhere.
All the other characters have their specific aims, and all the other actors are known quantities who’ve proven their superlative talent on previous projects. But when you watch Charity, it’s downright baffling that it took three pilots before NBC found a show to get her on the air. She’s so good at what she does – building her character while also keeping everyone else’s plates spinning – that you’d think US network television would’ve snatched her up a long time ago. As it is, Cassandra ought to be her breakout part, because she’s demonstrated that she’s one of the top actresses on television in short order (literally).
Cassandra may never get all the answers she’s looking for, and hopefully she won’t be forced into a corner where she feels the need to betray either of her colleagues, because both of them need her. She’s that rare character who is completely indispensible, and that goes far beyond the fact that she’s punching keys on a supercomputer. Whether it’s trying to get to the heart of the drama surrounding The House or just providing the closest thing that Alex has to a shoulder to lean on, The Player wouldn’t be the same without her – and those who clamor for great roles for women ought to take a page out of her book.
The Player airs tomorrow, Nov. 18, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. For a preview of tomorrow’s finale, click here.