Instagram, recently, released the teaser trailer for After We Fell which is the third film of the After series. And let us warn you that there is nothing that can save you from the catastrophe that you will witness. Anna Todd, the author of the Wattpad phenomena, After, managed to create the most toxic relationship ever and make millions of dollars. The glorification of the lead couple’s toxic relationship has definitely brought the bar to a whole new low.
So far, Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) goes to college and falls in love with a borderline alcoholic and narcissistic boy named Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). Like every other romance novel, Tessa and Hardin meet and, at first sight, hate each other. A majority of their initial interactions, not that it improves much later, include them yelling at each other. Repeatedly, Hardin bullies her for being studious and a virgin. Despite being treated like absolute trash, Tessa can’t help but feel attracted to him because he’s “different.” Not to mention, the only reason they are is that Hardin bets his friends on her virginity. No wonder they are in a toxic relationship. Every time these two are together all they do is have sex, fight, and have more sex. Because that’s how you solve problems in real life. And this goes on for a total of four books. FOUR.
Toxic Relationships – the New Aesthetic
This series like many others is proof that the film industry is quite keen on promoting toxic relationships. And the target audience for such appalling content is more often than not young impressionable girls. Just look at any teen romance movie like After, The Kissing Booth, Twilight, etc. They all propagate the notion that every bad guy just needs a good, naive girl to fix him. From Instagram Reels to Tik Toks, girls can’t help but fetishize boys like Hardin. Social media feeds are overwhelmed with fan edits and clips that glorify such toxic boys. The bar is alarmingly low if girls are really out there searching for boys like Hardin. “Fixing the bad boy” isn’t the type of relationship you should aim for. You’re his girlfriend not his mother.
Todd and the filmmakers made quite the bank after glamorizing the heck out of an emotionally abusive relationship. We are so habituated to such portrayals that we have no idea what an ideal healthy relationship looks like anymore. Hardin Scott is the epitome of toxic masculinity. But who cares about the character when the actor is young and gorgeous. It’s no secret that our society can be superficial and shallow, especially when it comes to looks. So, when a character so deeply flawed is presented in the form of a 6-foot-tall British man, girls were bound to swoon.
But why is it that girl lose their mind over boys like Hardin Scott? Because let’s be honest here, what more did Hardin have to offer to Tessa than good sex. Throughout the entirety of the series, there is no character development whatsoever. Unless you count the last few pages of the final book. The author spent hundreds of pages showing the main characters living in a vicious cycle while the readers suffered along. This suggests that the purpose of this book was not to highlight the stereotype that “people change” but to impress a bunch of horny teenagers with some cringy dirty talk and sex scenes. These characters never grew because they were constantly placed in a destructive environment.
Match Made in Hell
Many members of the After fandom and Todd herself have spoken out against the controversy surrounding Hessa’s toxic relationship. They believe that the relationship is not perfect, and that’s where the magic, apparently, lies because neither are real relationships. The last time we checked, people in real relationships weren’t losing their mental stability and self-respect every second they were with their partner. If you are going to write a novel about a toxic relationship, at least don’t label it as romance. Todd says that she is aware of the problematic nature of the lead couple. However, she often parades through social media about how Hessa is “relationship goals.”
Todd claims that the books were her form of escapism. But let us just say Hessa’s world is one we would definitely not want to be a part of. People read books to escape to a world to experience the magic, adventure, and enchantment, not depression. How the lead couple managed to end up together is beyond us. If Tessa and Hardin were a couple in real life, they wouldn’t last more than a week. Maybe two weeks. With the DNA of a tired narrative that augments abusive relationships, the story preaches to the young female audience that their partners should be allowed to manipulate and emotionally wreck them if they had a dark childhood.
What alarmed us more about this series was its fandom. When the first movie came out, many fans took to the internet to voice their complaints. Some claimed that “Hardin was too soft” in the film. Basically, they are asking for a Hardin who constantly yells at Tessa, gaslights her, abandons her, have sex with her, and then repeats the cycle. These fans have placed this toxic relationship on a pedestal and yearned for a boy like Hardin. Yes, yearn. There is even merchandise out there with slogans like “Where the hell is my Hardin?”.
When Hardin lived in England with his mother, he and his friends used to make bets on who could sleep with a girl first and send proof. He even recorded himself having sex with a girl named Natalie without her consent and ended up ruining her life. When he reveals this to Tessa, this boyish man has the audacity to say that it was only a little “fun”. He even went on to say that he only felt bad for Natalie because he imagined her to be Tessa. Like what? As if this wasn’t ridiculous enough, Tessa forgives him just hours after and even ends up apologizing to him. In fact, Hardin even meets Natalie later on in life when she’s doing well, and she forgives him even though he felt no guilt whatsoever. Why? Because his character needed redemption.
Despite such despicable behavior, the fans accept and defend Hardin’s actions because he had a tough childhood. Now, we’re not neglecting any trauma that Hardin has suffered. However, the way it is framed to the audience is definitely unhealthy. When he was younger, his father wasn’t always around, at least not sober. As a consequence, Hardin witnessed some men physically assault his mother because of something his father did. Hardin always blames his father for the way he turned out, especially given his equation with women. What people take away from this relationship is that Hardin never learned to respect women because he never had his father around. Essentially Hardin absolves himself of any responsibility for his actions. Let’s get one thing straight, an abuser’s unhealthy upbringing does not, under any circumstances, excuse the damage they choose to do.
It’s true that Hardin never physically hurt Tessa, at least not intentionally. He does, however, manhandle her on several occasions even after she tells him to stop. The author, however, writes this off as a joke and makes a cute moment out of it. Throughout the series, Tessa repeatedly chants to herself that he would never physically hurt her. Supporters of this series can’t seem to grasp the concept that abuse can and does exist outside of physical encounters. Psychological abuse has dire consequences. Their story could have been much more productive had it shown Tessa standing up for herself and leaving the scumbag.
While these books and movies are works of fiction with no moral or ethical boundaries, they still influence society’s culture. Writers have the liberty to write about messy and atrocious characters because even monsters have love stories. But, these characters shouldn’t be lauded for their behavior. Media has a powerful influence on relationship norms. People need to realize that this trend of movies where good girls “fall in love” with bad guys just to end up fixing them is not what a real relationship is like. Excusing a toxic relationship like this as a consequence of “life is messy” justifies abuse which is unacceptable on so many levels. This type of trashy teen romance may have fooled the audience in earlier years, but honey this is 2021. Women know what they want. They aren’t going to settle for some pretty boy with daddy issues just because he has an accent.
Woman vs. Woman
Women in such dark romance novels are always enemies for the sake of the plot. The shy, virginal female protagonists get off of bringing down girls who are confident or provocative. And Tessa is no different with her holier-than-thou charade. From the moment she encounters Molly, a friend of Hardin’s, she slut shames her for being confident in her body. Actually, Tessa does this with practically every girl (heterosexual or not) she sees around Hardin. And it gets worse because Tessa’s roommate Steph was plotting against her the entire time. Shocker. She was one of Hardin’s many friends with benefits and despised Tessa because she became special to Hardin. Steph was so upset that in the third book, and we wish we were making this up, she tried to videotape her guy friends sexually assaulting Tessa as revenge.
Sexual violence of any kind is not a joke. The amount of times Todd has used this as a plot device is astounding. In every single book, instances of sexual assault or violation are thrown around like confetti. And the focus is never even on the victim or the incident itself. It always comes back to how what happens to the girl, in this case, Tessa, impacts her partner.
It’s surprising we even have to say this but a gentle reminder that violence is not an aesthetic. Given the audience of this series, Todd should have approached the sensitive topic with much more respect. As for Steph, are these really the types of female protagonists you want to advertise to young girls? Instead of showing examples of women supporting each other, Todd chose to go with overused and outdated cliché stereotypes. In a society where many girls struggle with body positivity, self-empowerment, and self-love characters like these counteract all the progress society has made to help women.
What is baffling about Tessa’s character is her inability to comprehend the true nature of her relationship with Hardin. He literally bet on her virginity with his friends and won after showing them the used condom and bloodied sheets as proof. How can you possibly forgive such behavior and build a life with a man like this? Tessa is so stupidly gullible that even after many red flags, she ends up marrying the guy and has kids with him. This book could have worked if the author had used the relationship to educate the audience about what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship and how they can recover from it. Tessa had many chances to get out, but due to Todd and the fandom’s need to have the two end up together, she was never able to escape the mutually destructive relationship.
Missed the Mark… By a LOT
The final book weakly attempts to address the countless complaints regarding the emotional abuse and the idiocy of the relationship. Apparently, Hardin was chronicling his relationship with Tessa, obviously without her knowledge, in a journal. Which he eventually turns into a novel and becomes rich and famous for. When Tessa finds the manuscript titled After and questions him about it, he claims that he wants to give hope to those who also experienced imperfect love stories like them. He’s right in that their relationship was nowhere near perfect; however, it definitely didn’t need to be converted into a how-to guide for abusive partners. His actions more often than not left Tessa in a catatonic state which allowed him to further manipulate her into staying with him.
The final book had the potential for a more productive plotline regarding Hardin’s recovery process, yet those were spoken of in a few short sentences and time jumps. The one thing that could have truly saved the book was oversimplified to the point where you don’t even realize it happened. The time the two protagonists spent apart in the final book was an integral part of their relationship. But it all happened off the page. Readers want to see Hardin realize he needs medical help and actually pursue it. The sloppy storyline simply justifies the toxic relationship.
Of the four main books, three and a half of them show the readers why these two don’t belong together. Simply saying that “oh he got better because time passed” is quite unsatisfying. As an author, you spent so much time highlighting his distasteful traits and completely fall flat when it came to showing him working on himself to be better for Tessa. And Tessa, too, went through some time of self-reflection and recovery, but it never makes it to the final pages. This makes their so-called happy ending even more disarranging because readers never get to see the side of them that proves that they deserve each other.
Older authors like Anna Todd know that the primary demographic for their content are young impressionable girls. But it clearly doesn’t matter to them because they are making money. Shouldn’t authors handle such controversial and potentially triggering topics with more sensitivity instead of turning them into fetishes or using them to move the plot forward? The series would have done so much better if Todd had shown Tessa leaving the toxic relationship and learning to recover from it. But the plot that Todd chose tells the audience that girls should stay in abusive relationships if they feel like their partner has the potential to improve.
The Glass Half Full
We can promise you that there is barely anything positive to say about the series, but we will try our best. For starters, we have to give it to Todd for portraying the female protagonist with a body type that isn’t size zero. Generally, in this genre, the female protagonists are those who meet Eurocentric beauty standards. So, kudos to Todd for doing something different. Along those lines, Tessa learns to explore and accept her sexuality quite a bit throughout her time with Hardin. Although it is important to note that this discovery was often a consequence of her toxic relationship, which at times forced her to abandon her comfort zone.
And lastly, thank you, Anna Todd, for making us realize that big books are not always that difficult to finish. Despite the books being over 500 pages each of chaotic stupidity, we flew through it. It’s like watching a car crash because sometimes you just can’t look away.
Pick it or Skip it?
Regardless of the series being a work of fiction, there are many glaring red flags that are never addressed or handled well. At the end of the day, it is your choice whether you want to tackle the series or not. Please be aware, though, that many triggering instances occur throughout all four of the books. If what we’ve said so far hasn’t convinced you yet, then please be our guest and give the books a try. And if you’re feeling extra rebellious, try the films too.
To our girls out there, may you never find the Hardin to your Tessa.
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