Zac Eaton | March 8, 2022
Includes spoilers for Seasons One and Two of Euphoria
Content Warning: references to sex, abuse, drugs and childhood trauma
Surely, I’m not the only one invested in the snowballing, chaotic mess that is HBO’s Euphoria. The popularity of the show is through the roof and appropriately complemented by masses of opinions:
Can Nate be redeemed?
Should Rue really be in a relationship?
Should we humanise villains?
Euphoria explores the modern youth experience when intersected with trauma, drugs and violence. The American high schoolers’ lives are constantly complicated by their relationships, sexuality and pasts. In Season Two, Euphoria continues to follow their main cast of teenagers but, also opens up to the backstories and lives of their parents. The main star under this new light is Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane)—Nate’s (Jacob Elordi) dad, a demanding and sexually repressed father who has pretty much scarred his son for life by having multiple affairs with trans women and men. And recording them. Well, now Season Two dives into Cal’s backstory and sheds some light on his problematic relationships, revealing that he had his first son by accident and was in love with his male best friend.
The issue with Cal’s backstory—which I thought was heartbreaking—is that his atrocious parenting was why Season Two is somewhat labelled as Nate’s Redemption Arc. However, now Nate’s redemption could be complicated due to Cal starting to beg for his own redemption. Perhaps this is the point, that villainhood isn’t just born from nowhere and that each wrongdoing has a root explanation. Cal’s and Nate’s backstories blur the lines of where being the victim ends and where being the villain begins. This suggests that villains are simultaneously the victims. And the real problem is that I don’t know if I disagree with this statement, but what effect does this have on the people they’ve hurt?
The relationship between Jules and Nate is a prime example of this. After Nate bullied Jules, we later find out that he was also cat-fishing her, and while he lied to her, the jury is still out on whether his feelings were genuine or purely manipulative. Nate’s relationship with his father doesn’t justify what he did to Jules, but it has prompted us to at least understand it or dare I say, sympathise with him. But where does that leave Jules? Is she expected to just forgive Nate on the account of his rough childhood? I’d assume not, as Nate’s abusive manipulation can’t be excused like that, but what role does his trauma play when it comes to redemption? There are hints that Nate’s healing and the healing of those he hurt in the past may be heading in a good direction. For example, when Nate handed a disc to Jules, which contained the video of his father and her, this one action managed to fuse moments of Nate being both a victim and a villain. Assuming this was a genuine moment, Season Two suggests that while cyclical trauma has lasting impacts, it can be reconciled.
Another note on this is how both Nate and his father’s backstories seem to overlap with their individual queerness. Their simultaneous victim and villain aspects being related to their suppressed homoerotic feelings is something I find particularly stressful. Linking hyper-masculinity to being closeted to me is a raw reality, but I think using queerness as a scapegoat for abuse could take away from the quiet suffering that encapsulates the closeted experience. While I like that I’m not necessarily getting a straightforward uplifting story from what seems to be the only queer males on the show, the characters being so controlled by their internalised homophobia leaves practically no room for positive relationships in any capacity.
The sexual ambiguity towards the queer characters is also interesting as there isn’t really a singular ‘gay character’ but rather multiple characters that come across as sexually fluid. An article by Ashleigh Brink calls this “the representation the LGBTQ+ community deserves.” While I agree with Brink that the characters feel authentic in this sense, I am not entirely sold that the representation is positive. Every queer character has a tragic backstory; all the queer male characters are abusive, and there are no healthy queer relationships within the show. Brink even admits that the story can feel exaggerated. Even though the intense and unapologetic storylines is what makes the show so enthralling, I think this leaves less space for honest representation in favour of pure shock value, challenging to push the edge of just how traumatic the plot can get.
Ultimately, I think this push for shock value and subsequent lack of positive queer relationships is what I was disappointed with by the end of this season. I did appreciate the sprinkles of hope, like Nate overcoming his dad in a lawful way, and Rue’s storyline starting to look a bit more optimistic. But I feel that the resolution through Lexi’s play was overly unbelievable and fairly anti-climactic. Privacy was breached and it’s unclear if Nate was outed and the reasons behind his actions were left unexplained. The homoerotic musical number turned it more into a farce than a mimetic retelling. It chose not to include the backstories that became so integral to the show. Victims were sidelined and villains were easily pardoned, and more importantly, the blurred lines between victimhood and villainhood were forgotten about.
Despite this, there were moments of this season of Euphoria that I liked, even if the plot was chaotic. Nate’s final choices created hope for someone who was ridiculously evil in Season One but meant that it may be too late for any redemption for Cal—which is ultimately fair considering his actions as an adult.
While I love dishing out my thoughts, I’d also like to hear yours on another season of this wild, sexed-up and drug-fuelled roller-coaster.