Essays · TV

Nate Jacobs is the Evil Heart of ‘Euphoria’

Basically, Nate Jacobs is the root of all bad things in ‘Euphoria.’
Nate Jacobs Euphoria
By  · Published on February 16th, 2022

At the heart of Season 2 of Euphoria, there lives a love triangle that is replete with all of the juicy theatrics one could hope for in a TV drama about high schoolers. The triangle was formulated in the season’s first episode (“Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”), when Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) slept with Nate (Jacob Elordi), a.k.a. her best friend Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) ex-boyfriend of three weeks and three days. Cassie and Nate’s clandestine affair has bubbled more and more furiously at the core of each episode until finally, in episode five (“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”), Rue (Zendaya) let the cat out of the bag to an enraged Maddy and a petrified Cassie.

In the agonizing seven-day stretch between the fifth and sixth episode, fans anxiously awaited what they expected would be an epic showdown between the ex-besties. Some even pointed out that it was fitting that the episode was slated to go live on Super Bowl Sunday, arguing that the real match would take place between Maddy and Cassie, not the Rams and the Bengals.

The assumption that the tension between the two would culminate in a face-off awash with histrionics is understandable. For the past two seasons, showrunner Sam Levinson has not shied away from playing into the crazy teenage-girl trope; from scenes of Maddy beating up other girls for looking at her the wrong way or picking a fight with Nate based on a pang of insincerity in his tone, to a montage of Cassie waking up at the crack of dawn to primp herself for a guy who hardly acknowledges her existence or vomiting in a hot tub at the sight of him with another girl, all of the evidence that adolescent girls are off their rockers is consistently present in the show. 

But what occurs in the latest episode of Euphoria (“A Thousand Little Trees of Blood”) is much different from what audiences expected. Instead of allowing the scheduled meltdown to play out, Levinson instead offers us an episode that resists centering the conflict and thereby completely subverts the expectations previously laid out for the season’s arc. Where we might have expected a scene of Maddy viciously confronting Cassie, we instead see the former subjected to a confrontation from Nate. He holds a gun to her head and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t give him a disc that contains an incriminating video of his father. Similarly, instead of watching Cassie face the consequences of her actions in the form of a vindictive Maddy, she finally gets her quasi-fairytale ending when Nate tells her to pack a suitcase and move in with him.

What started off as the promise of a conflict between two girls quickly metamorphosed into something entirely different altogether. Season 2 of Euphoria is quietly transforming into the story of Nate and the traumas that define both him and those around him. Indeed, it is his actions that exist at the epicenter of the show’s chief love triangle, not those of the girls who yearn for his affection. 

We understand why Cassie and Maddy yearn for Nate’s attention for the most part. The former seeks validation from male attention, while the latter enjoys the thrill of a turbulent relationship. But when it comes to Nate, his motives have been, until recently, largely obscure.  

In “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood,” Nate’s mother Marsha (Paula Marshall) prods him about his love life. She admits that she never liked Maddy and was always afraid that she would get pregnant with Nate’s child and keep it out of spite. This projection evokes an earlier episode in the season, in which we see Nate’s dad as a high schooler on the precipice of falling in love with his best friend Derek (Henry Eikenberry). However, his teenage dreams come to a screeching halt when Marsha announces that she’s pregnant.

An older Marsha’s inadvertent comparison of Nate’s teen years to his dad’s is illuminating for one reason in particular: Cal’s (Eric Dane) life has always been the life of a man hiding in the shadows. He was never allowed to truly explore his sexuality, and this repression participated in his abuse toward his sons and the hyper-masculine ideals that he impressed upon them. 

For Nate, included in this hyper-masculine ideal was an understanding of just how to manipulate the women in his life. And this is where Cassie and Maddy come into play. When it comes to Cassie, Nate knows how to manipulate her through her heart, which is why he lures her back to his house at the end of the episode. For Maddy, it’s not that simple; she’s harder to manipulate, which is why he resorts to violence (a measure which Nate’s dad used against him multiple times in past episodes).

People often say that Euphoria is a show about women, and I tend to agree. While Nate might be at the heart of the way the problems that surface in the shows’ women’s lives (let’s not forget Jules, too, who was blackmailed by Nate not to spill the beans on her relationship with his father), what is more significant is about the way these women deal with – and resist – the manipulation. Perhaps Cassie cannot yet look past her own insecurities and see that Nate is just using her for his own ego, but Maddy came close to showing the disc to the masses, and Jules showed up in his car with a box cutter in her pocket just in case. And I have a feeling neither of them is ready to forgive him just yet.

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Aurora Amidon spends her days running the Great Expectations column and trying to convince people that Hostel II is one of the best movies of all time. Read her mostly embarrassing tweets here: @aurora_amidon.