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‘Euphoria’ Recap: Cal Me By Your Name

Let’s get one thing straight, Nate and Cal Jacobs are the worst. Between the patriarchal leader of the Jacobs clan and his sinister offspring, the duo have managed not only to cause the entire town trouble, but also managed to make an enemy out of each other. The list goes on and on, blackmail, bribery, threats, adultery. And those are just the offenses I feel comfortable mentioning. Nate and Cal are downright supervillains at this point.

But as Euphoria often likes to remind it’s viewers, this isn’t a fantasy. Sure, it’s heavily exaggerated, and not based on any actual event, but the series is still as rooted in reality as it can be. Including in its portrayal of both the “good” and the “bad” guys shown.

Just like Rue and Jules don’t always make the right decisions, sometimes a moment happens where we almost, just almost, feel bad for Nate and his dad. Well, at least for his dad.

Nate’s made a little hard to garner any sympathy for him at the moment. He just, ugh, he just sucks guys. But Cal, who sucks perhaps even more, was recently the star of episode three’s opening sequence. A sequence that’s forced me and other reviewers to admit that we felt something other than pure disgust/hatred when we saw Cal Jacobs appear on screen.

The show makes it easier though, displaying a younger, not yet completely terrible Cal during his high school days. In a scene nobody really asked for, we finally get the origin story of Cal Jacobs.

I say no one asked because, for the most part, Cal’s presence isn’t one we were particularly hoping for more of. Again, almost every other scene with him features Cal doing just the absolute most to remind us that he’s the absolute worst. But because this ain’t a fantasy series, there is a completely understandable reasons behind Cal’s eventual d-baggery. And as you probably expected, it’s real sad.

The episode begins with young Cal and his best guy friend Derek, living it up as two heterosexual white males in the prime of their life. Except hold on, maybe not. We’ve know that Cal isn’t exactly hetero for awhile, a discovery made way back in season one. So it’s no surprise that he has feelings for Derek.

What you might not expect is for Derek to reciprocate them. The episode seems like it’s headed toward Cal’s rejection from Derek being the catalyst for his closeted sexuality, and the pent aggression that comes with it. It’s quite the opposite, however, when it’s revealed in a touching scene that Derek feels the same way about his lifelong friend.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few things keeping the lovebirds from running away together. The first is the pressures put on by Cal’s father, who mirrors the abusive and non-communicative relationship Cal will later have with his own children. The second is the discovery that Cal’s girlfriend, Marsha is pregnant with their first son. Nate’s older brother, Aaron.

We pretty much know where this goes from here. Cal stays with Marsha and has more children, eventually becoming the shell of his former self we see in present time. It’s a tragic tale that doesn’t excuse his actions throughout the series, but certainly explains why he is the way he is.

It also makes a great point for the biggest obstacle in the series; nobody is allowed to just be themselves. A comment on the suffocating nature of the town of Euphoria, but also a reflection of society and the lengths we go to check people in boxes. As Jules’ puts it in this very episode, we’re all just trying to “navigate a binary world.”

But the world isn’t binary. People come in tons of different shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, etc. Cal’s story becomes ironic when you realize that he’s completely subscribed to the binary world in the public eye. To the point where he’s inadvertently giving his children the same shuttered and tragic childhood he had to go through.

I stand by the statement made at the beginning of this piece. Cal and Nate are two of the worst people walking around the fictional Euphoria town. But after learning about Papa Jacobs’ tragic origins, it’s no longer confusing to see how they got there.

Euphoria airs Sunday nights on HBO Max. Stay tuned for more coverage as the season goes on.

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