Last week’s Euphoria, the painful and smart “‘03 Bonnie and Clyde,” stood out as the best episode in the HBO hit’s sometimes unnecessarily punishing first season. Sunday night’s “The Next Episode,” only improves upon that success with another difficult, but not mindlessly abusive, hour of television. Halloween does tend to bring out the very best in Euphoria’s obsessions: beauty looks and teen parties. The fact that “Episode” is the second episode in a row helmed by a woman also doesn’t hurt (this time, Bleed for This writer Pippa Bianco was in the director’s chair).
Bianco had to handle one of Euphoria’s most difficult scenes yet in a very difficult show. Of course, we’re talking about the dorm room assault of Chris McKay (Algee Smith) and his subsequent terrible sex with Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney). The same Cassie who is likely pregnant with McKay's baby. It’s time to dig into that complicated situation — and many more orbiting East Highland High.
The trauma of Chris McKay
McKay is the anchor character of “Next Episode.” Young McKay opens the episode yelling “America” by Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay. It’s nice to believe this McKay is a descendant of that McKay. However, Euphoria’s McKay doesn’t release his feelings through beautiful words. Rather, he bottles them up just to allow them to erupt on the football field.
That is the legacy McKay’s dad Frederick (Cranston Johnson) wants for his son.
This is why Frederick cautions his oldest child from feeling his emotions after being called the N-word during Pee Wee football. In a vacuum, Frederick’s words make sense. He knows acts of violence, no matter how warranted, will only end up ruining the life of his son, a Black boy in suburbia. But, if McKay can save his rage for the football field — one of the few places men of colour are cheered for their aggression — he can become a success. He can become a star.
But, McKay doesn’t live in a vacuum. He lives in the real world with real people. That fact and Fredrick’s instructions come to a head when a group of ski mask-wearing white fraternity brothers break into McKay’s room, rip him out of bed naked, pin him down, and repeatedly pantomime sodomizing him while filming the entire nightmarish scene. It’s impossible not to think of the countless horrors and indignities Black men before McKay have suffered in a similar fashion — and the fact many died in the moments after. It’s likely McKay is also thinking of those men.
In the aftermath of the assault, McKay neither explodes on his attackers nor explains his feelings to Cassie. Instead, he quietly shudders on the floor and then cries alone in the bathroom, following his father’s advice (“If you get angry, you lose”). Then, he comes out of the bathroom to pretend everything is fine and asks Cassie if she still wants to have sex. The underlying question is: after all of that, do you still see me as a man? Although Cassie is shaken herself, she agrees in an effort to save McKay’s feelings, sublimating her own desires own again.
However, there is something different in Euphoria's approach to Cassie and McKay's hookup this time around. The way McKay pushes her around in bed to reassert his idea of masculinity isn’t justified by pithy faux empowerment quotes from Cassie. Rather we see her discomfort as McKay shoves her face into the sheets and her shock when he finishes on her back. The unspoken suggestion is,“This is wrong.” Euphoria doubles down on that statement as we watch Cassie tearfully wipe cum off of her back in the bathroom. All of this is even more awful when you remember how, as Rue Bennett (Zendaya) explains in the cold open, McKay deeply resents his girlfriend for her past, still alleged, sexual encounters.
McKay may have been traumatized, but he didn’t need to pass that darkness on to Cassie. Especially since, as Cassie realizes to her own horror, she just might be carrying McKay's child.
Nate: TV’s most malevolent teen villain
Every week, Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) manages to out-do himself in the evil department. At the top of “Next Episode,” we find out Nate has been using Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie), his abuse victim, as his own personal motel therapist.
Yet, Nate raises the stakes on his brand of toxicity when Maddy reminds him he needs to come up with a plan to nip the abuse allegations in the bud. His answer is forcing Tyler (Lukas Gage), the 22-year-old he nearly beat to death in “Stuntin’ On My Daddy,” to confess to the crime of assaulting Maddy. It’s a three-prong plan, and the blackmailing of Tyler is only the first part. Nate has Maddy then corroborate Tyler’s story when brought in by police. Finally, Nate prints out the nude photos he has of Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) and blackmails her into telling police she also saw Tyler attack Maddy.
Words can barely describe how upsetting it is to see Nate continuously threaten and manipulate the only trans girl on this show.
By the end of the day, Nate is seemingly cleared of all charges and free to go to Daniel’s (Keean Johnson) Halloween party in an ironic jailbird costume. Unfortunately for Nate, his cocky attitude may be his undoing. Jules spends the party unraveling for a reason unknown to BFF Rue. When Rue notices how Jules looks at Nate, and how Nate looks at Jules, she realizes something very bad is going on. With two episodes left, can Rue bring Nate down?
Someone be nice to Cassie
Speaking of Daniel’s Halloween party, Cassie suffers even more disrespect at the hands of the bash’s host. After weeks of flirting, Cassie makes out with Daniel in his room, but stops short of sex to avoid guilt over McKay. Daniel responds horrifically, telling Cassie she is a serious bore and that any guy is lying if he pretends to be interested in anything more than sex with her. Cassie leaves crying and you’re left wanting to give her a hug.
In a show of terrible boys, Daniel may be the second worst (Nate is always the worst).
Someone be nice to Ethan
Ethan’s little face when Kat (Barbie Ferreira) tells him they could never be boyfriend and girlfriend should break your heart. Seeing Ethan (Austin Abrams) happily go down on Kat in the bathroom should put it back together. Someone please tell Kat she deserves love too, if she wants it.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please visit the Ending Violence Association of Canada to find a local hotline. In the event of an emergency, call 911.