This Is What Keeps Me Up At Night is a series dedicated to trending memes, pop culture moments and film/TV scenes that stir the very foundations of our being and stop us from getting a single peaceful night’s sleep.
Tuning into Euphoria every week is like playing Russian roulette. A game of chance in which the viewer always ends up worse off, namely because of the adverse physical reaction our body has to whatever emotional carnage we happen to be witnessing on screen. May it be the uncontrollable weeping of last week’s stress of an episode or this week, where – like a cartoon character – my drink near-sprayed out of my mouth in shock at the utter audacity of what I was witnessing.
Among many things that happen in season 2 episode 6, "A Thousand Little Trees of Blood" – Rue desperately trying to get clean; Cassie loudly and tearfully protesting her innocence to anyone who will listen; Maddy plotting revenge against Cassie; Fez and Lexi having the cutest date ever; Nate 'belongs in prison' Jacobs going on a rampage to get back his dad’s incriminating disk from Maddy – there is also a breakup. It sneaks in among all the frantically whirring plotlines and there is one piece of dialogue I cannot stop thinking about.
The metaphorical gun cocks and brace your ears: "Is this some kind of manipulation tactic you learned on some incel Reddit forum?" Reader, I passed out.
Kat and Ethan were last season’s little ray of light. Against all odds, their will-they-won’t-they flirtation developed into what seemed like a pretty healthy teenage relationship. As Maddy says at one point: “Yeah Kat, stop flaunting your healthy, non-abusive, wonderful relationship – it’s actually triggering.” But alas, season 2 has brought it all crashing down. In the last five episodes Kat’s been going through a host of personal problems and finds herself miserable in her relationship with Ethan without knowing why. At one point she even has a gore-filled sex fantasy where Ethan is slayed by a Game of Thrones-style Dothraki warrior. We see her ignore Ethan on date nights and lie about their sex life to her friends until we come up to the present day, with the pair sitting face to face in a diner, in what has to be the most awkward breakup situ ever.
First up, Ethan swings round the booth to kiss Kat hello. She visibly grimaces and shamelessly pretends to Ethan that she has a “terminal brain disorder” and because of it she’s probably going to be a little off the grid. She refuses to elaborate on her fake diagnosis and when an incredulous Ethan questions it, she smiles sweetly: “You think I’d be lying about a terminal brain disorder? That’s sick.” When Ethan then fully calls her out on it, she employs the incel Reddit line and turns it around on him: “That’s your experience of the experience. I can’t believe it, you’re gaslighting me, you’re literally trying to break up with me.” Post-breakup, Kat messages Maddy: “You’ll never guess what Ethan did.” And just like that, Euphoria’s very own West Elm Caleb is born.
Let’s go back. Like highly flammable tinder in a social media pressure cooker, the hashtag #WestElmCaleb exploded into public consciousness at the end of last month. At the centre of it was a 25-year-old New York City furniture designer and Hinge user of the same name who went viral on TikTok with several women denouncing him for being a serial dater/ghoster. In a matter of days the hashtag racked up nearly 30 million views, a mass cancelling and an international witch hunt that led to Caleb’s personal information – from his hometown to his work address – being splashed across the internet, with TikTok users saying they didn’t care if “he lives or dies” and challenging others to find him and “ruin his day”. Comment sections were flooded with serious psychological terminology – “toxic”, “narcissist”, “gaslighting”, “love bombing” – condemning him and pathologising his actions rather than taking him at face value: a bit of a shitty single male with bad dating etiquette and a lazy tendency to ghost his dates rather than explain why he no longer wanted to see them.
Despite Ethan being nothing but respectful and affectionate, Kat is unable to face the fact she just doesn’t have those feels for him anymore. So instead she weaponises a similar kind of trendy hyperbole rife on holistic psychology Instagram accounts and enforces a villainous, ‘gaslighting incel’ narrative on him as a faux-empowerment strategy and to legitimise her breakup. It’s pretty painful to watch. Earlier this season we see Kat struggling with the negative impact of Instagram’s carousel of identical self-care influencers ramming positivity down our throats. She hallucinates trendy, blonde, body-sculpted influencers demanding she “smash all beauty standards” and chanting “love yourself” until she hyperventilates. Both scenes with Kat are effective at highlighting what we all already know to be true: social media is bad for us and online content that is meant to be affirming and empowering still reinforces unrealistic ideals that everything we’re going through can be easily fixed, diagnosed and filed away. We’re afraid Kat’s loved herself a bit too close to the sun here.
Obviously, this season was written and filmed way before the West Elm Caleb saga hit the TikTok-sphere but we can see the parallels loud and clear. Euphoria Ethan, our very own screen-immortalised West Elm Caleb. #justiceforethan