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[This story contains spoilers for the third and fourth episodes of season two of HBO’s Euphoria.]
The second season of Euphoria, HBO’s popular high-school drama, has spent some time delving into the mind of one of the show’s adult — and most loathsome — characters: Eric Dane’s Cal Jacobs.
Throughout the third and fourth episodes, the latter of which aired Sunday night, viewers of the Sam Levinson series come to understand how Cal’s past remains very much present. As Cal’s life continues to become more intertwined with that of his wayward son, Nate (Jacob Elordi), Euphoria travels back in time to tell a queer love story.
Episode three, “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys,” opens with Zendaya’s Rue narrating Cal’s high-school experience: “He spent every day with his best friend, Derek.” Young Cal (Elias Kacavas) and Derek (Henry Eikenberry) were on the wrestling team and spent the majority of their time together. Cal is seen lusting after Derek — even after he meets a young Marsha (Rebecca Louise), who will eventually become his wife — but hides his feelings under the eye of his disapproving and strict father.
On graduation night, Cal and Derek celebrate at a gay bar outside of town, where they share a dance and their first kiss. Before Cal is able to soak in the joy of finally being with Derek, however, he wakes up to a call from Marsha, who tells him she’s pregnant.
“There are causes and conditions to what made Cal, Cal, and I think watching episode three, you get a lot of insight as to how he became who he became,” Dane tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It doesn’t explain all of it. You know, I think at a certain age, we are responsible for taking care of our own shit, and it’s incumbent upon us to do so. We’re no longer able to blame things on our parents.”
But the fact that Cal has been repressing his sexual identity doesn’t excuse the things he’s done, Dane explains.
“You’re not going to walk away from this thinking, ‘Oh, Cal, what a great guy. I get why he does the things he does, and it’s excusable,'” Dane says. “But there is some insight to give the viewer a better understanding. I don’t condone his behavior. I don’t advocate his behavior. But then again, it’s not for me to judge.”
In Sunday’s episode, Euphoria explores how Dane’s Cal is still dealing with the fallout of losing Derek and having to deny who he is in his adult life. When the pressure becomes too much for him, he finally breaks down. He returns to the bar where he and Derek spent graduation night, gets drunk and dances on the same floor with another man but imagines he’s Derek. “I thought I’d lost you,” he says, picturing his once-best friend.
After Cal and the man stop dancing, the man asks him if he’s crying, which he is, and then Cal tries to wrestle with him, like he used to do with Derek. When the bouncer tells him to leave the bar, he tries to wrestle him, too, and is eventually kicked out. Cal heads home and cracks under the weight of it all.
He enters his house and begins maniacally laughing while urinating in the foyer, and when Marsha (Paula Marshall) asks what’s wrong, Cal — with his penis still out for the majority of the scene (“I can’t play this character with one foot in and one foot out, so I have to totally commit to it,” he tells THR) — deadpans and simply replies, “I think I’m lonely.” This begins a seven-minute monologue in which Cal touches on everything from being forced to hide his emotions to son Nate being his biggest regret in life, to all of the men he’s had sex with while married to Marsha.
“I have a problem,” Cal tells Nate and his brother Aaron (Zak Steiner). “But the reason I have a problem is this family. I’m not allowed to form an emotional connection, and I’m an emotional guy. You fuckers backed me into a corner, but you know what? I think you set me free. So, this is farewell.”
That was the most difficult scene of the season for Dane to shoot, he says. Not only did it take “an inordinate amount of preparation,” but he also wanted to be sure it was as impactful as it was meant to be.
“Cal tells Nate that he’s his biggest regret and, at face value, you might think that bringing Nate into the world is a regret. I don’t see it as that. I see it as, ‘I failed with you. You’re my biggest regret because I failed,'” Dane says, unpacking how Nate and Cal’s relationship shows how trauma can be passed on through generations and, in this scenario, toxic masculinity. “I don’t know if Cal hates his son. He resents him, but I think, moreso, he resents himself for continuing the cycle of handing down the terrible attributes that were handed down to me by my father.”
Over the first four episodes of season two, viewers can see Cal begin to unravel in ways he never did during the first season. He was contained and controlled in season one, Dane points out, but becomes totally undone this time around. “Any opportunity that Cal gets where he can be a parent — vis-à-vis going to Fezco’s (Angus Cloud) and trying to stick up for his son because he got the crap beat out of him by him — is an opportunity he’s going to take,” he says of what Cal is carrying around. “I think it alleviates some of the guilt he feels.”
Heading into season two, “I looked at [showrunner] Sam [Levinson] and I was like, ‘Wow, we get to create a whole new Cal,’ because we’ve never seen this guy living his truth. Therefore, we’ve never seen him,” Dane says. “We gotta break him down before we could build him back up. And that’s what we’re seeing right now: the absolute dumpster fire of a meltdown that is Cal Jacobs.”
If Marsha hadn’t called that morning with the news that she was pregnant, Dane believes he and Derek would have been together, and Cal could have been a happy gay man, comfortable in his own skin and not living a lie.
“I like to think that Derek went on to probably do something similar to what I did, start a family. I don’t know if Derek was as gay as Cal was. I think Derek and Cal were just best friends who loved each other and who wanted to share everything together,” he says.
As for what’s next for Nate and Cal, Dane hopes his family can understand him a little more and accept him for who he is, though it may be pretty difficult, considering his parting words in episode four.
“I hope he gets the opportunity to be a good parent. His son needs it,” Dane says. “His son really needs his father and I hope Cal gets an opportunity to be a father to his son, to bury the hatchet so to speak.”
He then adds, “Pretty difficult to do considering the burning hole he just left in the ground, but I think Cal wants some understanding and some acceptance from his son.”
The second season of Euphoria airs on HBO at 9 p.m. Sundays and streams on HBO Max.
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