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July 24, 2019 at 08:44 PM EDT
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Warning: Spoilers for Euphoria through episode 6 ahead. 

Nate Jacobs (played by Jacob Elordi) inspires a wide range of emotions from Euphoria fans. High among them seems to be anger and disgust at his seemingly sociopathic behavior.

One interesting emotion that I’ve noticed he elicits — particularly in marginalized audiences — is terror. But what exactly makes him so terrifying to these audiences? Is it the ease at which this town allows him to carry out his evil misdeeds? How he moves within it as if he is invisible? Or does it have more to do with his disturbing lack of remorse at ruining the lives of everyone in town with his twisted plans, one person at a time?

Truth be told, all of these things make him relatively terrifying.

 

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Nate is that in the world of Euphoria, he represents an honest and unflinching look at the intersections between rich white male privilege, white male rage, and toxic masculinity.

And how these power imbalances start relatively young.

Part of Nate’s ability to be an untouchable antagonist stems not just from plot armor (for now), but from the power he draws from his various privileges. He’s a cishet white male who can fall back on the safety cushion that is his wealthy family. His dad, Cal Jacobs (played by Eric Dane), seems to own like 99.9% of the town. And while he’s busy hiding his true sexual nature from the world in seedy motels, his son flexes that 99.9% “ownership” on its unassuming inhabitants like Tyler (Lukas Gage), who Nate coerces into making a false confession about choking Maddy (Alexa Demie), and town newcomer Jules (Hunter Schafer), who he blackmails into claiming she witnessed Tyler commit the physical assault that was actually Nate’s own act of violence against his girlfriend.

Eddy Chen/HBO

Nate’s a very tall (if you’re into that) dude who is conventionally attractive (nice body, symmetrical features where his face is concerned, etc). He’s not so remarkable looking that he would stand out and inspire suspicion, but he’s just attractive enough that people may assume, based on that, that he couldn’t possibly be up to no good — since “good” is often assumed in those who are “attractive.”

But Nate is far from “good.” Aside from Maddy’s mother and the principal — notably, both characters of color — assuming Nate could be capable of physical assault and his classmates’ reactions to his outburst at McKay’s party in the first episode, no one assumes malice in him because Nate carries himself — when he’s not being ferociously nefarious — like a regular, shy, unassuming, and misguided teenage boy who merely has puppy eyes for Maddy and has made a couple of mistakes. He’s most likely what people have in mind when they say “Boys will be boys” and coddle sociopaths-in-the-making like him by opting to excuse their demented behavior instead of addressing it.

I’ve said this jokingly before, but Nate truly is a mini-Patrick Bateman from American Psycho in the making. Someone who has all the makings of a real monster, but disguises himself as the opposite — and in plain sight — thanks to societal biases.

This is enough to make him incredibly dangerous on his own, but the real danger lies in the fact that his brand of villainy is something that many of us have firsthand experience with. That is someone with extreme privilege and someone who is not afraid to misuse it.

Which is why his clearly-unaddressed rage should be terrifying.

 

So far the show has hinted that the majority of Nate’s rage stems from him being aware of his father’s repressed sexuality after watching his dad’s ultra-organized porn collection and not being able to talk about it — out of either shame or fear. And from his fixation on his own “perfection” — modeled after his father’s pursuit of perfection and disdain for “weakness” — we know Cal having that big secret about his sexuality is technically an imperfection to his obsessive son. That Cal trying to hold on to his hollow and frankly sad definition of masculinity is inspiring a horrendously toxic version of that in Nate.

Eddy Chen/HBO

This is compounded by the fact that something seems to be up with Nate’s own sexuality. He’s shown an abnormal discomfort around other men’s penises in the gym locker room, but his phone is filled with pictures of them. He’s also confessed to Maddy that he’s going through a lot and is “confused.” But Nate’s also shown a recurring fascination with Jules (and her being trans) both during lengthy text message exchanges using the alias “Tyler” and during some IRL stalking. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he is secretly in love with Jules, mainly because I don’t think Nate loves anything or anyone. Nor is he capable of such. He merely only deals in fixation, preoccupation, and obsession. But if we compare some of his more obsessive ways with Jules with the ways in which he sometimes obsessed over Maddy (like all that stalking), it becomes harder to determine whether he is out to ruin Jules’ life in particular merely because he can (i.e privilege), or because his dad — who he is also obsessed with and possibly fearful of — slept with her, or, because her existence as a trans girl and his seeming attraction to her vexes his cishet sensibilities, “confusing” him, and thus angering him (mirroring real-life and often deadly interactions between cishet men and trans women) enough to want to literally destroy her.

Whatever the specific cause is, it’s pretty clear that Nate doesn’t want to be perceived as weak or imperfect like his father. And Jules and everything stands in the way of what he wants challenges that and inspires this sociopathic rage in him.

Nate’s struggle with his glaring daddy issues serves to be his prime motivation for morphing into Patrick Bateman Jr. and terrorizing his high school. And to be clear, said issues could easily be fixed by a therapist that the Jacobs family could afford 3000 times over. But the thing about white male rage and boys like Nate who carry it with them is that it goes beyond recognition or validation. Normal people get mad and normal people rage, but the difference here is that this particular rage requires everyone around to answer for it and bow to it. Even if you have nothing to do with what has triggered said rage, the combinations of privilege, radioactive masculinity, and anger dictate that since this white boy has gone and got his ego hurt and his privilege undermined by whoever or whatever, everyone else has to suffer for it. Everyone has to pay for it.

If you take their toy away, like Nate sees Tyler doing with Maddy? You gotta suffer. Hold them accountable for something they did, like with the school shunning Nate for choking Maddy? You gotta suffer. Inspire discomfort in them merely because you seem to be exceedingly comfortable with yourself, like this entire dynamic between Jules, Cal, and Nate?

You gotta suffer.

Eddy Chen/HBO

Because this is all essentially about control. Control of themselves, others, and most likely the status quo that finds them at the top. And the moment that boys—and soon men—like Nate lose even a modicum of that control, they opt to burn it all down rather than relinquish it.

And it is this volatility and seeming familiarity that the audience may have with a character like Nate that makes him one of the most terrifying antagonists one television right now. Nate is dastardly and unbothered with how much evil he is capable of, but at the end of the day, he’s not that much of an anomaly and its highly possible that many of us know or have even come across a “Nate” in our lives.

And perhaps that disturbing realization is the point.

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