THE TALE OF TWO MCKAYS: EUPHORIA, S1 E6 ANALYSIS
“He’s not black, he’s McKay…okay” For a lot of viewers, the Chris McKay focused, The Next Episode, didn’t give viewers the information needed to truly understand one of Euphoria’s more polarizing and underwritten characters. Utilizing sub context, Euphoria’s writers illustrate how The Next Episode is a character study in how Chris McKay prioritizes assimilation in order to get access to a world his father couldn’t and how that has destroyed McKay from the inside, out.
In the opening sequence of episode six, we see McKay complete a full workout with his dad prior to an actual full workout with his football team. McKay’s father, Frederick, demands nothing but the best, and sometimes even that isn’t good enough – baby McKay vomits from training so hard and we never hear McKay’s dad praise him. It’s like McKay breathlessly sprints from one goal to the next in attempt to outpace his father’s criticisms.
For McKay, everything is about winning. As a kid, McKay learned that winning is how you win respect in America – especially as a black man. Black men who are the most exceptional get better treatment than their not-so-exceptional black counterparts. I see why his father pushes him so hard, but I wish he would encourage his son to be successful in other ways, like becoming and entrepreneur.
McKay recites America by Jamaican writer and poet, Claude McKay. America is about how this country affords the writer and poet with certain advantages, but not without the hefty price of state-sanctioned violence and racism against him. The parallels between the two McKay’s assimilation are effective.
Nowhere is this most evident than when an opposing teammate whispers an insult – racial or sexual - to McKay. I didn’t hear what the other boy said, but it was enough to warrant a butt whopping from McKay. Later, when McKay tries to tell his father why he was so angry, Frederick interrupts that he doesn’t care what the boy said to piss baby McKay off. Senior McKay adds that the world will constantly pit you against yourself and that you need to use that anger to fuel whatever goal you’re trying to pursue in life. I felt that on a spiritual level. Others will try to project their issues onto you, so it’s important to cling to your goals like it’s a lover – all your energy should go into the life you want – other people’s opinions be damned. And as black people, I think sometimes there’s this pressure to care too much what other people think when that thought process has never made us successful. When trying to do better in life, you will constantly be tested. If you weren’t valuable, then people wouldn’t be challenging you.
Another way we see McKay use his power to advance in society is through pledging a frat. I’m not sure why McKay chose to join a fraternity – perhaps as a way to further align himself with those he perceives as powerful. Another thing that I think Frederick instilled in his son is to align himself with power – as evidenced by his relationship with Nate Jacobs – the star quarterback and son of a wealthy real estate developer, Cal Jacobs.
However, McKay’s friendship with Nate is superficial - I don’t see a deep connection between the two. Although McKay is vocal about Cassie’s positive attributes as a person, rather than as a sexual object - he allows Nate’s insistence that Cassie is nothing but a “slut” to determine how he treats Cassie. McKay forces Cassie to change into a less revealing costume than her evocative Alabama Whitman look because he “would never hear the end of it” from his friends.
That brings me to my next point, if McKay sees professional football and Nate as the keys to a more privileged life, then he must view Cassie as a chess piece that signifies to the mainstream that he is “not like those other negroes” and worthy of the same access they take for granted. McKay may have been Cassie’s first real relationship, but he doesn’t love her. McKay knew about Cassie’s sexual past and still agreed to enter into a relationship with her – while still treating her poorly. McKay cares far too much about what others think and bases his relationship status on how great it will make him look.
Another strategic relationship McKay uses to solidify his place is in the mainstream is through his fraternity. All of the interactions we see of McKay and his fraternity are fraught anxiety. McKay rarely seems to be enjoying himself around this group of chosen “brothers.” Nowhere is this most evident than at the party where McKay introduces Cassie to his fraternity brothers. He’s so focused on drinking enough or being bro-y enough for his frat that he’s not having nearly the fun Cassie is. After all, it’s rush week and McKay wants to impress his fraternity. Another instance is when a group of frat brothers barge into McKay’s dorm room while he and Cassie have sex, only to drag him out of bed and mock penetrate him. Cassie is understandably horrified and a confused McKay is left breathless on the floor, as his frat brothers shout the frat’s name and file out of his room. For a moment, my PTSD flared up as those white men yelled out their frat name. There were elements of lynching in that scene and I could not help but notice that his white frat brothers chose to bust into McKay’s room unannounced during an intimate moment with his white, desirable, and conventionally-attractive girlfriend. While McKay’s frat brothers did not sexually assault McKay, they scared him and Cassie, so they still did harm.
I thought this prank and assault was the writer's way of showing no matter how successful a black person becomes, there will always be someone [society, the legal justice system, etc.] there to remind them of their “place.” This scene was a way of humbling the black male character that dared enter a relationship with a white woman. Playing the game has its pros and its cons and McKay's pain was palpable and hard to watch.
Instead of using Cassie as a safe person he loves, with whom he can be vulnerable, McKay treats Cassie like a vehicle to remove his emotions from his body. It’s like he remembered what his dad told him so many years before: ‘internalize your feelings and use them to perform.’ McKay denies his feelings when Cassie wants him to open up about what just happened. McKay literally fucks his sadness out of his body and expels the evidence of his feelings on Cassie’s back. McKay is so emotionally removed from the situation that he comes on Cassie’s back and makes her clean it off.
McKay and Cassie’s sex scene after the Halloween party sex scene didn’t seem remotely enjoyable for either party. It was like a rape scene, a set up I’m not a fan of considering the stereotype of black men as being brutish thugs.
Chris McKay’s portrayal in Euphoria season one is a cautionary tale of every baby boomer or gen X black parent who felt that their child’s assimilation was more important than their emotional well-being. In a world that is hell bent on destroying blackness, being a healthy black person is an act of defiance. I hope that for season two, McKay’s storyline reveals different layers of his personality and tackles the racial pink elephant in a way that is honest, complete, and feels authentic to the show.