This piece contains spoilers for season two, episode three, of Euphoria.
Cal Jacobs has, at last, gotten the origin-story treatment. On Sunday night’s episode of Euphoria, fans finally got an eye-opening revelation into why Nate’s dad is the way he is (read: villainous, tormented, closeted), revealing the bitter roots of his son’s severe daddy issues.
The episode, written by show creator Sam Levinson, starts with a flashback to Cal in high school. He’s a star wrestler, happy and good-natured in spite of his strict, overbearing father. He spends all his spare time with his best friend Derek. They start falling for each other, but brush their feelings aside, instead making a grand show of getting girlfriends and hooking up with them—sometimes in the same room, stealing glances at each other. On graduation night, Derek takes Cal out so they can celebrate alone. (The future is coming for them: Cal’s off to Duke, while Derek’s heading to a state school out West.)
Derek’s spot turns out to be a gay bar, and Cal rolls with it. They head to the dance floor, spinning around to INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart.” It’s kind of a suburban Y Tu Mamá Tambien moment, two boys and a jukebox in a sparse bar. They eventually start kissing, shrugging off their hetero facade. But the fantasy is disrupted the next morning, when Cal’s girlfriend Marsha tells him she’s pregnant. And, as we know from the show, she decides to keep the child. The two get married and have another kid, Nate (Jacob Elordi), while Cal stays in the closet, having numerous affairs and secretly filming his sexual encounters. His bifurcated lifestyle—upstanding pillar of the community by day, closeted cheater by night—eventually imprints on Nate, molding his son into a violent mini-me.
Actor Eric Dane, who plays Cal, found the flashback “heartbreaking,” deepening his understanding of his broken character.
“I don’t know what it’s like to be Cal, but I know what it’s like to live a double life,” the actor said, calling from his home in Los Angeles. “I’ve had my own experience with drug and alcohol abuse. That’s a double life.”
The actor, who shot to fame as Dr. Mark Sloan (aka McSteamy) in Grey’s Anatomy, has been candid about his battle with drugs, voluntarily entering rehab in 2011 for an addiction to painkillers following a sports injury. “Trying to keep that secret is tough,” he continued. “Eventually everything always catches up with you.”
Dane had no idea about Cal’s high school backstory going into season two. “I trust Sam so much,” he said. “I’ve never been one to pick the writer’s brain about what’s coming up in the future.… I know it’s in good hands.”
Dane first read the script at the cast’s first table read, which took place in March 2020. But like virtually everything else in production at the time, season two of Euphoria was quickly shut down due to the pandemic, not picking up again until 2021. (In the interim, Levinson shot the feature Malcolm & Marie, plus two special episodes of Euphoria centered on Rue and Jules, respectively.)
In the flashback, Cal is played by a winning Elias Kacavas. Though Dane doesn’t appear in those scenes, he spent some time on set when they were being shot, getting to know the young actor—who will next be seen in a teen show of a different stripe, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.
“He was terrific,” Dane said, though he admits he didn’t understand the casting choice at first. “At first glance, I was like, That’s young Cal? And then I started talking to the guy and I watched some of his stuff and I was like, Yeah. That’s young Cal.”