Design by Madison Grosvenor. Buy this photo.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! 

The hit series “Euphoria” has rapidly gained popularity since its release in 2019, becoming the second-most watched show on HBO with 16.3 million viewers. Big names like Zendaya and Dominic Fike, as well as some newer names, like Angus Cloud, hit the screen in elaborate make-up and outfits, captivating viewers with their colorful looks and even more colorful personalities. The show has attracted some attention over the controversial topics it presents, including drug abuse and sexual and physical abuse. While some accuse “Euphoria” of glamorizing these types of circumstances, others praise it for bringing such topics to public attention and discourse. One darker subject that the show brings into the spotlight is unhealthy relationships, and how harmful those relationships can be to the participants. While these relationships may seem to only offer drama and interest to the plot, they too serve as warnings and provide the youthful viewers an important example of what to avoid. Social media tends to romanticize “toxic” relationships, but “Euphoria” shows the dark side of such situations, communicating to viewers that there is nothing romantic about abuse.

Nate Jacobs and Maddy Perez, a fan-favorite couple, are two problematic characters who both contribute unhealthy tendencies to the relationship while masking their misbehavior as love. This helplessly-in-love trope is dangerous because it is used to excuse unhealthy and harmful behavior. In season one episode four: “Shook Ones Pt II,” Nate exhibits controlling behavior, telling his girlfriend Maddy what to wear and how to behave. When she refuses to comply, he becomes aggressive, slamming her into a wall and choking her for her disobedience. This type of aggressive behavior is common in the media and contributes to a subtle normalization of violence towards women. Without a clear condemnation of such behavior, this scene could be dangerous, as it might appear to perpetuate such normalization. However, the bruises and social concern Maddy receives strongly rebukes, and the fact that Nate almost got arrested for the act mark it as unacceptable. Although frightened by his behavior, Maddy insists that she loves her boyfriend, and so forgives him. 

Maddy contributes to the toxicity of the relationship as well by emotionally manipulating Nate throughout the first season. She confidently wields emotional blackmail by threatening to publicly release private tapes. In season two episode six: “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood,” Maddy’s mother attempts to caution her against Nate, to which she responds by lashing out and personally insulting her mother. This small yet important scene displays how unhealthy turmoil in relationships can negatively affect surrounding relationships and people. Finally pushed to a breaking point, Nate’s violence peaks when he holds Maddy at gunpoint in order to get the tape back — an alarming display of violence and control. When that doesn’t work, he points the gun at his own head, threatening both his life and hers in a manipulation of the “love” between them. Maddy’s following emotional break-down, clear fright and the end of the relationship show the harmful effects of such a relationship and the real danger that it poses.

Cassie Howard, another crowd favorite, and her boyfriend Chris McKay also exhibit a concerningly unhealthy relationship, but in a different manner. The first tip-off that there is something wrong with the relationship is the difference in age. While age differences in and of themselves are not unhealthy, in some cases they can cause differences in maturity, which can lead to the younger being manipulated or heavily influenced by the older. 

Cassie is in high school, while McKay is in college. While this fact alone is not necessarily bad, the show makes it clear that McKay is playing a different ball game than Cassie, with Cassie’s mother calling into question his interest in a high schooler in episode two of season one. “Euphoria’s” inclusion of this detail does not rebuke such age differences, but it does caution against them. It becomes apparent in the same episode that the relationship is centered around sex rather than feelings. In a scene on the couch, McKay shares his feelings and troubles with Cassie, to which she offers sex as a condolence. McKay, visibly upset, asks “why do you have to make everything so sexual?” reflecting his need for and lack of emotional support. Although he asked for emotional support rather than sex, later that night, in a clearly conflicting solicitation, he requests explicit photos from Cassie to cheer him up.

Cassie’s confusion and upset reaction express to viewers that she feels used, which she is. These intonations become most apparent in season one episode six: “The Next Episode,” when McKay becomes intimate with Cassie immediately after crying, refusing her requests to express his feelings and instead fills his emotional needs with sex. Cassie is again left confused and upset, while McKay and his feelings are left unattended.

These scenes represent how women are often used for their bodies, and how that can lead to feelings of worthlessness, sadness and to shallow relationships. It also speaks to the necessity of emotional support and care in relationships, for men as well as women. In portraying Cassie and McKay’s relationship in this way, the show runs the risk of presenting it as what a relationship should look like, which could encourage unhealthy behaviors in its impressionable teen viewers. To prevent this, Cassie and McKay’s extreme unhappiness from such a relationship is made apparent, portraying it as anything but desirable.

While the previous two couples were engaged in heteronormal relationships, the show also gives screen time to queer relationships, such as those of Jules Vaughn. As a transgender woman, Jules encounters many different types of partners: those who fetishize her for her transgender identity, those who are cruel to her because of it and those who do not treat her any differently because of how she identifies.

In this way, “Euphoria” also gives representation to the harmful relationships and situations transgender people specifically might experience. In season one, Jules uses a dating app to find Nate, who uses a fake name to disguise his true identity. Masquerading as completely heterosexual his entire life, Nate actively hides his relationship with Jules, though the eventual exposure of the relationship brands him otherwise and causes bullying. This exposes a struggle specific to queer individuals who might not feel safe or comfortable publically persuing the relationships that they wish to. Later, in episode four, Nate uses the relationship to blackmail Jules into illegal behavior, and because of the nature of the relationship she is forced to comply. This speaks to the dangers that queer people can face in relationships, as bisexual women like Jules are at a higher risk of being stalked, attacked and abused than men. 

The inclusion of such characters and situations bring the struggles of a smaller group of people into the focus of a larger population, raising awareness and importance for inclusivity of such individuals. The hidden, unhealthy elements of the relationships in “Euphoria” that are exposed throughout the show offer more than just plot content. They provide an important exemplification of unhealthy behaviors found within some relationships, and the consequences of such behaviors. The show walks a fine line, but ultimately works to display the harmful impacts of such relationships and show viewers just how detrimental they can be, serving as a warning and fighting against the romanticization of such “toxic” tendencies.

Amy Edmunds is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at