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McKay’s ‘Euphoria’ Absence Is A Loss For The Show

It’s that time of the year again: LED lights, UV eyeliner, Labrinth soundtrack, and staying in on Sunday nights. Grab your IAMGIA cutout pants, babe. Because after two years, it’s finally Euphoria season.

And while the new season has a completely different (and darker) vibe and aesthetic, I noticed that glitter and neon lighting weren’t the only things missing. Algee Smith, who played McKay on Euphoria in Season 1, was MIA from red carpets, promos, and all of the pre-show hype. Additionally, McKay was only seen for a short while in the first episode of the season, seemingly fading into a ghost by the first few minutes of episode two. Even Smith himself didn’t exactly know why he wasn’t asked to return, according to The Daily Beast.

And while some fans didn’t think much of McKay (and some were even glad to see him gone), I can’t help but to feel just a little upset that his character won’t reappear this season — because I think that McKay’s character deserved better. Yes, McKay was a jerk to Cassie in Season 1. I do remember when he completely undermined his relationship with Cassie to Nate at the carnival. And, yes — I remember those extremely rough sex scenes at the party and in McKay’s dorm room. I’m not here to excuse all of McKay’s atrocious actions in Season 1. I’m here to beef with Sam Levinson and the rest of the Euphoria staff writers on their clear lack of care and development when it came to McKay. 

McKay was the most accurate depiction of toxic masculinity

When we think of toxic men in Euphoria, nobody comes to mind quicker than the horrendously evil Nate Jacobs. However, with every character being deeply flawed, McKay also falls into all of the habits associated with toxic masculinity. He’s cold, dismissive, and cares entirely too much about proving himself to other men (evident in his frat hazing and sports successes).

But there’s something different about McKay. While Nate is an actual sociopath, McKay is really just a normal guy who’s pressured to conform to masculine ideals. He’s constantly pushed by Nate to sexualize women like Cassie, under the scrutiny of his dad and Nate’s dad to succeed in football, and battling with his own insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. Not to mention, his feelings for Cassie are very real. Remember when he told her they didn’t have to be sexual all the time, and that he wanted to have real conversations with her?

McKay’s toxic side is evident, yes. But in a show full of antics, it was important to have a figure in the show that represented what a lot of men are: dudes who, under the constant pressure of masculinity, act like a**holes. Perhaps if McKay had stayed around, we would’ve been able to get storylines that delved deeper into the real harm that more widely accepted, everyday patterns of toxic masculinity in men create, and how to address it.

McKay could’ve been an important character for representation

Euphoria has been hailed for its diversity. But when it comes to racial diversity, should it be? Aside from the glaringly obvious lack of Asian representation, there’s no denying that Euphoria lacks characters with darker complexions. And with McKay in the main cast of season one, the door was wide open to include a much-needed storyline from the perspective of a Black man.

Instead, McKay was reduced to the tired trope of a former football star who still hangs around at high school parties. He became secondary to white characters like Nate and Cassie, whose storylines always managed to overshadow McKay’s.

And as the only dark-skinned Black character in the show (besides Rue’s NA sponsor, Ali), I found it harmful that he was painted in a violent and toxic light. McKay’s actions toward Cassie perpetuated a disgusting stereotype/fetish of Black men in relationships with white women: He’s rough and dominating in bed, obsessed with succeeding in sports, and somewhat of a player when it comes to his relationships.

While McKay’s negative light may be some kind of underbelly commentary on how Black men are perceived in society, I instead get the sense that an important perspective and character arc was completely glazed over.

McKay’s sexual assault storyline was never explained

Perhaps the reason I’m so upset with Euphoria’s writers is this: Did we all forget about McKay’s sexual assault in Season 1? Because I didn’t! And I’m mad about it!

Although Smith told The Daily Beast that there was no allusion to sexual assault within the script, the way the scene was played out on television was a different story. After a Halloween party at his college, McKay and Cassie are about to have sex when a group of frat boys grab a naked McKay, hold him down, humiliate him, and simulate sex with him — all in front of his girlfriend. 

After this, McKay is clearly traumatized. And although his rough sex with Cassie wasn’t a good way to cope with his trauma, the hazing incident was never addressed on the show afterward. We never saw him process, we never heard him talk about it, and the show’s storylines blew past it like it never happened.

This would’ve been the most opportune time to spark a conversation about sexual assault when it comes to men, especially since 1 in 16 college men will experience sexual assault during their college years. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 43% of men nationwide reported experiencing some form of sexual harrasment and/or assault in thier lifetime. And these are just the people who have reported it: It’s estimated that 63% of sexual assaults aren’t reported to the police. The NSVRC also reports that male survivors face stigmas and stereotypes around masculinity that might encourage them to take on a “no big deal” attitude, and not think of themselves as victims. With a show focused on bringing light to issues within the lives of young people, why wasn’t this important issue explored?

Between the undeveloped character arc and lack of development beyond the surface, I can’t help but to feel a little cheated out of what could’ve been an important, educational, and well-handled storyline. Sam Levinson, my emails are open if you want to bring on a writer to revive McKay’s character. 

julianna is an editor-at-large, horror movie fanatic, and fierce oxford comma defender at her campus. a pittsburgh-native/los angeles-transplant, she writes "signs of the times," where she'll call out your zodiac sign twice a week. she might be out for blood. when she's not busy dishing out hot takes, analyzing your birth chart, and ranting about films, you can typically find her anywhere books, bands, and beers are.
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