Photograph from Hunter Schafer’s Instagram @hunterschafer
*This is the first article in a new series where I reflect on and peel back the past week’s episode of Euphoria Season 2. This series will come out on Sundays at 3PM PT before the new episode of Euphoria airs weekly at 6PM PT on HBOMax.*
–TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains discussions on topics such as substance abuse, violence, sexual assault, body dysmorphia, and other potential triggering subjects.–
–SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Euphoria on HBO.–
Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Rue (Zendaya) broke up, and Rue relapsed. That was the Season 1 finale, August 2019.
Production on Season 2 was postponed. That was March 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first special episode of Euphoria airs. It details and explores Rue’s mental state after the events of the Season 1 finale. Rue and Ali (Colman Domingo), her sponsor, discuss addiction and sobriety at great lengths to help Rue understand her dependence on Jules for sobriety and her greater relationship to drugs. That was December 2020.
The second special episode of Euphoria airs. It follows Jules in therapy, discussing her relationship to femininity, hormones, her mother, online romantic relationships, and, hesitantly, the reason she ran away: Rue’s sobriety being dependent on Jules. That was January 2021.
Jump forward a year.
“Fezco’s grandma was a mother f****** G” — the iconic first line in the Season 2 premiere. This is January 2022.
The episode starts with Fezco’s (Angus Cloud) backstory. It gives us the humanity we’ve seen nurtured in his character throughout Season 1. It also gives us the trauma and backstory necessary to understand how Fezco ended up where he is.
Essentially raised by his grandmother (Kathrine Narducci), teaching him that violence is sometimes the answer, Fezco is surrounded by drugs and dealing from a very early age. Taking him on runs and teaching him the ways of the business, Fezco’s path felt paved for him. Fezco also happened to be good at math, so that helped.
His grandma brought another kid home one day: Ashtray (Javon Walton). Ashtray felt like a brother to Fezco. In fact, the feeling was too real to not consider Ashtray a legitimate brother.
This bond grew when Fezco’s grandma collapsed and fell ill. Fezco knew that they had a business to run. In this dangerous business, Fezco and Ashtray knew that they would do anything to protect each other. Anything included murder.
The episode then cuts to the present day with a 13-year-old Ashtray killing Mouse, Fezco’s drug lord, in the name of brotherly love.
In an attempt to deal with the whole Mouse situation, Fezco, Ashtray, and Rue (who’s high out of her mind, and probably shouldn’t be there) go off to try and make things right with the dealers who sit above Mouse. An intense and potentially deadly scene unfolds as Rue and one of the dealers’ heroin-addict girlfriends are found outside and suspected of wearing wires, but everything ends up fine. In fact, so fine that Rue thinks the event was fun and exhilarating, kind of like the drugs she’s still high on.
Afterwards, they pull up to a house party, as if nothing happened. The house is filled with teens, sweat, loud music, alcohol and smoke. Everyone is ready for the year to be over and to not remember the first few hours of the next. It’s New Year’s Eve by the way.
(If you think this is a lot already, we are only about 20 minutes into the episode. Don’t worry though. Things speed up.)
Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) is found in a minute mart parking lot crying over her possible break up with McKay (Algee Smith) by none other than Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi). They romanticize the situation by drinking and driving down the road to the party at 100mph to Orville Peck. Nate is Cassie’s toxic knight in shining armor who does things more for show and sport and whose armor is more a facade than anything else. In a Hereditary-style moment, Cassie leans out the window, but her head remains attached (although she’s obviously going through something). They arrive at the party safely.
Rue makes a new friend in the laundry room, Elliot (Dominic Fike), who’s definitely not as high as Rue, but he’s still high. Rue feels her pulse slipping away, but solves the overdose with some Adderall. Everything’s still fine.
Lexi (Maude Apatow) can’t find her sister and seeks out Jules, Kat (Barbie Ferreira), and Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) help, who’ve all just arrived at the party together. Surprise, Cassie is already at the party about to have sex with Nate in the bathroom.
As the search for Cassie continues, Lexi makes an honest and meaningful connection with Fezco. Kat connects with her boyfriend Ethan (Austin Abrams). Jules interrupts and asks if either of them have seen Rue. Nope.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Maddy angrily knocks on the bathroom door, the bathroom Cassie happens to be in with Nate. The tension is immense as Maddy’s best friend breaks down inside the bathroom while Maddy’s ex-boyfriend tries to solve the major problem at hand. Eventually, Cassie ends up in the bathtub while Maddy pees on the toilet.
The tension increases. A new guy finds Maddy in the bathroom and suggests that some sexual act is in store, just as Cassie’s phone vibrates. The new guy checks the shower and finds Cassie “passed out,” but Maddy has no interest in whoever’s in the tub. Crisis seemingly averted.
McKay and Cassie assess their relationship in an empty room within the house, not really reaching a conclusion about where they stand. Afterwards, Nate disgustingly confronts McKay asking what he did to Cassie. He repeatedly asks, “Where’d you cum?” in the most vile and horrific way possible, but also potentially in a way to hype up McKay.
Jules finds Rue by the fire and, in a series of slow motion shots, beautifully encapsulates the feeling of finding your person among the crowd, the feeling of finding someone you love after you thought you lost them. There’s still tension though.
Jules tries to confront Rue about her relapse, but Rue seems distant and evasive. (This could be the drugs, but something deeper sits inside her.) Jules attempts again to talk to Rue and have her open up. Instead, Rue lashes out, essentially blaming Rue’s relapse on Jules. Jules leaves.
Now, emotions are high everywhere. Now, the camera, more than the high-paced action, tells the story. In a behind the scenes clip, both director Sam Levinson and director of photography Marcell Rév explain how they wanted to put seemingly still yet dynamic shots within the episode to capture the characters’ emotions, as if a photo was being taken of these moments. These shots are visually stunning and emotionally wrecking. Through these shots, everything else we’ve watched fades away and is told through a single shot of that character.
With high emotions, we see Rue find her way back to Jules inside. They tell each other how much they miss each other and how much they mean to each other. And, in a climaxing shot, we watch the two lean into each other, exchanging information and emotions between each other through this kiss that could never be understood any other way.
As we cut away from this magnificent shot, we find Fezco talking to Nate. Seemingly, everything is fine between the two despite Fezco’s previous death threat in Season 1. Nevertheless, everything quickly becomes the opposite of fine.
Fezco smashes a bottle over Nate’s head and proceeds to beat the bloody pulp out of him, leaving his face covered in cuts, bruises, and blood. Just like his grandma taught him, violence became Fezco’s answer.
After Fezco is peeled off Nate, Maddy, Cassie, and McKay drag Nate out of the house. Lexi stares at Fezco in awe? Confusion? Shock? It’s definitely something.
Stunned and shocked, Jules and Rue almost casually take in what just happened.
The episode cuts to black.
Overall, the Season 2 premiere welcomed its viewers back to the crazy world of East Highland High School filled with drugs, sex, violence, and drama. The camerawork was absolutely phenomenal and gorgeous. Per Sam Levinson, now being shot on 35mm Ektachrome, the season has this feeling of being at a party at 5am, far past the point where everyone should have already gone home. The music from Labrinth and other artists throughout the episode heightened and dulled the emotion with perfect timing. The costuming and makeup elevated the emotional state of each character. The acting was superb.
Together, it all mixes to make the sense of Euphoria, something you’d love to hold on to forever but know you’re gonna lose, and, when you do, the fall will be the hardest and longest fall you take.