Image from @hbo on Instagram from @euphoria
This is the fourth article in our series: “An Exploration of Euphoria.” To catch up on what you might’ve missed, check out last week’s article here. This series comes out on Sundays at 3PM PT before the new episode of “Euphoria” airs weekly at 6PM PT on HBOMax.
This article, a special article of sorts, not only gives our typical recap and review. It also offers insight into what this season has offered so far by its midpoint and what there’s possibly left to offer in its last four episodes. A celebration of Season 2 of “Euphoria,” if you will.
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.
You Who Cannot See:
Love and absence.
The most innate human condition is to love and feel love, so what happens when the most primal instinct is stripped away despite all your effort to keep it right in front of you?
Rue loves Jules, but her actions speak much louder than her fake orgasms.
In a gorgeous montage, Rue and Jules take on iconic couples and the portraits of their love for each other (ones where the partner Rue represents often meets their maker). This shows both the fantasy and reality of what their love could be.
Of course, Rue genuinely loves Jules, but the reality of Rue’s emotional absence due to her addiction makes it harder for both Rue and Jules to justify their relationship.
All Jules wants is for Rue to love her back and be emotionally available, which was possible earlier in her addiction. But, the drugs have taken their toll past that point for Rue. Rue is numb.
Desperation and desire.
We have desires all the time. And, most times, our desperation stems from our suppressed desires. Oftentimes, we’re afraid to act on those desires, so we cave inwards right as those emotions spiral out of control and end up expressing them outwardly without our consent. Rarely do we do anything about it.
At Maddy’s birthday party, Cassie’s desire for Nate comes to its own outward expression. In the last episode, Cassie was desperate for Nate’s attention and male validation. In this episode, Cassie tries to hide from the obvious elephant in the room, as most of the episode she is seen getting drunk, dancing alone, and wallowing in her guilt and sadness. Her desperation is the result of her suppressed desire.
This guilt and desperation unfolds when Maddy invites Nate to join them in the hot tub. (Nate is the most submissive he has ever been at this moment.)
Nate gives an immediate response of “no” when asked if he was back together with Maddy. Maddy aggressively questions him about it while he’s stuck between her and a drunken Cassie (who awkwardly stumbles into the hot tub wearing a “choice” of a hot pink bathing suit). Nate observes quietly and mumbles most of his responses. The alcohol in Cassie’s stomach churns as Maddy rants and discloses some of Nate’s most revealing pleas to convince Maddy to stay with him, including “Have my babies.” It violently wants to come back up the way it went down, and up it comes.
Cassie vomits all over herself and the hottub. In a final moment of desperation, we see her crying and apologizing to Maddy (likely for more than just throwing up) as her mom hauls her upstairs to get clean.
As the birthday party unfolds, Cal is forced to face his past and his trauma that has resurfaced, in part due to the missing tape that has come to be relatively public knowledge.
To cope, Cal goes on a bender himself, drinking too much alcohol and going out for a drive. (Nate doesn’t stop him when he has the chance.) In a case of intense parallel editing, the audience sees Cal driving down a road recklessly while Elliot, Jules, and Rue drive along on what appears to be the same street, unbeknownst to their potential fate. Luckily, the expected crash doesn’t happen. Instead, Cal makes it to the bar seen in Episode 3 where he felt like himself for the first time, where he and Derek danced the night away in each other’s arms.
Cal continues consuming alcohol past the point of being drunk. He ends up slow dancing with a man who transforms into Derek during a flashback to his past, the first and last time Cal was allowed to be himself. In an abrupt ending to the dance, he urges many of the bar’s patrons if they want to wrestle. For obvious reasons, Cal is kicked out of the bar and forced to return home to his family.
As he returns home, Cal urinates on the floor of the foyer. In a hilarious confessional that points out all the family’s darkest secrets (including Cal’s double life), he turns his desperation and pain against them. What’s Cal’s biggest regret? He tells Nate, “You are.” Somehow, this moment seems to set Cal’s character and consciousness free, but how long can that last when so much of his filth is still left in the world and inside of him? Probably not long.
Cal’s life is built on the idea of a “picture perfect” family, but that picture perfect family has always been fantasy; instead, desperation and desire haunt the Jacobs family portrait. In ending his confessional, he literally takes the family portrait off the wall and with him as he walks out the door. That “picture perfect” family, even if it was never genuine, is now up in flames.
Manipulation and its consequences.
Is manipulation an effect of the love we crave? The insecurity we feel? The validation we seek out? The desperation we avoid? Or, our deepest desires? Do we only manipulate each other because we’re afraid to come face-to-face with ourselves? And, in the process, do we intentionally blind ourselves to a whole other set of consequences just to feel okay for a second?
Rue has manipulated Jules into believing that she’s been sober since New Year’s, when clearly she has been consistently high out of her mind since the night at the train station. In her desperate attempt to have everything she’s ever wanted (drugs and a relationship with Jules), she’s starting to lose one thing to the other. As drugs take their toll, she desperately clings to Jules but continues to push her away. She manipulates herself and others into feeling bad for the situation that she has arguably put herself in.
Despite this, Rue’s character speaks to the show’s nuance. The audience understands that addiction is a difficult disease to overcome, rather than simply being a self-harming, self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t hate Rue for being an addict. We empathize with her struggle, but we also empathize with the ones she hurts (e.g. Jules, Gia, Leslie, Lexi, and Ali, among others).
Meanwhile, Jules appears to be manipulating herself into believing that Rue is sober and present in their relationship. Jules loves Rue, but Rue offers little to no emotional availability. It gets hard loving someone who doesn’t open themself up to you.
Then, there’s Elliot. His intentions are as clear as the sky when it rains. He supports Rue’s “genius” plan to sell drugs, proceeds to get high with her, blows her off when she gets high in his bathroom, questions Jules’ attraction towards men, kisses her while Rue is snorting a line in the bathroom, and then tells Jules that Rue isn’t sober and neither is he. This man appears to be the most manipulative, without having any apparent reason to be so.
This chaotic throuple of manipulation comes to a head after Jules and Elliot rob a liquor store for some White Claws and Jules catches Rue drinking in the backseat. Rue tells Jules, “I can’t fuckin’ stand you.” Rue is caught between two worlds: one where she can openly indulge in whatever substance she wants whenever she wants, and another where she wants to be with Jules. This episode witnesses the crumbling of that relationship.
The two leave Rue on the side of the road per her request. She somehow makes it home and proceeds to get the highest she could possibly be before likely experiencing another overdose. In an emotional and spiritual awakening of sorts, with the help of Labrinth’s cameo and beautiful voice, Rue dances with her deceased father and tells him how much she misses him. In a stark, horror-like next shot, the audience witnesses Rue dancing alone in her room. Despair washes over both the audience and Rue.
Can we ever truly be free from all this? Can we ever just let go?
This episode explores the idea of being free from good and evil and other moral and ethical constraints. It shows us that a whole lot of good doesn’t necessarily come from giving in to the idea of letting go. At least, not from it alone. This episode shows, more than anything, that there are actions and there are consequences, and facing ourselves rather than running away may be the best solution.
Thinking of Those Who Can:
Q: What has “Euphoria” Season 2 done to distinguish itself from Season 1?
A: Short answer: A lot.
In particular, the pacing of this season is drastically different. Although it still operates in emotional, physical, and musical beats like the first season, the feel to these moments is always slightly off in a deliberate way. They’re off because our characters are off emotionally. Instead of action, action, action, our characters are defined by consequence, and that’s a good thing.
This season is holding strong to writer-director Sam Levinson’s analogy of this season feeling like a party at 5am, past the point where everyone should have already gone home. Everyone at a party at 5am is thinking, “What the fuck just happened? Why did I do that?” They contemplate every decision they made in the past 8 hours, all with nausea and a panging headache. Of course, there are some people who can handle their alcohol better than others, but those thoughts are still racing regardless.
All of our characters are bathing in the consequences of their actions, handling it for better or for worse. But, those consequences will always resurface and come bearing down on them sooner rather than later.
Q: What significance, if any, do the Special Episodes released in the midst of the pandemic play into this distinction?
A: The Special Episodes are the pivot point and moment of distinction between Season 1 and Season 2. Breaking form and showing the characters in a grounding moment, the Special Episodes delve into Rue and Jules and their immediate afterthoughts of Season 1’s events.
If Season 1 is a party at 12am and Season 2 is at 5am, the Special Episodes occur at 3am, the point where you start tapering off the alcohol and coming to your senses just a little bit more.
Q: How has this season’s cinematography and writing elevated the distinction to having importance in the show’s storytelling?
A: First off, “Euphoria”’s cinematography is absolutely one of the most stunning pieces of visual art I have seen, ever. Every episode, the cinematography brought to us by Sam Levinson and Director of Photography Marcell Rév is a visual masterpiece.
However, the show’s pretty visuals don’t just add beauty to the show; they add layers of emotional complexity to the characters and the plot. The shift to 35mm Ektachrome film stock, plus dynamic shots and lighting, add to the 5am feel and somehow make the audience feel exactly what the characters are feeling. Episode 4 does exactly this, stunningly so in the montage of character portraits (e.g. Cassie surrounded by a Midsommar-like arrangement of flowers, Elliot alone in the church, Jules with the shadow of raindrops streaming down her face).
Secondly, the writing, viewed sometimes as a weak point for the show, seems to be holding its own. Casual viewers argue that the lack of character centricity this season assumes the season’s downfall, disregarding the fact that the season started off with Fezco’s backstory. Instead of giving credit where credit is due, even if it is unintentional (*Anyone who’s taken a high school English class knows*), viewers choose to critique. The season started with its usual format, and the season has slowly gained chaotic traction in its narrative as Rue spirals deeper into her addiction; her omnipresent narration decreases each week until it is replaced by Jules’ voice in the last moments of this episode. To me, it appears to be narrative genius, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.
Q: What’s left for “Euphoria”?
A: “Euphoria” has been officially renewed for a Season 3 by HBO. So, the light is at the end of the tunnel for Rue, right? Let’s hope so. But, because of the way this episode went, it feels like it’s going to get darker before it gets brighter.