If real life was this melodramatic and full of melancholy, none of us would survive a single day on this planet. To be honest, I’m not sure how any of the characters in Euphoria have made it this far with all of the chaos running through this small, contained group of high schoolers. That’s right, these characters are supposedly still in high school who survive off toxic substances while the adults let them. Lies, deception, adultery, drugs, death, and sex run rampant all over the series created by Sam Levinson. In his own way, Levinson uses Euphoria as a social commentary and character study as if to say this is a dangerous line to toe but dives in the deep end without fully knowing how to swim.
It’s not like these characters are at all relatable either, anyone who acts in the same manner that these characters act cannot be real – it gives off a sense of satisfaction that these extreme personality types don’t overflow society making it easy to disassociate from the actions depicted.
I’m not saying there aren’t people who take drugs to dull the excruciating pain of a loss or drug dealers who use intimidation to run their small empire or people who gaslight their other half to end a relationship or even grown adults committing horrible acts against their spouse and others while living a complete lie – all of that is certainly true, it doesn’t represent the larger population is all. That’s the beauty of Euphoria – grabbing the masses attention on a weekly basis and subtly saying do as I say not as I do. The shows strength relies heavily on shock value – it has since season 1 debuted in 2019.
After what seems like a decade in waiting between seasons, season 2 picks up immediately after the conclusion of season 1 where Rue (Zendaya) is left by Jules (Hunter Schafer) at a train station after promising to run away together. Levinson however, released two-hour long specials featuring the two broken lovebirds in the fallout of Rue’s decision in late 2020 and early 2021. It was just enough Euphoria content to get fans through to the other side. Season 2 starts on New Year’s Eve at you guessed it, a house party featuring excessive drinking, drugs, violence, and sex.
Being desensitized as a society makes ingesting the subject matter a little easier. However, Euphoria cannot be taken lightly as displayed by the disclaimer that appears before each episode. Levinson stepped up the excess of violence, nudity, and drug use from season 1 pushing the boundaries on what a viewer can handle for an hour each Sunday. Watching Rue destroy her life is heartbreaking, now we get to see her come closer to death with camera angles pointed directly at the needle and not cutting away until the poison enters her body. Anyone who has been in her shoes and recovered may feel triggered by all the pills, lines of cocaine, and needles throughout the eight episodes. Rue’s deconstruction and destructive warpath sets her on the path of sobriety reluctantly. How many bridges can she burn in an episode? Not enough apparently.
In her finest hour Rue manages to further extend her suffering way beyond a normal person should. But Rue isn’t normal. She’s dealing with the loss of her father and failing to cope with the transition by using every drug under the sun to kill herself. Every relationship Rue has is shattered in a matter of minutes. She exposes Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Nate’s (Jacob Elordi) secret relationship behind Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) back, she calls Elliot (Dominic Fike), the new guy a snitch for ratting her out to Jules and her mother Leslie (Nika King), picks a fight with Fezco (Angus Cloud) and finally steals thousands of dollars’ worth of drugs to feed her unhealthy addiction to kill herself. Despite all this, Rue isn’t beyond redemption from anybody – I root for Rue every Sunday to get clean. All it took was a village and her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo).
Just give Zendaya the Emmy – her performance and talent is hypnotic and unbelievably engrossing.
Will she stay clean is the question? Good thing Euphoria was renewed for a third season. Maybe then the plot point of owing Laurie (Martha Kelly) money will come back into play – the one storyline not wrapped up neatly at the end of the second season.
The real tragedy revolves around Gia (Storm Reid). Without flaunting it, her struggles with seeing Rue destroy her life is worse and far more realistic. Levinson and Reid only scratch the surface with her character.
Not one character is safe from judgement nor is there a character beyond saving. All have light and darkness embedded in their DNA. What Levinson does best with his characters is push them to their and the audiences limit and cut to a different character entirely to calm the nerves and reset the pulse. While Lexi (Maude Apatow) is putting on her play (a commentary on her and her friends lives which is also a commentary on the immaturity of teenagers and their responsibility), Levinson juxtaposes to Fezco and his adopted brother Ash (Javon Walton) in an actual life-or-death situation who then gets cut to Nate and his father Cal (Eric Dane) and then back to Rue. Once we get to one breaking point, Levinson flips a switch, and we can stop holding our breath waiting for the inevitable disaster to start only to watch another one in progress.
The one thing I would love to know as a music licensing nerd – how much was the sync licensing budget? Levinson spares no expense to get the mood just right and the music used reflects that in nearly every scene. Coming back to compose the score is Labrinth who matches Levinson’s tone episode to episode, telling the story as a wordless epic of abnormal teen angst.
Euphoria is not for everyone especially the faint hearted, the squeamish, or those who may be easily triggered by some of the subject matter Levinson explores at the benefit of his characters. Humans aren’t perfect, we’re deeply flawed and sometimes don’t have the answers to why we do some of the things we do. But what makes the show fascinating is every toxicity each character struggles with. At the end of the day, it’s about who has everything figured out. The answer is no one, no single person has all the answers or is perfectly happy and content. Rue just misses her father, his impact on her at such a young age drives her to being with him again, using the most extreme method she can think of to dull the pain and push those bad feelings away for just a moment of mental calmness.
If not for the mesmerizing performances from the ensemble cast top to bottom, it’s the melodrama that will draw you in (or the big dance number led by Ethan (Austin Abrams)) and keep you coming back for more. In a way Levinson makes us all responsible for Rue’s wellbeing – who doesn’t want her to get and stay clean. Watching others self-destruct is sometimes easier than dealing with our own problems. At least we get the sense that we aren’t alone in our darkness. Levinson and Zendaya make it a point to drive home that fact that even if bridges are burned to ash and the dust has settled, sometimes they can be rebuilt, stronger than before with more reinforcement.
Created By: Sam Levinson
Directed By: Sam Levinson
Music By: Labrinth
Cinematography: Marcell Rév, André Chemetoff, Drew Daniels, Adam Newport-Berra & Rina Yang
Starring: Zendaya, Maude Apatow, Angus Cloud, Eric Dane, Alexa Demie, Jacob Elordi, Barbie Ferreira, Nika King, Storm Reid, Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney, Colman Domingo, Javon Walton, Austin Abrams, Dominic Fike
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Release Date: January 9, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5
Based On: Euphoria by Ron Leshem & Daphna Levin