HBO’s ‘Euphoria’ has always famously had a lot going on. And season two is shaping up to be no exception. The premiere of this latest installment of the program saw the stakes around our characters elevated significantly. ‘Euphoria’ expertly uses its keen visual sense of framing and stunning cinematography to entrap the audience in a conflict of voyeuristic interest. One in which the viewer wants to watch, because the shot is so beautifully crafted, but also one in which they want to turn away, because the circumstance in which they find the characters(s) is so gut-wrenching.
For example, Rue has relapsed and must deal with the fallout that has created for her and her loved ones, East Highland’s criminal underworld is becoming disgustingly clearer and clearer, and Fez and Ash are even working to cover up a murder. This all seemed to take us far beyond the scope and familiarity of the group of high school students we followed in season one. However, the two most recent episodes serve to shift focus back to Rue and her story as a whole, and also help to strengthen and solidify the daunting themes this show has undergone the task of tackling.
Euphoria Episode 5 and 6 – Addiction & Withdrawal
Episode five (which aired on HBO Max on Sunday, February 6th, 2022), saw Rue come crashing, once again to yet another low point – though perhaps lower than ever before. Over the course of around fifty-four, painful minutes, audiences watched as Rue desperately searched for her stash of confiscated drugs. Her need for them is two-fold. One: She has become involved with some very dangerous people, who are going to expect to be reimbursed for the product supplied to her (none of which has she actually sold yet, we’ve only seen her use the supply herself). Two: She’s withdrawing and needs her fix. Which, in the case of addiction to opiates, is a crippling experience of physical torture, as seen in more detail with episode six, when Rue is incapable of even unwrapping a singular Jolly Rancher.
Episode five, though, is much more painful to watch. Over the span of one night, Rue manages to upend virtually every aspect of her life, running house-to-house, stealing, and leaving a trail of chaos wherever she goes. She is directly responsible for a blowup at Cassie’s house, embarrasses herself in front of Jules and Elliot, threatens her family, and even has another altercation with Fez.
This representation, though unkind to Rue, perfectly captures the effects of addiction on the lives of the addicted, and those around them. As a licensed physician, Dr. Drew Pinsky always reminds listeners of his podcast, “addiction is a degenerative disease, which gets worse and worse over time,” ultimately leading to death if untreated. Anybody struggling with addiction needs to get help, needs to find support, and needs to recognize that they are fighting a battle as hopeless as Rue, searching all of East Highland for her suitcase of drugs.
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Another plotline that is ripped open and exploited in this episode, particularly by Rue, is the equally debilitating withdrawal one can experience from a toxic relationship. Specifically, Nate and Maddie are the two characters currently undergoing toxic relationship withdrawal – only it’s from each other. The two’s abusive relationship has been a consistent source of conflict since season one, and often spills over into other people’s lives – with incredibly negative and violent implications.
In episode five, Rue exploits this vulnerability held by Maddie in regards to Nate, which leads to an absolute catastrophe that carries over into the next episode. And in that following episode, we get a better sense of how Nate is handling the toxicity withdrawal on his end. And, (surprise, surprise)it isn’t in the healthiest way. This nightmare of a romance serves as an interesting environment to play with another form of addiction and withdrawal.
Part of my frustration at the beginning of this season was the manner in which Nate Jacobs seemed to have fallen to the wayside. This was surprising to me, as he was set up as the main antagonizing force to Rue and her friends in the season prior. He was a daunting, intimidating force, with nuances alluding to a depth not usually so sympathetically applied to archetypes like his. Then, after Fez cathartically beats the hell out of him in the season premiere, he kind of just sits down. Even in the episode focusing heavily on his father, Cal, Nate was sort of just a supporting character popping in and out of frame, serving as a catalyst to the on-coming feud between Maddie and Cassie. However, the most recent episode (which aired Sunday, February 13, 2022) saw Nate return to his threatening, borderline psychopathic ways, and also offered some further context to his character.
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Now that his father has abandoned them, Nate and his family are left to soak in the afterglow of his retreat. One scene, in particular, shared between Nate and his drunken mother, alludes to the origins of Nate’s darkness. This apparent shift in Nate’s personality may perhaps be explained by a scene shown early on in our introduction to his character. We know that Nate stumbled onto pornography (albeit, daddy’s homemade videos) at a very young age. Pornography and its effect on child development –especially that of young men – is something that doctors, developmental psychologists, and parents have been debating for quite some time.
Does it perhaps alleviate some of the mystery and enigma surrounding sex, that some people would otherwise be unfamiliar with, or does it trigger an innate sense of objectification, and emotional stunting? Is it a viable means of commerce for workers in the sex industry, or a threat to civil society and the minds of our youth? Perhaps Nate’s discovery of such pernicious material at such a malleable age, shattered his concept of what it means to be a person – to be masculine, as well as his ability to truly empathize with another human being.
The latest episode also sees Nate ease back into his psychopathic role of antagonizer. Struggling to overcome his own withdrawal (from Maddie), as well as come to grips with the reality of being the man of the family (his brother doesn’t count), Nate happens upon a firearm. A pistol. As if Nate Jacobs wasn’t already scary enough, and the stakes weren’t already dizzyingly high, he is now patrolling East Highland with a gun in his hand, a gleam in his eye, and an idea in his head. This is made even more unnerving when one takes the time to consider what lengths he may go to, as his father seemed to act as the only restraining force against his son. Now, in his absence, what will the troubled teen be left to do? Nate Jacobs at his most dangerous, ladies and gentlemen. He’s back.
The creators of a program that covers material as dark and shocking as ‘Euphoria,’ can’t just leave you completely depressed and disillusioned with reality. Episode six also has a moment of hope, a diamond in the ruff, as it were. Struggling with her withdrawal, Rue decides it is time to reach out to her sponsor, Ali, who has been avoidant since she took a dig at him over his own regretful past. This exchange then leads to an interaction between each of the show’s lead Black stars. This is a scene about warmth, forgiveness, family, and most importantly, hope. Rue’s likelihood of remaining sober is brought into question, and Ali delivers a line that calls to mind one of a similar sentiment, from the play, ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.’ The line is about hope vs. optimism and is spoken by the character of Dr. Cornel West, based on the former Harvard professor of the same name.
The line reads: “Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there that allows us to think things are going to be better, much more rational, deeply secular. Whereas hope looks at the evidence and says it doesn’t look good at all! And says it doesn’t look good at all! We gonna make a leap of faith beyond the evidence to attempt to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious so people can engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever. That’s hope!”
Bringing its core Black cast together around a moment like this, quite literally almost a feast – a banquet, ‘Euphoria’ veers from perpetuating the trope of Black trauma, and instead focuses on hope, what it means to hope, and the role it has to play in the process of healing and recovery. A welcomed perspective in today’s world, and comforting respite from what is otherwise a whirlwind of a television program. The next episode of ‘Euphoria’ is set to air on HBO Max, on February 20, 2022.
Cast: Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Angus Cloud, Sydney Sweeney, Eric Dane, Jacob Elordi
Crew: Sam Levinson, Ron Leshem, Daphna Levin
By Connor Garvin
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Connor Garvin has been a writer for as long as he can remember. Writing has enabled him to distill the thoughts within his own head, as well as allowed him to have those same thoughts heard. Connor is a screenwriter, and filmmaker more generally, with a focus on television. He also believes that real change only occurs if everyone is heard, and is therefore a proud champion of the arts, and a kindred spirit to The Hollywood Insider and its values.