Photo: Happy Hinds
WARNING: EUPHORIA SPOILERS
The HBO show “Euphoria” written and directed by Sam Levinson has received quite a bit of attention over the past two years, gaining nationwide popularity after the premiere of season one on Hulu in the summer of 2019. The show recently came back with season two on January 9th, 2022 after a two and a half year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, now that season two has reached its sixth episode, the show has received quite some outreach and controversy. But, with such diverse conversations circulating about the show, how has it become so popular?
What’s the widespread appeal?
A question that has circulated the internet since 2019 when the show originally aired is: does the show glamorize drug abuse, sex, and abusive relationship cycles? It seems the general answer would be yes, the show is very flashy with bright colors and glitter, especially in season one, BUT, it’s nuanced. In a recent interview Zendaya did with D.A.R.E., after the anti-drug organization originally declared Euphoria glamorizes drug abuse, she retorted saying that it “chooses to misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict high school student drug use, addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.” This is perfectly said, and honestly is the honest truth. There was another interview with Sam Levinson, where he described season one to show the viewers what it feels like “during the party”; the bright colors, fresh drama, glitter, and general euphoria that comes with drug use, sex, and how relationships can feel in their height. But, season two is meant to show the “after-party”, 4 in the morning after the high, hungover and regretful (we’ve all been there). I think what’s complicated about the show as well is that while it takes place in a high school, the show will appeal to high school students, BUT a lot of people in this age group haven’t yet experienced the consequences of their actions and don’t understand the height of what drug abuse and toxic relationships with sex and partners can do to you. While the show remains a bit too mature for the age group it’s representing, it can be a reality check- even for college students!
Reflecting further on season two, as we’ve made our way almost to the final episode of the season I’ve seen many characters receive their brunt of slander on the internet, mainly via Twitter and TikTok. I think it’s important to reflect on these characters as portraits of pieces of ourselves in many ways. While the show does exclude many demographics of people, race specifically, each character in their own specific way is nuanced and deeply, deeply flawed.
First, there’s Rue. Our main character and narrator, Rue, played by Zendaya Coleman follows a teenager struggling with bipolar disorder and extreme anxiety who falls into the downward spiral of drug addiction. We watch Rue’s character get better and then regress and within season two, we watch her reach her absolute rock bottom. Rue’s character is definitely one of the easiest characters to empathize with- especially if you’ve seen someone struggle with drug addiction. There are many aspects to Rue’s character that even if I haven’t experienced it myself, I watched someone else have a similar, if not identical experience. Rue is questioned frequently throughout the series as to whether or not she’s a “good” person. She questions this herself and is given different affirmations from both her mother, Ali (her sponsor), her father who has passed, and her friends. At the heart of it, Rue is a good person with bad circumstances, but her character is a teenager. An addict’s actions do not show who they are as a person, drugs simply turn people into a version of themselves they didn’t even know existed. Addiction isn’t a part of someone’s personality, it’s a disease.
Photo: Happy Hinds
The conflict between Maddy and Cassie throughout the season has been a specifically notable one at the moment. There are a lot of sides being taken specifically with Cassie’s character decisions… because she has had some questionable moments. Her relationship with Nate has been quite problematic, but to be completely honest- it’s rather calculated. Considering Cassie’s relationship with her father, and reflecting on her recent abortion and what Daniel said to her in the last season: “You think I’m here because I’m interested in you? What do you have to say? Or what you think about things, as if you’re so fucking interesting?” Remember that? I think her actions are pretty calculated, all things considered. But, Cassie’s character encaptures every essence to show the harm and impact of white women and specifically white women’s tears. Maddy’s character has been completely left in the dust this entire season, being left in the shadow of Cassie’s character. But, at the end of the day, it’s important to reflect on how Maddy is a victim to men, specifically Nate in different ways than Cassie is.
Speaking of Cal and Nate, their characters have both made interesting turns this season. Not exactly a fan of how Sam Levinson has tried to give Nate’s character some benefit of the doubt. What Levinson has done with Cal’s character is especially problematic and quite harmful. While the show explores sexuality and identity, making a closeted gay man a sexual predator wasn’t really the best move. At all. Regardless of circumstances and experiences from both Cal and Nate, this does not give their decisions a pass.
At the end of the day, every single character on “Euphoria” is extremely multifaceted and flawed, which is what makes the characters so fascinating to viewers. There are parts of each character that anyone can empathize with, which also is what makes them more real. But, this show is meant to take place in high school and high schoolers make shitty decisions. In terms of the show in general, it effectively does its job while addressing teen drug abuse, sex, and complex relationships, executing them well. While the execution isn’t always tasteful (just so many naked bodies, clearly written by a man), Levinson forces the viewers to reflect on these decisions and notice the detrimental outcomes.
We’ve gotten to see more of our new supervillain this season: drug lord Laurie. Her character wasn’t given much thought in hindsight, yet after Rue’s episode in season two, has declared herself the new antagonist to the series. While this episode does leave room for question, Laurie does some sketchy shit to Rue, showing that whatever could have happened to Rue while she was in that house 100% was not good. There isn’t much of any backstory at all for Laurie, so her character remains pretty mysterious- but it’s clear now that she is not someone Rue should have involved herself with in the first place. I’m assuming we’ll see more of Laurie in the next season.