We open on a shot of a pasty white teen’s ass putting on his briefs. This is not a vibe.
Blasting INXS, teenage Cal spends his days with his best friend Derek unified in their mutual love of wrestling and long enough hair to dramatically sweep your hand through it. During practice, there’s an extensive amount of verbal pressure to succeed, so it’s really a life led by aggressive whistles, bloody noses, and cute girls smiling at you from the sidelines. Locker room soap swaps were the normal, as was consistently naked male bodies, but for Cal the brief full-frontal glances were meaningful from the start. Cal and Derek had the type of easy friendship where it was just as comfortable to sit in silence as it was to talk for hours on end. It was ideal and safe.
When the boys start dating girls one of the most disturbing moments I’ve seen on Euphoria happens: young Cal bites Marsha’s foot playfully. It’s the Tarantino dream and highly unsanitary. Hanging out together as a foursome involves lots of couple make outs, but the shots of Cal inactively reciprocating with Marsha and instead watching Derek making out with his girlfriend are all too painful to see. Fitting with this season’s theme of massive amounts of nudity, the couples strip naked and jump in the pool, naked bodies intertwining, one of the only nudity scenes this season that feels more playful than it does sexually charged. It’s a nice change of pace, but, unfortunately, it’s immediately followed up by a montage of Cal becoming a sex obsessed teen.
Finally, some hints of admiring reciprocation come when Derek becomes subtly jealous about Cal’s strong interest Marsha’s pleasure. It’s graduation time and the boys want to celebrate one last time together alone before going off to separate colleges. Derek knows a place where they can go: a gay bar. Rushing into the bar after getting caught in a rainstorm, they put on “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS and everyone casually watches as they dance together. It starts as what looks like a routine they used to do in their living rooms on relaxing Saturday afternoons to grabbing each other close, not wanting to let go. With wet bangs covering their eyes, they curiously kiss before it becomes urgent with teary smiles that it took this long.
A new buoyant future for Cal right in front of him, something he’d clearly been suppressing, until it’s ripped away from him just as quickly when Marsha rings with news that she’s pregnant. Quiet tears escape Cal’s eyes, so desperately sad. The entire opening sequence is so entrancing that it’s easy to forget that this closeted kid grows up to be the toxic Cal that we loathe weekly. It’s important to give characters a well-rounded backstory to inform their present-day selves and the sympathy we feel towards him doesn’t erase the terrible things that he’s done.
Cut to present day: functional drug addict Rue is in full force and it’s maddening. “Call Me Irresponsible” by Bobby Darin soundtracks Rue’s dreamy dance sequence that’s a joy to watch until Gia bursts the heightened bubble. It’s such a high energy scene for a generally lowkey Rue, so you want to revel in her joy and her ability to whip the Poptarts into the toaster with ease.
“Our country’s dark and fucked up. And people, they just wanna find hope. Anywhere. And if not in reality, then in television. Unfortunately, I’m not it.” -Rue
Rue’s been proven to be a very unreliable narrator, so it’s easy to forget how manipulative she is. Her projection presentations are back this season with the latest, How To Get Away With Being A Drug Addict. In order to cover for her relapse, she gets a cover drug to explain her behaviors to everyone else, in this case weed, following that up with gaslighting people into making them think their intuitions with her aren’t reliable. Rue knows how to build up trust with people and use that to guilt them into trusting the progress supposedly made and not their gut feeling.
Jealousy is the source of many issues between Jules and Rue this season so far, so Rue tries to smooth things out with Jules. Unfortunately, the effort backfires a bit and Jules interrogate Elliot about his sexuality and sexual experience levels, which, understandably, Elliot doesn’t want to focus on and turns it around on Jules’ sexual experience instead. Last season Lexi and Rue had a similar intimidation scene with a kid trying to get with Gia and both work so well. Even though the scene started off as hostile, Jules does start to come around to Elliot just a little. Progress!
Jules and Rue bike home in the sunshine. Happy and fun, it’s such a welcomed reprieve from the endless anxiety this show causes. It’s also the most brightly, naturally lit scene so far this season. It’s a literal breath of fresh air until Rue bikes next to Cal’s truck, they make eye contact and he speeds away. With that brief tense interaction out of her mind, the exhilarating bike race elicits the only physically intimate scene between Jules and Rue so far. It’s a delicate yet passionate exploratory scene.
“The beautiful thing about getting high is time ceases to exist. I mean, you can just stay in the good moments without the fear that they’ll come to an end.” – Rue when she’s fucking Jules
Lexi’s an observer in all facets of her life. With her family’s drama she never interfered and appeared as an outsider in her own life. To cope with the isolation and disassociation that this part of her personality provided her, Lexi took to writing. There’s a fun sequence where we’re seeing the visual imagining of Lexi writing the story of her life in the form of a tv show she’s written and created called This is Life. Centered around the fictionalized version of her life, Lexi and the rest of the people in her real-life act as themselves in her dramatized world. It’s a playful sequence where we really get to see more of Lexi’s personality externalized. The dreamscape version of her writing fades away and in the real world, Lexi decides that she’s going to put on her play, holding auditions in which Ethan actually excels at.
While Lexi’s up at 4am writing on her laptop in the dark, Cassie begins her new, three-hour morning routine before school. For days Cassie obsessively cleans and sculpts her body and face, being sure that everything’s perfect, as a comforting outlet that relies on the details she can control about her life. It’s a way for her to channel her anxiety over Nate in a way that gives her a thrill of possibility that her appearance might in fact elicit a response from Nate. It’s perfectly executed the way Cassie becomes more unsteady the longer he actively ignores her. Clearly, not all of the attention seeking looks allured Nate, but it’s very telling that the day he did finally stop and notice Cassie was the day she looked like Maddy’s twin. Nate pauses for just a moment and Cassie’s elated beyond belief. It ripped me to shreds to see her so thrilled over something so small. Everything is so twisted for Cassie right now and something so minor being so crucial to her mental health is a bad sign.
“What if I am a genius?” -Rue
Rue’s drug supply is dwindling so she crafts a plan on how she can do drugs for free. Of course, Fez immediately shoots the idea down, knowing that it would only lead to trouble for his found family. Fez’s rejection brings a professionally dressed Rue to Laurie’s house, laying out her business opportunity for Laurie who’s pouring her smoothie in a Disneyland tumbler. Rue’s adding more details to her plan, like the girls in her team will have high GPAs so that no one suspects them as runners, and surprisingly Laurie goes for it. However, it could be less that Laurie thinks that Rue’s a genius and more that she’s going to take advantage of her now that Rue’s now got 10K worth of drug merchandise on her hands to sell. Either that or unreliable narrator Rue strikes again, as it’s highly unlikely that Laurie would use the word ‘genius’ like Rue did.
Donning one of her most dramatic new outfits, a true country music vibe, Cassie’s look sparks the conversation in the girl’s bathroom. Is Cassie auditioning for “Oklahoma” for the school’s drama club? Is Rue on drugs? Why does Cassie look like a country music star? Did Rue relapse? Nearly all of the girls in this one scene, intertwining about three different conversations at once, works so impeccably. Immediately after watching it I rewound it and watched it again, wondering why we haven’t gotten more of similar large female cast moments other than the table at the dance in season one’s finale.
“Bitch, you better be joking.” -Maddy
What really makes this scene shine is Cassie’s moment to become absolutely unhinged and reveal her feelings for Nate. Cassie says that they’re in love with each other and she’s never been happier. The more hurried words that come out of her mouth the redder her face gets as she bursts out with all of the conflicting emotions and guilt she’s wanted to talk about for weeks now. It’s such a great performance enhanced by spot on reaction shots from the other girls. While the moment turned out to be all in Cassie’s head and she didn’t say a word out loud, it’s such a crucial outburst to cement how increasingly unhappy and unlike herself she’s become over Nate as her mental health dramatically spirals.
Ruminating on her past relationship with Nate, Maddy muses aloud to Cassie about what the reality of their dynamic was. Was it really as bad as Maddy remembers it to be? The good was really good, but was the bad really that dark? It’s so interesting putting a genuinely thoughtful Maddy paired up with Cassie who then gives Maddy advice that she deserves someone who truly loves her and treats her well. While Cassie’s giving the advice to Maddy, it’s evident that she’s really saying it to herself as Cassie’s been hooking up with Nate on Friday nights in secret for weeks. It goes from a dreamy look at their hookups to the music dropping and Nate’s choking Cassie, talking about how sick she is, and she’s crying while feverishly kissing him in harsh lighting. She makes it out to be a secret, romantic thing, but it’s obvious that Nate fetishizes the allure of the affair and Cassie being a traitor to Maddy. Being with someone who isn’t completely a good person is a turn on to Nate and it’s definitely the focus of why he’s interested in her in the dark moments.
Kat and Ethan are still cutesy dating, so she has dinner with him and his parents at an Asian restaurant. Kat’s dolled up and Ethan looks like a classic underdressed high school boy, while his mom playfully, but seriously, asks Kat the expected prying questions when meeting your kid’s girlfriend. Tell me about yourself, Ethan’s mom asks a now very flustered Kat. It’s evident that Kat’s not the type to open up to people she doesn’t know well and especially not in high pressure situations like this, but, to ask Kat this particular question when she’s spent the entire series doubting herself and trying to discover who she is and what she wants, the question is way more overwhelming than intended. Unfortunately, her literally have no idea who I am accompanied by nervous laughter instead gets her laughed at, while Ethan sits in silence. I truly hope we get more Kat this season that isn’t just directly involved in her relationship with Ethan that she’s clearly not thrilled with. Her screen presence is missed.
Cal’s been obsessing about the missing problematic disc to the point that he’s fanaticizing about killing himself, a plan he’d never actually go through. In order to cope with his stress, he’s been staking out Fez’s place, as he thinks that’s where it is, that is until Ashtray brings Cal in at shotgun point. Once it’s made clear that Cal isn’t going to call the cops, no matter how much Ashtray bludgeons Cal’s head, Cal’s finally aware of how Nate played him. Where Cal screws up is when he outs himself as to having slept with Jules and purposefully recording it. Fez’s disbelief is truly us all. Yes, Fez, this dude is beyond messed up and disgusting. What truly brings this scene to its fullest is when Fez outs Nate as being in love with Jules, well and truly throwing Cal for the biggest confusion loop of his life, while Fez and Faye wonder what type of romantic values the Jacobs’ family encourages.
“You beat up my son.” -Cal
“Yeah, well he deserved it. He’s a fucking bitch.” -Fez
Since Rue decided to ditch them, Jules and Elliot hang out, intrigue taking over. Ever since they met, Jules can’t put her finger on why she can’t trust Elliot and so he then openly admits that he has a crush on Rue. It’s refreshing that there’s no hostility between them in that moment, more like a mutual understanding, and it instead opens up their conversation even further. Elliot muses that he genuinely doesn’t think that Rue’s interested in having sex with him, as she seems like she’s not a sexual person at all in his opinion. As the conversation progresses, it’s clear that they’re getting progressively more comfortable with each other, as Elliot verbally explores Jules’ many fascinating complexities that make her so attractive. The way that Jules listens as Elliot talks about her brings a certain curious familiarity like she has with Rue. Awkwardly, he caps off the compliments by placing doubt in her mind about the integrity of her love with Rue.
Literally rolling her drug-filled suitcase as she bikes to her NA meeting, Rue feels like she’s won the jackpot. A suitcase full of drugs, and, while she has someone super powerful to answer to, that’s a problem for future Rue and not present-day Rue. As soon as Rue sits in the meeting, Ali clocks Rue’s suitcase, her excessive sweating, and fidgeting. Ali casually checks in with Rue after the meeting and she goes for where it hurts, spitting out, Well, good thing nobody’s really looking to you to be a fucking parent. It’s absolutely horrifying to hear coming out of her mouth and desperately sad to see Ali so hurt by how she’s used his personal life as a weapon against him. Watching Ali walk away in silence, so wounded and in shock by this version of Rue is nothing short of devastating.
In the same way it’s difficult to believe that no one questions kids with Altoids containers in a modern world, it’s shocking that Rue’s mom doesn’t question why she’s rolling a suitcase to her room. With that, we end on a mashup of brief scenes where you want to shake characters back to their senses: Rue’s mom truly believing that Rue’s doing well, Kat barely caring about Ethan’s new role in the play, Cassie being ditched by Nate only for him to meet up with Maddy, Jules and Elliot cozily smoking together, and Rue’s eyes widening on her new suitcase full of drugs. Rue takes a hit and the world around her dims with just a spotlight on her escaping into the drugged darkness once more.