Cecelia Blum ’24
“Euphoria” has been repremanded by critics for a host of reasons, including but not limites to: glamorizing drug use and domestic violence, and portraying child pornography. Yet, these criticisms seemed only to draw more viewers and cement the show’s reputation for groundbreaking subversion.
I was hesitant to watch season one when it first aired due to the nature of the content, but once I did, I was hooked. I fell in love with the show’s stunning costumes, amusing dialogue, talented cast, and the overall narrative structure of the show. I, like 13 million other Americans, eagerly tuned in to the first episode of the second season expecting to be reunited with the intriguing female characters, juicy plotlines, and wry dialogue I had come to expect.
Although I clung onto hope for the duration of the episode, when the final credit rolled I found myself someone unwittingly coerced into watching an hour long montage of male genitalia and gratuitous violence that, to top it all off, did not even pass the Bechdel test.
The beauty of season one “Euphoria” is that it allowed for the characters to be introduced as multi-faceted and complicated. We saw beyond the shell of the high school stereotypes these characters seemed to represent, and resonated and sympathized with their complex inner narratives and backstories.
As a show with a viewership that is primarily young women, “Euphoria” does a great disservice to its audience by stripping its most prominent female characters of their agency and personality this season. Take for example, Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney. The ending of season one left viewers with hope for Cassie’s character— that she would perhaps begin to find herself, take control of her own life, and search for validation outside of romantic relationships.
These hopes were quickly dashed in season two. It’s not just that Cassie starts hooking up with Nate (Jacob Elordi), an obvious no-no in the eyes of girl code and general ethics. It’s that she seems to have lost any real authority over her own life. Her character is suddenly portrayed as whiny, flighty, needy, and utterly pathetic.
She makes an utter fool of herself trying to impress this dirt clod of a man, doing everything she can to get his attention at the expense of her best friend Maddy, played by Alexa Demie. Cassie’s character is so poorly written and caricature-ish it borders on comical. Borders on. In reality, it is sad and frustrating to see teenage girls like Cassie reduced to the classic sexist trope of a teenage girl: boy crazy, irritating, boring, and downright idiotic. To waste Sydney Sweeny’s talent on this pathetic excuse for a character is truly a crime against humanity for which director Sam Levison must be held accountable.
Rue (Zedaya) and Jules (Hunter Schaffer), the show’s token gay couple, seemingly only got back together for the sake of a plot line in which they are driven apart by– you guessed it– a man (and also narcotics, but these too lead back to the man).
The narrative does a great injustice in a centuries-long line of injustices done to teenage girls by popular media: it reduces them to helpless idiots. This would perhaps be egregious if every character in the show was as unlikable and one-dimensional as the female ones.
Yet, male characters, like notorious construction company owner/statutory-rapist/child pornographer Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane), is given a heartwarming backstory and earnest redemption ark that leaves him borderline-likable in the eyes of viewers. All this while characters like Kat, once one of the most fascinating and root-for-able characters, is relegated to the absolute margins, where she manages to eek in one line per episode about how she is unhappy in her seemingly perfect relationship. Yawn.
Luckily, what it lacks in realistic characters and imaginative plotlines, “Euphoria” makes up for with an excess of gruesome beatings, psychological warfare, and full-on abuse. I understand the show is a dark melodrama, I really do. But I don’t love that I often finish the latest episode with an unmistakable tightness in my chest, feeling more stressed than I did before watching.
“Euphoria” does have its redeeming qualities, though. In terms of aesthetics and soundtrack, Euphoria has somehow improved upon its first season. Additionally, Rue’s storyline is—although somewhat predictable— extremely compelling. Zendaya portrays the complete loss of self brought on by addiction so convincingly it borders on terrifying. And although the show is pretty reckless with the behaviors it normalizes (drunk driving, abandoning intoxicated friends roadside, dating known abusers), I don’t think anyone would feel compelled to do drugs after watching a detoxing Rue cry like a baby with snot hanging from her nose as she unsuccessfully attempts to open a Jolly Rancher.
Another high point of the season is that the character of Lexi, played by Maude Apatow, plays a more prominent role this season. This is good considering she appears to be the singular sane person at Euphoria High.
Does the sensory beauty of “Euphoria” Season 2 outweigh its numerous pitfalls? That’s for you to decide, but I personally may have to replace it with a less frustrating show.
Image Source: HBO