“Euphoria” goes from addiction commentary to catfights


Photo courtesy of Eddy Chen/HBO Max

Rue grows emotional while watching Lexi’s play. “Euphoria” season 2 lacks depth compared to season 1 but still remains entertaining.

Sydney Lawson, Lifestyle Editor

Season two of “Euphoria” turned everything I thought about the show on its head and left me with more questions than answers.

I watched all of “Euphoria” for the first time last weekend, wanting to be caught up to catch the season two finale live. As I watched the first season, I concluded “Euphoria” was meaningful for a teen drama, even if it was a bit over-the-top. Season two lost that meaning, focusing more on catfights and petty drama.

“Euphoria” primarily follows Rue Bennett (Zendaya), a high school junior and drug addict. Season one begins with Rue returning to school after an accidental overdose, out of rehab and still struggling with sobriety. She reconnects with old acquaintances and starts to fall for new student Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer). Rue’s old friends are also dealing with issues of their own. 

Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) wants to escape the reputation she’s been given, and her sister, Lexi (Maude Apatow), is sick of being used and living in the shadows. Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira) just wants love and attention. Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) is navigating an abusive relationship with her on-and-off boyfriend, Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), and Nate is willing to ruin lives to save his father’s reputation.

These conflicts continue in season two, along with more relationship drama and trauma inflicted at the hands of Nate. Unfortunately, Rue relapses and attempts to hide it from her friends and family. Lexi decides it’s her turn to control the story as she plans a school play about her friends’ lives and secrets. What could go wrong? 

Season two of “Euphoria” lost its depth and ended with far too many plot holes and unfinished, confusing storylines. I begrudgingly admit, however, it’s still entertaining. 

Season one has a purpose beyond mindless entertainment. It examines the juxtaposition between typical high school-centric drama and the adult issues teens are forced to face while they still have a juvenile mentality. 

One of its most central and important themes is that addiction is a product of a greater issue, not a flaw of a person and not always the result of being an irresponsible teenager. Season one shows addiction, even in teenagers, can be born out of trauma or prescription medication. 

It’s nice when a show has some substance, when the plot isn’t a shallow, surface-level drama or romance. I think season one excels in that regard. 

Season two feels much less meaningful. It holds onto the theme of healing from addiction, but this is not nearly as emphasized and most other significant messages are lost in the chaos. There’s so many convoluted and overlapping plot lines centered on relationships and unnecessary conflict that Rue’s addiction feels like a side plot.

I don’t feel as though this change makes the show any less entertaining, but it does make it harder for meaningful stories and themes to stick with the audience.

Despite how disappointed I was with this shift, as well as all of the unanswered questions and dropped plot lines we were left with at the end of season two, there was still a lot that I liked, and I genuinely enjoyed watching the show. 

Zendaya’s acting is tremendous, but she shone especially this season in her scenes of withdrawal. I never thought Zendaya or her character could be scary, but my heart dropped to my toes when Rue broke down her sister’s door, jarringly swinging between being violent and accusatory and scared and remorseful. Her portrayal of emotions is alarmingly realistic.

I also found myself very invested in Elordi’s portrayal of Nate. He is so good at manipulation that I feel manipulated as a viewer. I can’t get inside his head and understand him like I can with other characters. 

Even Cassie, who quite literally lost her mind, has a mental state that’s easier to understand and navigate than Nate with his daddy issues and euphoria in violence. I never know what his intentions are, how he’s actually feeling or if he’s being genuine.

I applaud the casting director or crewmember who found the child actors. Sweeney as a child looks less like her adult self than the young actress who played her. 

The music in this series is perfectly selected and timed. The tracks actually add something to the scenes and their moods, not just included to be background noise. All the music fits in with the glittery, neon aesthetic and modern teen music trends. Some of the most impactful tracks were “All for Us” by Zendaya, “My Body is a Cage” by Arcade Fire and “Still Don’t Know My Name” by Labrinth.

I especially appreciate the creative experimentation with film style and artistic portrayal of ideas. I loved when Zendaya would break the fourth wall, the musical and dance number at the end of season one, Cassie’s ice-skating routine and references to famous works of film and art with Rue and Jules. 

I can’t recommend this show blindly without any acknowledgement of the hard topics that are covered, or the graphic, blatant way in which it is done. Obviously, this show deals heavily with addiction, depictions of sex between teenagers, abuse, mental illness and references sexual assault. 

Yes, it’s vulgar. Yes, it’s dramaticized, but I don’t think it glorifies or romanticizes any of the hard material it covers. This is hard to do when creating a drama because, of course, the drama should be entertaining while remaining sensitive to the subject’s importance. I don’t feel that “Euphoria” ever crosses into the territory of being irresponsible or insensitive.

Acknowledging the bad but ignoring the good would be a dangerous misrepresentation of such topics as abusive relationships or addiction. Give audiences credit. They can read between the lines to find what’s highly fictionalized and what’s reflective of the real world. They can tell when actions perceived as acceptable by the characters are being subtly criticized by the show itself. 

All things considered, I’d give season two of “Euphoria” 4 out of 5 stars.

Whether or not you will enjoy “Euphoria” really depends on your personal tastes. I don’t feel that this show, especially considering the second season, is ground-breaking or a must watch that exceeds expectations. It has great acting, gorgeous cinematography and is entertaining why do many of us watch television if not to be entertained?