School is back in session. At least, as much as it can be on a show like “Euphoria,” one that never shows classes or homework and recently went viral for a shot of Maddy (Alexa Demie) standing in the hall with a tiny purse and no schoolbooks. Rue (Zendaya), Jules (Hunter Schafer), Nate (Jacob Elordi), Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), and the rest of their classmates aren’t particularly concerned with their education this episode, as they’re still coming down from last week’s bloody New Year’s Eve party.
Backstory Of The Week: None! (But Kind Of Nate)
The second episode of “Euphoria” season 2 breaks with tradition in several ways. It doesn’t include a backstory-filled cold open, instead focusing on Nate’s time in the hospital and his feelings about Maddy, Cassie, and even his domineering father, Cal (Eric Dane). Nate is rushed to the hospital after being beaten half to death by Fez (Angus Cloud), and Maddy and Cassie trip along in heels on either side of his gurney.
Though we don’t get new Nate backstory, this may as well be called a Nate episode, because Rue lets us into his messed-up head more than usual. We learn that Nate thinks it’s Maddy who made him a bad person, and that if he’d dated Cassie instead, she might have brought out the best in him. In quick flashes, we see a montage of what seems to be the sex he and Cassie will have over the coming weeks, presented like a fantasy–her, naked on a bearskin rug, then gyrating under red light in the back of a pickup truck. He tells her he wants to start a family with her. “Nate was beginning to think he had brain damage,” Rue quips.
This episode is frenetic, a nesting doll of interludes stacked on flashbacks stacked on montages. Before the series title appears, we see a frenzied montage of birth, sex, and death, with injured Nate thinking not only about Maddy and Cassie, but also his dad — and even, briefly, Jules. The sequence ends with Nate opening his eyes in the hospital as a baby’s cry rings out. Ominous.
Most Egregious Headline Bait: Maddy V. Cassie Setup
In another surprising detour from the “Euphoria” playbook, this episode doesn’t actually include a parade of penises or a bloody gun battle or anything else guaranteed to keep the series in the TV controversy hall of fame. I mean, it does have a “Game of Thrones” fanfic scene come to life, but that might be small potatoes at this point in the show’s run.
Its biggest talking point will likely be the rising tension between Cassie and Maddy, which at this point might just be in Cassie’s head. Cassie alternates between depressed and frantic in this episode, with quick clips revealing she isn’t showering or cleaning. She’s never really been single before, Maddy points out, and even though Cassie wants to be pure like a monk, Maddy says she loves being loved too much to make that happen.
When Nate tells Cassie that Maddy will kill her if she ever finds out about them, we get a montage of Maddy’s greatest hits — literally. The girl is a fighter, and has apparently been ramming classmates’ heads into lockers and sinks for years now. Cassie had better be careful wearing a ponytail, because it seems like there’s a pretty good chance Maddy will yank it if they ever face off about Nate. For now, though, Maddy seems to have no idea about them, despite a (possibly imagined) moment in which Maddy glares suspiciously at Cassie in the hall. Cassie’s mom (Alanna Ubach), though, is more suspicious, watching Cassie’s emotionally volatile phone calls and saying, “Those aren’t the emotions of a single person.”
Most Underutilized Character: Maddy
Despite the way she effortlessly haunts Cassie’s subconscious, Maddy isn’t actually in this episode of “Euphoria” all that much. We learn that she took a babysitting job for a rich family — after trying to sell her eggs first, of course — where she mostly tries on fancy clothes and sits poolside with the little boy she’s looking after. Despite her disinterest, Maddy actually seems okay with kids, and in a brief scene in the school bathroom she muses about how cute she would look pregnant.
Maybe I’m being paranoid, but this season seems to have already dropped a lot of hints about the idea of Maddy or Cassie getting pregnant. In the first half of this episode alone, we have Nate talking about having babies with Cassie and imagining her pregnant, plus this comment from Maddy, and the baby’s cry that brought Nate back in the hospital. Even the shot of Nate’s blood on Cassie’s thighs is visceral in a way that calls to mind childbirth. I don’t want to freak us all out unnecessarily at this point, so I’ll just state for the record that I wouldn’t wish co-parenting with Nate Jacobs on anyone.
Anyway, the only other Maddy moment we get is by way of an introduction to her boss, played by Minka Kelly. Kelly’s character comes home drunk, in a beautiful purple gown that she asks Maddy to unzip. When Maddy does, the woman holds her hand and thanks her for being “so sweet,” and there’s a weird flicker of something between them. Is Maddy into the mom of the kid she’s babysitting, or does she just want to be her? We at the very least know she envies her glamour, as we see her play dress-up in the family’s walk in closet earlier on.
Least Likely To Succeed: Kat
Oh, Kat. Barbie Ferreira’s character didn’t get much screen time in the premiere, and now that she has, it’s clear that things aren’t going particularly well for her. “Stop flaunting your healthy, non-abusive, wonderful relationship,” Maddy jokes to Kat, and it’s true that Ethan (Austin Abrams) is exceedingly nice and normal for a guy on this show. During one of their exceedingly normal makeout sessions, Kat imagines him being slayed by a Jason Momoa-esque Dothraki (or like, off-brand Dothraki because of copyright) who then takes her from behind. It’s clear that Kat is hard-wired for more thrills in the bedroom than she’s getting right now, and in one of the show’s more realistic plot points, the teenager is too anxious to actually ask for what she wants.
She’s also depressed. In a sequence that can only be described as “clearly written by a 37-year-old man,” she imagines that all the influencers in her phone are suddenly in her room, overwhelming her with unhelpful advice about the one true path to happiness. I trust Sam Levinson’s ability to tell this story, but when Rue’s narration moans that everyone “suddenly joined a self-help cult,” it sounds a bit like the vaguely political rant she went on in her bridge episode. That is to say, it breaks away from the believable voice of a teenage girl. Your mileage may vary on this scene with Kat, which ends with the women chanting “LOVE YOURSELF!” as she screams. She’s one of my favorite characters, so I just want her to feel okay.
Best Gut Punch: Insight Into Rue’s Addiction
As usual, the real emotional core of “Euphoria” comes back to Rue. On the first day back to school after winter break, she, Elliott (Dominic Fike), and Jules run into each other in the hall, a moment that quickly turns awkward when Rue is too high to properly introduce the two. As a result, Jules is visibly hurt, thinking Rue is hiding a crush on Elliott from her. A bit later, Elliott ambles by again, saying, “I just feel like … we should do drugs.” I know Elliott is no good for Rue, but he’s ineffably cool in a laid back way, and his introduction this season has been seamless.
We learn that Rue and Elliott have already been secretly hanging out and getting high together. We see them dancing around a bedroom, then Rue lays on the bed while Elliott plucks at a guitar. She tells him she wishes more people understood that drugs make her better, less shy and more able to form connections. She tells him she was instantly in love with Jules, but adds, “When you say it out loud, it kind of sounds small.” “What’s a bigger feeling than love?” Elliott asks softly. “Loss,” Rue says, without thinking twice.
This whole conversation is enlightening, and it’s beautifully done, too. There’s a stripped down quality to it that calls to mind the show’s emotionally raw bridge episodes. Elliott and Rue talk about her dead dad, and the fact that there isn’t a simple inciting incident that leads to addiction. Elliott worries that the pair won’t bring out the best in each other. He seems like a good guy so far.
In a bonus gut punch, a quick peek inside Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) head reveals that one of her most painful memories is the time Rue overdosed. We learn that Lexi has always felt passive, and the one time she spoke up — telling Rue she’d tell her mom about the drugs — it didn’t work. Lexi’s mom hugging her in bed after breaking the news is a sweet, painful moment, and a reminder that these characters really are just kids. It’s also especially effective when juxtaposed with Rue’s own take on drugs, which shows that she isn’t thinking very much about how her addiction hurts other people.
Biggest Surprise: Faye Straight-Up Killed Some Guy
Anyone who’s hoping for more Fezco-Lexi cuteness is in for some angst this week, as Faye (Chloe Cherry) and Cal get in the way of further bonding between the two. I’m surprised to see Faye again, as her appearance in the premiere seemed like a one-off, but this week we learn that she pushed a motel manager over a balcony. She lies low at Fez’s house while the heat is on, which irritates Ashtray (Javon Walton). At one point, Fez finds Faye passed out in the bathroom after injecting heroin, and helps her back to bed without a second thought.
Lexi tries to visit Fez at the convenience store he runs, but is surprised by the presence of Faye. She recovers quickly, but then Cal, who’s been snooping around to figure out who beat up Nate, comes in and makes everything weirder. It’s a tense moment, with Cal seemingly hiding a gun in his pocket, and it quickly shatters the illusion that Lexi could enter Fez’s world without being put in harm’s way.
Most Spine-Chilling Moment: The Construction Site
How many paragraphs has it been since I last talked crap about Nate? Too many, I think. Let’s get back to this sicko. Despite Rue’s insight into his psychology early in the episode, he’s clearly still deploying manipulation tactics to an extreme degree. After leaving Cassie emotionally strung out for weeks on end, Nate finally meets up with her, taking her to an eerie empty construction site in the dead of night. He tells her they can’t see each other anymore, but somehow, they end up having sex anyway. “You don’t know how much power you have,” he says, and it’s extremely clear that this is untrue.
If Rue’s telling us that Nate thinks Cassie could fix him, he must really think that, yet it’s as if his mind is always making disturbing machinations he isn’t consciously aware of. Either that, or he’s outfoxing our supposedly omniscient narrator. We get a glimpse into his new method of manipulation when he starts to go down on Cassie, then pauses during a particularly intense moment to say, “How are you ever gonna look Maddy in the eye again?” What the hell is wrong with this guy? He’s purposely undermining Cassie’s pleasure by bringing up something he knows upsets her, and pinning his own bad behavior on her in the process. Also, why is he even thinking about Maddy right now? Run, girl.
Moment That’ll Come Up In Therapy Later: Nate And Cal’s Conversation
The episode ends with another chilling scene, one that will likely catapult the season’s arc forward at a rapid pace after this surprisingly chill episode. Cal confronts Nate about Fezco, and Nate tells Cal he knows about Jules and the sex tape. He lies, saying Fez has the disc, but nothing hits quite like the moment of tense, straight-faced shock across Cal’s face when he realizes his son has seen him hooking up with a teenage girl (who said son was in love with, not that Cal knows that part) on camera. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’m not the type of professional who’s equipped to do so, so I’ll just stay tuned for next week’s episode.
Even More Superlatives
Best Musical Moment: This week’s honor has to go to Gerry Rafferty’s dreamy 1978 hit “Right Down The Line,” which Rue and Elliott dance to. It’s especially effective because we’ve already heard it in the season’s fantastic trailer, but even without that association, it’s a song with a great vibe that sets the tone for Rue and Elliott’s freewheeling relationship. Runners-up include Judy Garland’s “Come Rain or Shine,” which plays when Maddy tries on outfits in her boss’s walk-in closet, and the end title track, which I haven’t been able to track down yet. It might be part of the series’ official soundtrack.
Best Dressed: I felt bad giving Lexi best dressed last week after seeing Maddy’s Akna Damien Black minidress hit big on social media after the premiere, but I won’t make that mistake again. Maddy is the unchallenged style queen of “Euphoria,” as she proves this week during her outfit try-on montage. There are lots of looks here worth loving, but my favorite is the black off-the-shoulder number with a portrait neckline and spiky back. Paired with Maddy’s spiky bun, it’s a look that’s both elegant and edgy.
Surprisingly Practical Choice of the Week: After Rue shows up stoned to NA, her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) drives her home and insists on meeting her family. This superlative is meant for the teens who make smart choices, but credit for this one goes pretty much entirely to Ali. Rue’s family is clearly in the dark about her current drug use, and while Ali doesn’t tell them about it, it’s really clever of him to make himself available to them as both a friendly face and a resource in case of future disaster.
Boldest Filmmaking Flourish: This edit-happy episode is full of quick cuts and creative montages, but for some reason, I keep coming back to one striking shot in particular. It’s when Maddy and Cassie sit head to head in a hot tub, holding hands above their heads. Their skin lit neon pink, the water vibrant blue around them, and we can’t see where they are until the camera zooms out. The effect is a moment that looks at once magical and ominously artificial, which is a pretty good descriptor of the state of their friendship.
Weekly Extra Credit Assignment: When it comes to behind the scenes content, “Euphoria” is an embarrassment of riches. Now that the show’s up and rolling again, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite making-of tidbits here. This week, I think it’s worth paying attention to the “Entering Euphoria” featurette for episode 1. In it, Levinson describes his vision for the season: “If season one was sort of a house party at 2am, season 2 should feel like 5am — way past the point at which everyone should’ve gone home.” There’s also some great insight from the show’s DP, Marcell Rév, who shot the season on Kodak Ektachrome film.
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