A descent into absurdity.
TELEVISIONHBO MAXLGBTQIA+TEENDRAMAMOLLY KUSILKA
A descent into absurdity.
Remember just last week where, with a shred of remaining optimism, I hoped that episode 5 was not the exception of a bad season, the sole gem amidst the rubble? I’m afraid that all hope might be lost. This episode left me increasingly dumbfounded by the writing decisions. I want to start with the good before we dissect the vast array of bad. Firstly, as always, Rue’s scenes are a reminder of everything that is good in Euphoria. The opening sequence is a visceral, brutal montage of Rue in withdrawal, buoyed by Zendaya’s remarkable performance.
We also, finally, get Lexi and Fez scenes. Their chemistry is adorably pure, and the scene of them sitting on the couch watching a movie was a refreshing, albeit too short, reprieve from the darkness. Even in this moment of sweetness, the scene is not allowed the room to just exist and be sweet, instead, as Stand by Me plays, we cut to Nate, on the way to assault and traumatize Maddy. Sam’s inability to let any characters exist without the choice to cut to Nate, constantly reminding us of his looming presence, is just perfectly exemplified here. It’s the series’ ultimate detriment. A moment can’t simply be about two characters connecting and falling in love. There has to be some shoe-horned shock value, and it’s a reminder that the show has skewed so far from realism or truth to the complexities of a teenage girl’s experience. A moment that was captivating and important on its own, Lexi falling in love for the first time, is not granted the time it deserves, because in Levinson’s mind, the more important matter will always be Nate’s (failed) redemption arc.
And now, we have to discuss Kat’s sole scene. At this point I cannot in good faith discuss what’s happening to Kat’s character and the Kat/Ethan storyline without acknowledging that it is likely due in part to Levinson’s spite towards Barbie Ferreira. Whatever issues may have occurred behind the scenes, to let a main character’s growth and complexity be completely erased as a result of it is honestly a travesty. In this scene, Kat is nothing short of vile to Ethan, gaslighting him so intensely that it's shocking to watch. There’s a feeling I can only describe as almost hatred towards her character radiating through the screen, an attempt to reduce her to the most awful stereotypes. To see a character who once offered valuable representation now be treated with such abandonment and distaste is incredibly frustrating. Cassie is also being pushed further and further into an unrealistic caricature - a character with complexity in season one has now descended into complete madness. Every single line uttered and choice made by Cassie this episode feels only meant to make her as senseless and villainous as possible.
As Kat and Cassie, although Cassie is at least given screen time, are being further and further pushed into the category of irredeemable antagonists, Levinson continues his quest to provide complexity and redemption to… the straight male character, of course. Every single Nate scene this episode is insufferable. There is a meandering, pointless scene that should never have even been included of Nate and his also-insufferable mother, drinking and commiserating in the wake of Cal’s exit. In short, we are forced to watch two cruel, irredeemable characters talk in empty circles for entirely too long, with absolutely nothing accomplished. Cruel people often come from cruel people, we get it. It’s not an excuse for horrible behavior nor an enlightening concept. There is a disturbing sequence in which Nate breaks into Maddy’s home and terrorizes her with a gun in order to acquire the tape, which is one of the series’ most grating plot devices. Not only is this scene a completely absurd and ridiculous attempt at shock over substance, it is beyond painful to watch Maddy, a teenage girl lest you forget, be traumatized to this extent. The fact that the direction of the episode from here is a Nate-centered plot (Nate going to Jules to give her the tape, Nate finally calling Cassie, etc.), instead of at least exploring Maddy’s emotional aftermath to such a traumatic event is another clear example of Euphoria’s issues.
The idea that we should feel any sort of compassion for Nate once we discover he attacked Maddy in order to return the tape to Jules is almost baffling. We are witnessing a train-wreck of an attempted redemption arc and watching characters and entire storylines be affected and neglected in its wake. Jules, Maddy, and Cassie are reserved to nothing more than characters swirling in Nate’s orbit and supporting his storyline in this episode. It’s a disheartening reminder of the importance of a writer’s room, and one that reflects and understands the characters being written about. We conclude the episode returning to Rue after neglecting her journey for its duration, in a heart wrenching scene in which her mother begs and cries on the phone for her to be admitted to an in-patient clinic. You can feel the hopelessness and desperation in her pleas, and I think we should all unite in a campaign to secure Nika King that supporting actress nomination. This final scene is a crushing, momentary jolt to reality, a reminder of our failed system and the way the system fails so many of us. It’s a pain that this season has derailed to this extent when there are still glimmers of greatness like this final scene to be found.