It’s the first Sunday post-Euphoria and I find myself looking back on the new HBO show. In short, I really loved it. There hasn’t been a tv show on like it since Skins ended. Though, Euphoria has a couple moments that even make Skins look tame. The teen drama takes all its risks and high stakes to the next level while simultaneously giving amazing cinematography paired with wonderous makeup looks and a career-defining performance for Zendaya. And while all those things are amazing in and of themselves, they’re only part of the reason this show has become so captivating. It’s how relatable the drama can be that propelled it to the top of everyone’s must-watch list. Plus it helps that Twitter went absolutely crazy for it every Sunday night.
It’s been almost a decade since I was in high school. There’s a whole new generation experiencing a part of what I went through but in new ways. This is the mindset I did my best to keep throughout the season, these characters on my screen are teenagers. They wouldn’t make the same choices I would make now. On the other side; when I was in high school I made a lot of unwise choices just like Rue and her friends. Growing up is a cycle that only changes interfaces for each new generation but the problems have the same roots they did now when I was a teenager, and when my mother was a teenager too. It’s the same problems in an evolved world.
The thing that I love most about Euphoria is how it doesn’t sugar coat anything. At all. Not the way boys in high school are groomed to be assholes, not the way girls in high school are often pressured into sexual situations they don’t want to be in, and not the way parents are, more often than not, unable to find common ground with their kids. It’s uncomfortable to watch, as Rue struggles to stay clean, Nate terrorizes everyone he comes in contact with and Jules struggles to find genuine love while their parents flail helplessly in the background. The adult in me now wanted to condemn all the parents on the show cause, for the most part, they all suck. Then I remembered how when I was in high school it was like pulling teeth for me to give my mom anything other than one sentence answers to her questions. I could be on the edge of a breakdown and would still lie through my teeth and tell my mother I was fine. I kept a ton of things from her, just like these high schoolers are keeping a ton of things from their parents.
Even though the season was only 8 episodes long, the characters on Euphoria were given quality development. Some more than others, but hopefully season two lets those characters who didn’t get their episodes this season have one next season. In S1 the main focus of Rue, Nate, and Jules kept things interesting and the tension always on edge. The three of them have an odd love triangle that can’t quite be considered romantic. Rue and Nate only have two real interactions the entire season, but their ties to Jules keep them close to each other. Rue struggles with her addiction but the form of it changes, she goes from wanting any and all drugs to wanting Jules. Her new addiction might be more deadly than her substance abuse but it’s hard to tell when it comes to teenagers. Rue creates dependency on Jules because in her mind it’s better to be addicted to a person than it is to be addicted to a drug. She doesn’t know any better. Just like Jules and her all over the place feelings, she loves Rue but also loves Tyler (who turns out to be Nate) and by the last episode is in love with a girl from the city whom she only spent one night with. Jules doesn’t really know nor understands romantic love because her teenage brain has no references other than the traumatic experiences she already has. And then you have Nate, who probably knows better and could easily change himself to be a better person. He just doesn’t want to. Nate’s development is different than Rue and Jules because while all three get worse, Nate’s need to be in control of everything around him is what makes him so scary. His abuse of Maddy, of the real Tyler and of Jules serve to show just how much white men can and do get away with. When it comes to Nate it’s hard to feel any kind of sympathy for him, however, the last episode of the season makes the biggest and best case for any kind of redemption. Nates behavior could truly be blamed entirely on his father, but it doesn’t absolve him from not making better choices and not being a dickhead.
While I look at Rue, Jules, and Nate as the main characters of Euphoria, the show wouldn’t be what it is without the supporting characters. Especially Rue’s drug dealer Fezco and Kat’s cute crush Ethan. The only two men on the show that deserve any kind of rights if we’re being honest. Fezco just might be the biggest breakout of the show. He’s Rue drug dealer yes but it seems no one else cares about her well being the way he does. Little sister Gia does but we haven’t seen enough of her yet for her to confront Rue about her addiction the way Fezco does. His choice to stop selling drugs to Rue because he doesn’t want to help her kill herself was a move that I didn’t see coming. Drug dealers rarely if ever turn clients away, that’s loss of money. When it comes to Rue though, Fezco doesn’t care and only wants what’s best for her. Their friendship is one of my favorite parts of the show. Ethan, Kat’s classmate, also ended up being a favorite of mine. He’s simple and fades into the background easily but he genuinely likes Kat and doesn’t give up on her. She spends the entire season pushing him away, being rude to him and playing him like the fool he kinda is. It doesn’t stop him from wanting to be her boyfriend though and I’m really hopeful and excited to see where they are in S2 since Kat finally accepted him in the season finale.
As the characters deal with multiple things externally, they all also have internal battles going on as well. Something that I think Euphoria did a very good job talking about. For instance, while Jules struggles to find real love we also come to understand why she thinks anyone who shows her the slightest bit of positive affection she has to fall in love with. When she was younger and in the process of finding herself, her mother took her being trans to heart and put her in a facility. It changes her, shaped the way she reacts to things now. Rue’s downward spiral into addiction after her father passes may be a big reason she’s the way she is now but it isn’t the only one. Her parents allowed doctors to over medicate her when she was a child, they took her simple OCD and turned it into several conditions and then drugged her to the point she can’t remember several years of her childhood. Cassie loves the attention she gets from boys and men but often ends up in tears because of it. One would think she’d stop vying for approval from the male gaze but her internal struggle with the fact her dad left and her mom is always drunk pushing her towards the validation she craves. She loves McKay because he pays such close attention to her. He sucks as a boyfriend and doesn’t really consider Cassie’s feelings on anything but he’s still the nicest guy she’s been with yet. And that’s all that matters to her.
Just like with Maddy and Nate. They have the most toxic and unhealthy relationship I’ve seen on tv in a long time, and they know it. Still, they gravitate towards each other, keep tabs on each other and play the “make each other jealous” game well. It’s their relationship that, to me, truly shows how most high school couples are. The boys are men to their girlfriends, its a right of passage. And the girls pressured into doing things with them they don’t really want because society expects it of them. High school sweethearts is usually a nice way of saying you were pressured into being with a person because you got together young.
The best thing the show handles, however, is its discussion of mental illness. All the kids on the show are suffering from some kind of trauma. All of them. Which is super relatable because, in real life, most of us are suffering from some kind of trauma. Rue’s description of depression in episode 7 was so distinctly clear that it triggered memory after memory for me. I spent all of my high school years depressed, I spent most of my adult days depressed. I know depression well, so it’s always cringe-worthy when shows make it out to be something it’s not. Depression is not the constant want to die and always sleeping. It’s manic episodes that last for days, the feeling of suffocating in your own body, the blur of time running together and the impression that you’re a burden to everyone else. All of which Rue laments about as she watches 22 hours of straight reality tv and can barely comprehend the idea of getting up to pee. That’s depression.
If there are any flaws in Euphoria, trust me there are, the biggest one would be the fact there are no dark-skinned Black people around. Rue doesn’t have one Black friend. And the only Black boy is McKay (his little brothers are there too but we rarely see them). Mckay, his little brothers, and Rue cannot be the only representation Black people get on the show. Euphoria soars in its queer diversity but lacks severely in its racial one. It was great to see Maddy and her Hispanic family speaking Spanish and things like that but Kat’s last name is Hernadez and we never saw any hint at any type of culture in her family. Rue needs Black friends, not because Lexi isn’t a great friend but because there are things Black girls can say to Rue that Lexi cannot. I personally would have snatched Rue up a long time ago, we would have had some choice words by now. She needs someone to check her every once in a while, which is made obviously clear when Fezco does it in the 7th episode. Euphoria is a win for the most part, but a meh when it comes to Black representation.
That’s not to say that Rue and her family aren’t Black. A statement I’ve seen floating around the internet a lot here recently. The hardest thing with Black representation is that we are all expected to be alike. We ourselves even side-eye other Black people when they weren’t raised the way we were, individually. There was a lot of talk on Twitter about how Rue’s mother should have been more physical in her discipline of Rue. Folks on the bird app were wishing and hoping that Mrs. Bennett would smack Rue around a few times. Which is horrifying to think about, not all children and teens need to be hit to make them listen, but it also shows a bit of a Catch 22 in our community. We want Black representation but complain, protest and drag representation that isn’t exactly the way we think it should be. Not all Black children were whooped as a method of discipline. My mother only spanked me once in my entire life. Whereas my cousins got spankings on the regular, almost daily. Mrs. Bennett isn’t invalid as a Black mother because she didn’t try to beat the addiction out of Rue. And it’s even shown in the last episode that she did smack Rue and push on her and threaten her, and all it did was make Rue worse.
The last thing I want to talk about briefly is the final scene in the finale. I’m really into the theory that Rue is dead, or died that night Jules left her at the train station and watching the sequence of her relapsing pulled heavy on my heartstrings. I know the creator confirmed she’s not dead but still, let me have this. I really loved the mesh of Rue hallucinating (I assume) and her singing while her body chases another high. Some found it corny, others say that the writer didn’t know what he was doing (he definitely does) and a few have even suggested that it was a last-minute add on to the episode. I don’t think it was any of those. I think the singing and dance sequence was a nice way to show the mind of an addict, to show how unreliable Rue’s narration really is. There’s no way after being left the train station and relapsing that she went out into the street and danced her high away. But I’m sure that’s the movie her mind played for her while she laid on her bed after snorting a line.
I could talk all day about Euphoria. I could write several pieces on it. This article will have to do for now. It’s the first Sunday without the show and I have this empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wish it was time for S2 already, so I could fill the void S1 has left behind. Even if the feeling is temporary.