Every adult’s favorite show about teenagers wrapped up its second season on Sunday night. The Euphoria finale saw more of Lexi’s play, a SWAT shootout, people deservedly getting the shit kicked out of them, lots of tears, and even more unanswered questions.
This season of Euphoria was all over the place, with some true highs (Eric Dane) and some stunning lows (whatever Cassie’s motivation was at any given moment). As such, there were winners and losers of this season.
Does anything that happens on Euphoria ever make a lick of sense? No. But damn if it doesn’t look gorgeous. This season was shot entirely on film, which makes the show look so beautiful that you can occasionally forgive the fact that what is actually happening in front of you can fall apart if you ask the right question. A common refrain is that Sam Levinson, the creative force behind the show, should just direct music videos, but I will grant him more grace than that. He is a talented, if not showy, director who has enough caché to get any script he wants made. They shouldn’t be his scripts, but if Levinson pivoted to directing flashy adult dramas it wouldn’t be the worst move for him. The Scorsese influence is all over Euphoria, and I could see Levinson directing something with the energy of After Hours — he should just remember that Marty didn’t write that himself.
Levinson’s insistence on writing and directing every episode of this season is to the show’s detriment. Levinson is a director who wants to write, not a writer who wants to direct (see: Aaron Sorkin). I cannot think of a show that needs a writers room more than this one. A diversity of voices — even if they are just asking, “Is there a better way to do exposition outside of omniscient narration?” or, “Why would she say that?” or, “How old is this tender-eyed drug dealer supposed to be again?” — would be a big boon to the show. It’s never going to happen, but a girl can dream.
Winner: The Girls’ Bathroom
The show finds itself at its most rat-a-tat in the pink-tiled school restroom, and if any part of Euphoria can be called “fun” it’s the scenes where all the girls are together. Remember the whole Oklahoma! bit? Let’s have some more of that.
Loser: Being a Good Friend
Did it ever make sense that Cassie is “in love” with Nate? Not really, no. Even if they had chemistry (they don’t) or a shared interest that might bring them together (they don’t), Nate is Maddy’s ex-boyfriend. Not only is it a bad move to date your best friend’s ex, it is an irredeemable move to date your best friend’s ex when you know that he was an abusive asshole. I would want to smack her too. Speaking of which…
Maddy — the only person on this show with any sense to her — beating Cassie’s ass was the highlight of the season. She was right to do it, and I’m proud of her for doing it in front of the whole school.
Loser: High School Theater
As if it needed a worse reputation. Lexi’s play is actually a good representation of Euphoria on the whole: It’s long, self-indulgent, and probably doesn’t make any sense to a casual viewer, but boy did they pour a lot of money into that thing. They had a whole high school hallway on a turntable!
Winner: Every Adult on the Show
Ironically, the best moments on this teen show are thanks to its adult actors (and I’m not talking about the 20-something-year-olds playing high schoolers). Eric Dane as Cal is the standout of the season and maybe the only character other than Rue to get a complete emotional arc. Colman Domingo as Ali never fails to bring some much-needed grounding to a show that is always on the verge of becoming completely untethered from reality. Alanna Ubach as Suze, Cassie and Lexi’s mom, is possibly the only performer having any fun with the material. Nika King as Rue’s mom Leslie is consistently heartbreaking despite working off of limited information.
Loser: Law Enforcement
You're telling me that this town has a SWAT team that can shoot a child in the head during a shootout but not a single beat cop who can follow up on the fact that Rue broke into a house, stole a bunch of jewelry, and then led them on a foot chase that resulted in a head-on collision between two cars? Actually, that tracks. Someone probably should have pulled Nate over for drunk driving by now, though.
Based on tweets alone, it’s hard to tell whether people actually enjoy this show or just watch it for the mess. That doesn’t actually matter, because all the corporate fat cats at HBO see is that Euphoria drives conversation, which in this case translates to dollar signs — viewership for season two was allegedly up 100 percent from season one. The honorable mention here is TikTok, where the “Is this fucking play about us?” sound has become so ubiquitous as to lose all meaning.
Loser: Tonal Consistency
Are we watching a gritty, realistic depiction of addiction and the havoc it wreaks in the lives of everyone in its orbit, or are we watching a well-lit fantasia on national themes? Levinson can’t seem to decide whether he wants the show to be about real people or archetypes, and the show often gets lost in the middle, not fully committing to either verisimilitude or melodrama even within a single scene.
Winner: Zendaya and Sydney Sweeney’s Tear Ducts
I assume fans of Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Mis have never been happier than when they’re watching this show. Zendaya will probably win another Emmy for this season, and it will be deserved.
Loser: Any Character Sam Levinson Can’t Be Bothered With
Kat was barely in this season, perhaps due to the rumors that Barbie Ferreira and Levinson butted heads over the direction of her character. Jules faded to the background in the last few episodes, even though she is a fan favorite and purportedly one of the leads. Nate continues to be the exact same ball of anger and violence from episode to episode. Having this big of an ensemble is like spinning plates: you need a deft hand, and in this case some of those plates have come crashing down.
Winner: Lingering Questions
If the friendship-mending conversation between Rue and Lexi happened after the play, how was it in the play? Does Rue still owe Laurie $10,000? Again, what about Rue’s run in with the cops? Did Rue figure out sometime during Elliot’s five-minute guitar solo that he and Jules slept together? Has Kat had anything to do all season other than lying to Ethan about a brain disease and then gaslighting him into breaking up with her? What was Nate going to do with the gun he brought to confront Cal with if he had already called the cops? What happened to everyone else in the time between the play and Rue saying “I stayed sober for the rest of the school year?” Minka Kelly???
Loser: Giving an Audience What They Want
Euphoria is such a dominant cultural force that it doesn’t really need to answer any of those questions. If you’ve watched up to this point, you’re already trapped. I am pretty sure I hate this show, but if you see me in 2024 tweeting jokes about Lexi submitting a filmed monologue in place of a college admissions essay, mind your business.