TV Review: Euphoria Season Two

Flashy lights and gorgeous aesthetics might not be Euphoria’s saving grace this season, as staff writer Kamiah Johnson reviews Season 2 of the hit teen drama.

For those who have yet to be peer pressured into binge watching “Euphoria”, the show follows several teenagers in high school as they navigate the hardships of life in the suburbs. In season one the show mainly focused on Rue (Zendaya), a recovering drug addict who is returning home after being in rehab for the summer. After the season one finale left fans wondering what was next for the “Euphoria” teens, we had to wait an agonizing two years for another season. With season one ending in 2019 and COVID-19 delaying filming, season two didn’t premiere until this year. Although we waited an extra year, we got two special episodes dedicated to Rue and Jules (Hunter Schafer) respectively, as they try to reconcile with their departure at the end of season one.

One can imagine the hype and excitement surrounding the season two premiere — the premiere racked up 19 million viewers, making it the second most popular HBO show right behind “Game of Thrones.” Season two starts off very promisingly, dropping us in the middle of a drug deal with Fez (Angus Cloud), Rue, and Ashtray (Javon “Wanna” Walton). From there, they head to a New Years Eve party where all of our returning characters are, plus a few new ones. We meet Elliot (Dominic Fike), an unapologetic drug addict who supplies Rue with drugs and saves her life when she falls into cardiac arrest. Another new face we are introduced to is Faye (Chloe Cherry), who is also caught up in the earlier drug deal. We also meet Laurie (Martha Kelly), the most laid back yet intimidating drug dealer to ever grace my screen. The introduction of Elliot brings a lot of problems and anxiety when dealing with his strange relationship with Rue and Jules.

“Euphoria” returns with the same visual style and gravitas the first season did. The cinematography and production design are bolder and create a different feel to this season. This is due to them switching from digital to film when filming season two. Series creator Sam Levinson wanted to create a feeling that felt like a memory, and he achieved just that. Instead of the flashy, bold purples and blues that dominated season one’s  euphoric vibe, this season feels raw and grounded. It’s clear Levinson intended to make this season darker and heavier, but sacrificed clear narrative structure in favor of stunning visuals. After the season begins the same way the previous season did (with a house party), it starts to delve into a chaotic mess of story lines for its many characters. While Rue falls back into doing drugs, we follow the messy love triangle consisting of Cassie, Maddy, and Nate. While watching Cassie sneak around with Nate — terrified Maddy will find out — is very entertaining, it’s clear that other characters’ story lines aren’t getting the proper attention they got the season prior.

For example, Kat (Barbie Frierra), a character who grew a lot emotionally, learning to be more confident, seems to be going through the same character arc she did last season; not to mention randomly hating her boyfriend Ethan who hasn’t done anything to deserve her gaslighting him into a breakup. The worst part of her journey in this season is that she barely has any screen time, thus, her story is never resolved. It’s disappointing to see a fan favorite character be sidelined so easily, especially since Frierra is a great actress. It becomes very evident during this season that Levinson was losing control, unable to balance these many unique plot points, and tried to shoehorn everything into the episodes. Random scenes in episode four with Kat and Ethan in a car, Elliot in a church, Jules staring out the window, and other characters, are thrown together with no tangible correlation. These shots are visually stunning though, especially the shot of Cassie crying surrounded by a beautiful arrangement of flowers.

Even though the lack of narrative structure was frustrating to endure during episodes two to four episode five suddenly gave us a straightforward adrenaline-filled plot that was exciting to tune into. As we see  Rue spiral out of control going through withdrawal and acting reckless over the course of several hours, we get another amazing performance from Zendaya that showcases why she deserved her 2020 Emmy win. I think re-establishing Rue as the main character after side-lining her for a bit helped bring back the narrative structure the season desperately needed. For the rest of the season they balance Rue’s emotional journey to recovery, the aftermath of her telling Maddy about Cassie and Nate, and exploring Lexi (Maude Apatow) and Fez’s relationship as she prepares for her play. I think ending the season on Lexi’s play was a creative way to introspectively tell everyone’s story, especially Lexi’s. Instead of Lexi getting her own character introduction like most of the other characters, telling her story in the form of a play fits more with her personality. Some might find it too meta, but it offered an opportunity for character reflection in a non-cliche way.

Even with many questions still unanswered — What about that $10,000 Rue owes Laurie? Did Fezco and Faye go to jail? Did McKay just disappear?. “Euphoria,” like it’s characters, had its ups and downs. With rumors about certain actors walking off set, long, agonizing hours, directors showing up with no shot lists, and conflict between cast members, who knows what could have factored into the messy and unorganized storytelling of season two. As someone who really enjoyed season one and liked what they were accomplishing through plot and visual storytelling, I found season two to prioritize style over substance. The cinematography and acting is what keeps “Euphoria” from becoming another cheesy CW teen show, so hopefully with a more structured plot they’ll steer far away from that in upcoming seasons.

Grade: B-
Directed by: Sam Levinson
Starring: Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Angus Cloud, Jacob Elordi, Maude Apatow, Alexa Demie, Barbie Ferreira, Sydney Sweeney
Release date: Jan. 9, 2022

Image courtesy of Tom’s Guide.