Beware: Spoilers for Euphoria Season 2 below.
When Euphoria Season 2 premiered eight weeks ago, after a nearly three-year hiatus, the show started off with a curveball. Instead of pulling back the curtain on what Euphoria High’s messiest students had been up to in the interim, the season began with a self-contained backstory. Fezco (Angus Cloud) was a fan favorite in Season 1, but he was inarguably a side character—the drug dealer who begrudgingly supplied Rue (Zendaya) with the pills that would eventually be her ruin. When Season 2 kicked off by recounting the story of Fez’s harrowingly troubled childhood, including a gun-toting grandma and adopted brother literally named Ashtray (Javon “Wanna” Walton), it felt like a detour from the series’s primary storylines, if not an unwelcome one.
By last night’s season finale, however, this detour proved to be one of the only storylines that achieved any kind of satisfying arc and, importantly, promise for any future progression. Fez ended the season bleeding on the floor, Ashtray dead from a gunshot wound to the head, all while their now-elderly grandma sleeps in the other room. These were grim fates that the season premiere portended for these characters. But is Fez dead? Or will he end up in jail for a murder he didn’t commit—or another one that he did?
I presume that Euphoria will answer these questions in Season 3, which HBO announced will premiere sometime in … 2024, a year that sounds fake to me right now. (I’ll be 30 by then!!!!) If Euphoria fans can wait that long, it’s those answers that they’re choosing to wait for. Because the show has made no other promises for what this faraway future could offer—and based on how much of a scream-inducing mess the rest of the season was, even finding out Fez’s fate might not be enough to warrant the show’s return.
Euphoria entertained several other storylines this season, to far less climactic ends. The show began as a Zendaya vehicle—as it should; her charisma and commitment as Rue are the main reasons to watch—but organically evolved into a survey of the extreme paths that impressionable teens (girls, in particular) can venture down. Rue had her drugs; Jules (Hunter Schafer) had her sex; Kat (Barbie Ferreira) had her camming; Nate (Jacob Elordi) had his abusive, repressed gay dad (Eric Dane). These were beautifully filmed perspectives that felt fresh for a teen drama, if oft-absurdly dark and incredulously told. These paths merged and divided haphazardly throughout Season 2, however, until arriving somewhere that felt at once like a series finale or reason to give up on the show. Pick your poison.
In its first season, Euphoria balanced its melodramatic subplots and tone against a strong, self-aware voice, in order to not alienate or overwhelm viewers with its nihilism. But in the second, the show vacillated wildly between darkness and absurdity. Recklessly told stories, like a histrionics-drenched love triangle between Nate, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), and Nate’s ex/Cassie’s best friend Maddy (Alexa Demie), dominated the season. With an emotionally vapid central figure in Nate, whose own abusive behavior obscured any reason Cassie or Maddy would continue to fight over him, the plot served as a black hole of inefficacy. Even the memes it spun off—Super Bowl Sunday, Cassie vs. Maddy!—developed based on presumed story progression that never happened. The one predictive meme that paid off was about Kat’s absolute erasure from the season, the alleged result of a behind-the-scenes debacle that led to gossip more entertaining than the show itself: The poor girl, a breakout character in Season 1, got three scenes all season. (I also like the latest memes mocking how Elliot, aka indie musician Dominic Fike, spent four whole minutes of the finale singing a song to Rue about how he hopes they can be friends, despite him enabling her addiction all season.)
While the penultimate episode offered a glimmer of hope in a self-referential, over-the-top school play that gave the underutilized Lexi (Maude Apatow) more screen time than she’s had for the entirety of the series, it ultimately undermined the story and the series. The theatrical conceit limited any amount of meaningful wrap-up the season could offer, reiterating previous scenes through new and unilluminating perspectives and hyperfocusing on Lexi and Rue’s former friendship while distracting from Rue’s more pressing issues. (Rue still owes a drug dealer who threatened to sell her to sex traffickers $10,000, but, uh, maybe Lexi took care of that so Rue could make it to her opening night … ?) The play gave Cassie yet another platform to scream about how much she loves being loved. It devoted an entire musical number to mocking Nate and his insecurities about his own sexuality. Worst of all, it led to the finale’s most frustrating wrap-up: Rue’s drug addiction, Euphoria’s most engaging and heartbreaking subplot, resolved itself in a voice-over at the end of the season finale, robbing the viewers—and Rue’s suffering family!—of any sense of emotional closure. Instead, the implication is that Lexi’s navel-gazing play inspired Rue to be better to herself, awarding a secondary character the honor of facilitating our beloved lead’s big win. My own friend put it perfectly: Rue is now sober through the power of friendship.
It seems obvious to place the blame for this time-wasting watch upon Sam Levinson, Euphoria’s creator and sole writer. When there’s only one voice behind the scripts, and the scripts are all chaotic, simple induction tells us that the voice itself is chaotic. Cast interviews released throughout the season hint at the kind of untenable production that inevitably bleeds into the show itself for the worst.
Near the close of Lexi’s play, she thanks her crush Fez for inspiring her, although he’s too busy being shot at to attend her play. “Sometimes people need to get their feelings hurt,” Fez told Lexi, when she questioned whether her play was a good idea. Well, Fez was wrong, but he won this season. Not only did he get the only storyline worth returning for, but he also gave permission to the storyline whose primacy undermined any chance at more intimate, comprehensive resolve. If you still want to tune into Season 3 years from now, let me know how everything goes for him—I don’t think I’ll be joining you.