“Shook One Pt. II” saw past actions catching up with virtually everyone, but didn’t feel as compelling as it could have.
This recap of Euphoria Episode 4, “Shook One Pt. II”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Euphoria tiptoes a fine line — and not always gracefully. On the one hand, there’s the truth; a lurid undercurrent of underage sex and crushed pills and hidden collections of images and tapes, that all taken together reveal how we grow up now, in strobes and spotlights, recorded and cataloged. Euphoria Episode 4 is good at revealing that, peeling away the glossy veneer and exposing the depravity underneath. It’s the depravity that’s the problem. “Shook One Pt. II” thinks that’s enough. It revels in horridness for its own sake, letting it squat there as though, by its presence alone, it’s saying something profound and valuable. Often, it isn’t.
The question of whether this is the most interesting show on television remains easy enough to answer — it is, and by quite a margin. But the real question is whether being interesting is enough if nothing else coheres. For instance, “Shook One Pt. II” opens with its best and most evocative scenes. In them, Jules, in flashback, is coldly dumped at a mental hospital by her parents. During her stay, she slashes her wrists with a torn-up soda can and is shot eerily from behind in a long corridor, like a horror movie ghoul, as she leaks onto the floor and frantically apologizes. But the transition to present day is obscured by fancy-pants dialogue of the sort that is intended to sound cool without saying anything. “Eventually, she got better and went home. Then her mother got worse and went away.” Okay, cool. But how did she get better? And what did she get better from?
It might seem like semantics, but Euphoria Episode 4 doesn’t realize that these questions are the integral ones. Almost everyone in “Shook One Pt. II” behaves in a way that is deeply irresponsible or self-serving or ill-considered unless the plot requires them not to, in which case they resemble normal teenagers who aren’t in a stylized HBO show. Rue doesn’t take any drugs this week and is later ridiculed for being too motherly and boring, which I appreciated because the transition felt that jarring to me, too. The consolation is that at least Rue behaved that way for the entire episode. Others, like Nate and his deviant chili-master father, lurched awkwardly between awfully aggressive and pitifully vulnerable on the whims of a script that couldn’t decide which attitude suited them best in any given scene.
Of those scenes, several involved Jules. In one she politely confronted Nate’s father, not for any particular reason, but to prove to Rue that it was him who met her in the motel and had creepy, domineering sex with her. His shock at seeing her was fine, even if it did occur mere moments after he had regaled McKay with a hilarious try-hard speech about football being life, and devotion to it being the root of all personal success; the problem was when he tracked Jules down later and begged her to keep quiet about the whole incident. His desperation should have felt cathartic; a callous bully forced to beg at the feet of his victim. But his candor and his look of sheer relief when Jules explained she had no intention of ruining him had the opposite effect. I started to think he might not be that bad after all — and I know that’s not how Euphoria Episode 4 wanted me to feel.
Nate in “Shook One Pt. II” is even less consistent than his father. First, he gets violent and aggressive with Maddy, then, when she reveals that she knows his phone is a compendium of other men’s penises, he breaks down and pretends to be confused about his feelings. The same thing, more or less, happens when he meets Jules later to reveal himself as “Tyler”, only in reverse. He initially acts as though he’s opening up, embracing the fact he’s secretly gay or confused or whatever, but then he instantly resorts to blackmail. It doesn’t feel thrillingly unpredictable as it’s clearly supposed to, but just as confused — perhaps even more so — than Nate apparently is. Euphoria Episode 4 loves its stereotypes, but it isn’t subverting them as it sometimes does, or putting them to any kind of real use; it’s just cycling through them, as though the superficiality of it counts as commentary.
There’s other stuff going on in “Shook One Pt. II”. McKay refuses to call Cassie his girlfriend, so she gets high and publicly orgasms on the merry-go-round; Kat seduces an older boy — who’s wearing a bandanna, of all things — in a misguided attempt to mask her jealousy. Gia disappears for a while and is later found getting high herself. But it all feels peripheral. The core story, when you boil all the extraneous excess away, is shared between Rue and Jules. But even then, Euphoria can’t get out of its own way. Their shared moment of romance to close the episode is beset with trippy, distracting visual effects, and the event itself, a long time coming, doesn’t feel like the earned culmination of everything that has happened prior. Like a lot of things that happened in Euphoria Episode 4, it just felt like something that the writers wanted to happen. Hopefully, subsequent episodes start asking why.