Euphoria is back and up to its old tricks in a premiere that still has the capacity to shock but doesn’t seem to have left behind some of its worst impulses.
This recap of the Euphoria season 2 premiere, “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”, contains spoilers.
There is an erect p***s in the first couple of minutes of the Euphoria Season 2 premiere. This isn’t news for Sam Levinson’s teen drama, which has always prided itself on its dick shots, but it’s a bit of a mission statement even for a returning HBO show. Not just a p***s, but a rock-hard one? “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” isn’t playing any games.
Well, it is, actually, but it’s the same one Euphoria is always playing – deliberate excess in a myriad of ways, obscuring what is, at its heart, an affecting character drama stuffed full of tremendous, nuanced performances. I like this show, and I thought the two one-off specials following Rue and Jules were absolutely tremendous, but they worked, thanks to pandemic-related constraints, in a way that kind of highlights all the problems inherent in this premiere. Controversy is always boring, but then again so is flagrantly welcoming it, and it’s hard to watch an episode like this and not feel as if it’s a direct middle finger stiffened – let’s be on-brand – in the direction of the moral puritans who watch the show with the Twitter app open, just waiting to make a fuss.
It pains me to say it, but they might have a point. Euphoria isn’t offensive, obviously, not unless you have a problem with penises, but it is annoying in the way it puts being edgy above any and all other concerns. Being stylish is a close second.
Euphoria season 2 premiere recap
Case in point: Rue. Zendaya is great, of course, and it’s consistently amazing how frazzled and ill they manage to make this lovely-looking young woman. And she’s great in the show, playing a directionless addict adrift in a sea of her own impulses and confusing feelings. Her only friend and role model is a drug dealer, who is also her worst enemy, for clear reasons. In the specials, Rue was allowed to be a three-dimensional person, a deeply complicated, smart-mouthed individual who couldn’t get out of her own way. Here, she’s mostly relegated to a backseat driver – literally at one point – who delivers a comedic beat or a hair-raising cardiac arrest when it’s required. “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” doesn’t feel like it’s about her in the way the show is intended to be. Instead, she falls into the background of a ludicrous New Year’s Eve party, after briefly being imperiled at the home of Fez’s replacement dealer following the death of Mouse.
This episode is largely about Fezco, which is nice. In the opening scenes, the one with the erect p***s, we meet his grandmother (Kathrine Narducci), learn a little about his backstory, and learn how he become embroiled in the drug scene as a “business partner” instead of the little boy he so clearly was. His adopted brother, Ashtray, so-called because he ate a cigarette as a younger kid, is fulfilling the same role for Fez that he once fulfilled for grandma.
But I love Fez, and most other viewers seem to feel the same. In a world that seems to turn solely on the power of carefully-cultivated impressions, most of them made online, he’s one of the only characters in the entire show who seems to come from a real, brick-and-mortar world, and doesn’t have any intentions of pretending it doesn’t exist. He’s the antithesis of someone like Nate, who has spent his entire life pretending to be someone he isn’t and only lets his true self out in moments of barely-restrained psychopathy, like when he picks up a stranded Cassie and drives her to that insane party at Mach 10, and then hooks up with her in the bathroom. Like Euphoria itself, he’s all excess, all the time, until the idea of having to face any consequences whatsoever for his behavior presents itself, and then he’s clamping a hand over his new beau’s mouth and forcing her to hide in the bathtub so Maddy doesn’t catch them together.
This whole sequence is great, mostly in that it’s funny in a kind of slapstick-y way but also played for maximum anxiety and terror, but it’s really only a fake-out and doesn’t really amount to anything. You can say some of the same things about Rue’s reunion with Jules, who kiss in the midst of the party in a flurry of light and sound that genuinely led me to believe that the whole thing was a dream sequence. It still might have been, to be honest. But this isn’t the way to handle a crucial turning point scene after so much water has – so recently! – passed under the bridge between two characters. It should have been the focus, and it wasn’t; even the moment when Rue indirectly blamed Jules for her relapse was sped past as though it was a minor detail.
And yet when Euphoria wants to really shock, it does, and “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” ends with Fez suddenly, brutally assaulting Nate on the turn of the new epoch, beating him almost to death in full view of everyone. It seems his resolutions weren’t anything to do with changing his ways – the problem is that Euphoria doesn’t seem to be putting its worst impulses behind it either.
You can stream the Euphoria season 2 premiere, “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”, exclusively on HBO.