The only reason I write about Euphoria is because I think it’s good. Don’t get me wrong, it can also be very, very, very bad, but if it wasn’t also good I wouldn’t bother. I went to film school — I’ve seen enough bad movies from people who think they’re geniuses to know the harshest critique I can give something is it doesn’t warrant discussion. When something is just bad, there’s not much to say. Sure, writing a total pan can be a fun creative exercise, but, for me, the point of criticism is to unravel and contextualize a work that provides enough to do that.
When I say I have no idea how to write about last night’s Euphoria I mean that in the worst possible way. It’s my job to recap this show each week so I will try my best to break down the reasons I found this episode incomprehensible. But, to be honest, it’d probably be better for you not to waste any more minutes on an hour of television that doesn’t deserve it. Instead might I suggest watching a work that plays with theatre, performance, and the falseness of reality with far more astuteness? Specifically, might I suggest watching John Cassavetes’ Opening Night?
I brought up John Cassavetes a couple weeks ago, because he’s often the filmmaker cited by auteurs who love improv — even though his films were meticulously planned. My guess is Sam Levinson loves Cassavetes just as much as he loves not planning. This episode may have been a tribute to people who have an intellect for theatre but really it was an attempt to mimic one of the great theatre movies: Opening Night.
Like that film, this episode drifts in and out of stage reality and real life. Unlike that film, it does not work.
We begin at Lexi’s play. She’s taking a deep breath before curtain and then we cut to an overture. In this moment, I realized I’d be a lot more sympathetic to Sam Levinson’s artistic flourishes if he was a teenage girl.
We then go to Lexi at the actual memorial for Rue’s dad. Lexi’s mom is comforting Leslie. Kat, Maddy, and Cassie are in the hallway played by the high school actors portraying them in the play. Lexi (who is playing herself) walks into Rue’s room and Rue (still Zendaya) is snorting her dad’s leftover meds. Lexi and Rue talk for a bit and Lexi reads her a poem and then we pull back to reveal Lexi on stage on a set of Rue’s bedroom. Fake Rue’s back is to the audience which, as a viewer, communicated to me that the play itself was not meant to exist in reality of the show as a play. But I’m not sure that was what it was meant to communicate.
One of the most frequent responses I get when I criticize Euphoria is the suggestion that I just don’t understand its artistry. I’m looking for realism in a show that embraces fantasy. I’m looking for narrative logic in a show that transcends things like character development and plot. I’m looking for substance in an exercise of style. The problem with this suggestion is that nothing Euphoria is doing is that inventive. Putting aside the film and theatre references the show itself presents, television as an art form has taken such greater risks. I can list obvious examples like Twin Peaks and The Leftovers, but even more grounded character pieces like Atlanta, Search Party, I May Destroy You, BoJack Horseman, and Better Things have taken far greater swings than this show has ever attempted.
My complaints with this episode are not things that are objectively bad. There are no rules to television, no rules to art. When I say, for example, that this episode again and again breaks its own internal logic, I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m saying it’s a risk that did not work — for me, as a critic, as the person writing this article that you clicked on, as the person whose opinion you’re reading instead of watching Opening Night.
The entire episode may take place around Lexi’s play, but I wish it had committed to that conceit more. I can make concessions that sometimes we cut from the play to real life inspiration that goes far beyond what Lexi would know. What I find baffling is the combination of Lexi’s play narration and classic Narrator Rue. What I find baffling is the detours that continue our characters from where they were in episode 206 but in ways that feel rushed and provide very little new information. If you’re going to make your episode a concept episode then do that! As is, it feels chaotic and muddled even for a show that’s always chaotic and muddled.
I understand what Levinson was trying to do cutting back and forth between the play and Fez getting ready for the play. The problem is when the play part of that equation is so much wider in scope and so much more confusing than it needs to be. The Fez timeline just becomes another timeline to track. We know early on that he won’t be making it to the play so the moments with him provide little other than dread — a dread that doesn’t get a payoff this episode and that’s undermined by too much else going on.
I’m not even dwelling on the play itself which, again, doesn’t seem to really exist within the reality of the show as a play. Sex Education — the anti-Euphoria — did such a good job in season two giving us a school play that obviously had a budget far beyond an actual school play BUT held a DIY charm that sold it. Here, Lexi has a seemingly endless number of realistic-looking sets. Which, again, isn’t that big of a deal — the far bigger problem is that the substance of the play is even more scattered than the show that contains it. At first, it seems like it’s about Lexi’s parallel relationships with her sister and her best friend. But by the end of the episode we’re getting a dance number, where the Nate Jacobs character and all his fellow locker room guys are being gay with each other.
Again, Lexi doesn’t have to be a good playwright. I’m just not really sure what I’m supposed to think about the whole affair. And, worst of all, I was bored.
I haven’t gone through this episode in my usual linear way, because I’m not sure the value in breaking down every moment here. We get flashbacks like child Lexi and Cassie getting in their dad’s car while he’s high. We get a sequence where Nate and Cassie recreate the Cal and Jules motel scene but then it turns into Cal fucking Nate and then Nate waking up in Cassie’s bed from a nightmare. Oh and we get a scene where Leslie tells Rue that she’s done trying and Rue can just kill herself?? Which feels totally off from where we left last week??
After this episode ends with Nate storming off and Cassie left heartbroken and a “To be continued…wp_postson the screen, I got a wave of panic. Maybe last week was five not six and I should’ve watched six not seven. I thought maybe I’d skipped an episode. Nope! Levinson just decided to have this weird non-episode instead of dealing in a meaningful way with pretty much any of the threads left open last week.
I don’t know. I’m sure some of you will share my disdain for this episode. I’m sure some of you will be pissed at me in the comments and in my DMs. But one thing we all share is that we should watch or rewatch Opening Night.
+ This episode was once again written and directed by Sam Levinson.
+ We see a moment where Lexi is on the phone with Fez worrying about the reaction people might have to this play. BABE. Even Jenny Schecter changed SOME information about her friends. You literally only changed the names.
+ I love that even Euphoria High’s theatre department has no rules. These kids WILL perform the second act of Into the Woods. These kids WILL sing “Contactwp_postsduring their production of Rent.
+ Why is Ethan playing Lexi’s mom as well as Nate?? I feel like the high school theatre problem is you can’t get enough boys, so it’s way more likely that girls play boy parts than vice versa. Are we just supposed to think it’s funny that Ethan is dressed like a woman? I don’t get it.
+ The audience had Playbills. Did Lexi… did Lexi print out Playbills??
+ Last week, a bunch of people commented that the reason Nate darkened at 8 or so was because he found his dad’s tapes. Thanks for noting that from season one! I’d forgotten. I still think that explanation makes the most sense even with Nate’s Cal rape nightmare in this episode.
+ The only Kat moment we get in the play is her character doing her sexy cat dance… intercut with Nate and Cassie fucking?? Just because Kat is no longer a character doesn’t mean Levinson is going to give up sexualizing her body!
+ Fez is going to die, right? I assumed he would once Laurie gave Rue the suitcase of drugs. But it seems he’s going to die separate from that? Has Laurie just disappeared? She’s totally cool with Rue owing her money and escaping?
+ The best part of the episode is that Lexi’s mom was obsessed with every single moment of this play. Alanna Ubach’s laugh was the MVP.
+ I don’t want to dwell on Twitter drama, but it’s so funny to suggest that Euphoria — a show created by someone whose resume is co-writing his dad’s Bernie Madoff movie — is a work born from the theatre. Like… one of the best show’s on TV — P-Valley — was created by Katori Hall, an actual playwright.
+ Something I was thinking about a lot this episode that the show isn’t really engaging with is Cassie isn’t just dating Maddy’s ex-boyfriend. She’s dating her abusive ex-boyfriend. That feels like it would be the bigger issue if Levinson took any of the very serious things his show deals with seriously besides his narrow experience of addiction.
+ We have one more episode of the season but if you liked Opening Night, John Cassavetes made a lot of other great movies you could check out instead. Faces is my personal favorite. Or I can recommend some plays if you have an intellect for theatre. Or, I suppose, you can watch the finale with me — I doubt it could be worse than this week.