During a Q&A for Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, the playwright and filmmaker said that he didn’t do rewrites.
It was a bold little piece of self-mythologizing from an artist who had just shown us a messy shadow of his previous work. It had the stylized dialogue and the bursts of violence, but the formal achievements of his plays and previous feature were gone. It felt less like the work of a rule-breaking artist and more like that of a teenager who thinks recreating scenes from Tarantino movies makes him a genius. More than anything, it could’ve used a few rewrites.
I thought about that moment while watching the season two finale of Euphoria, because it was a turning point for me. Two months into film school, I realized the stories we tell about making art need to change as much as the stories themselves. Call it a disillusionment with the auteur theory or a realization that while artists may need some ego, we should emphasize the some.
I have no idea what the last two episodes of Euphoria looked like on the page. I do know that Sam Levinson likes to respond to critique far more than he likes to listen to it. Considering his career consisted only of two failed indies, a screenwriting gig on his dad’s project, a mildly successful movie, and a wildly successful show, it’s a bit silly that he’s dedicated his next movie and the second season of said show to defending himself.
Rue may be the narrator, Nate may share Levinson’s identity and likely sexual proclivities, but this season confirmed that Lexi Howard is the obvious authorial stand-in. So maybe that’s why the last two episodes of an eight-episode season were dedicated to her and her play. What is Euphoria if not a funhouse mirror of other people’s experiences? Lexi’s take on the lives of those around her is as thoughtful and well-written as Levinson’s own.
I’m not sure what’s more disconcerting: the thought that this season of Euphoria was shot without a plan only to be cobbled together in the editing room or the thought that these eight episodes were true to Sam Levinson’s ultimate vision. They’re so scattered — so unsatisfying — all they have is being audacious. That’s Levinson’s whole thing. If you make something bad enough you can just claim it’s art. Not since Duchamp called a urinal Fountain, has an artist attached genius to something so full of piss.
Most of what I said last week continues. We’re still at Lexi’s play, the play is still used to jump in and out of the past (and now the future??) in ways that are incomprehensible, and throughout we check back in with Fez who will never make it to the auditorium.
Let’s start with that last thread since it’s simplest. We rewatch the moment with Fez looking at himself in the mirror and smelling the flowers he bought Lexi. (Finding a movie or show in the editing is a natural part of the process and repeating key moments can be effective, but these two episodes have reused so much footage??) Faye tips off Fez so he knows not to say anything incriminating. She then starts talking to her boyfriend about how Laurie killed Mouse. Ashtray, does not catch on and stabs the boyfriend in the neck.
Fez tries to take the fall for this killing but Ash will have none of that. He starts collecting their guns before hitting Fez in the head and locking himself in the bathroom. There’s not enough footage to stretch this tension across two whole episodes. We keep checking back with Fez but it feels out of place in a way the episode’s only real plot turn should not.
Eventually the feds raid the apartment. Fez is shot. Ash shoots one of them and then is shot and killed. Fez is arrested. None of this hits nearly as hard as it should even if Angus Cloud is doing his best.
Back at the theatre, some more violence is about to take place. Cassie Howard makes her way down the aisle before getting on stage and beginning a rant. Honestly, this is the best theatre of the night, a fact that only stage manager Bobbi seems to recognize.
My job is to literally write personal essays where I sometimes reveal information about the people in my life. In my fiction, I do this even more. But there is a way to be an ethical writer and Lexi has not figured it out! Now, that’s fair enough, she’s a teenager. But this episode seems to imply that Lexi is in the right and that just explains so much about Sam Levinson. His deepest belief is that someone making art, can never be at fault — this includes ethical violations and bad writing.
This season has been cruel to Cassie. I’m so focused on the ways Levinson misses when it comes to race, transness, and cohesive storytelling, that I sometimes forget to dwell on the good ol’ fashioned misogyny. After Cassie makes a fool of herself, her mom rushes the stage, and Maddy rushes the stage and then chases Cassie away, Lexi comes back out to speak to the audience. She apologizes for the delay and quotes Fez telling her that sometimes people need to get their feelings hurt.
There is such an intense Rachel Berry/Ryan Murphy energy coming from Lexi Howard/Sam Levinson. They all share a feeling that because they are the underdog, they cannot be held accountable for any wrongdoing. They are the perpetual victim so their cruelty is earned. Never mind that none of them are even underdogs. At least Murphy has being gay — Levinson just has an inflated idea of his own artistic importance.
Speaking of an inflated idea of one’s artistic importance, our first non-Fez-related cutaway from Lexi’s play takes us to a Dominic Fike concert. Rue has gone over to Elliot’s house to apologize and he asks if he can play her a song. This moment is a really easy one to mock, but honestly… I didn’t hate it. This is one of those times where Zendaya is a good enough actor to save something that really shouldn’t work. She’s a good enough actor that watching her listen to a boy play guitar is compelling television to me.
Our next random moment follows Nate, once again drinking and driving, once again with a gun. He finds his dad in a garage hanging out with a group of vaguely queer people including at least one trans woman. Nate asks if his dad is happier and then tells the other people there that he found videos of his dad “fucking hookers” when he was 11 and since then has had nightmares that Cal was raping him. Cal tells the other people to leave and then Nate confesses that he’s there for revenge. He takes out a flash drive to show his dad that he still has the evidence and then he escorts the cops into the garage where they arrest Cal.
Okay a lot to unpack here. First of all, I thought Nate’s mom said he “darkened” at 8. He didn’t find the tapes until he was 11? Two, what was the point of the Nate Jacobs apology tour, if he had another copy on a flash drive?? Three, other than to trick the audience of this television show, why did Nate have a gun, if he was just turning Cal over to the cops??? And four, why is queerness always shown so negatively???? The episode opener with Cal’s past did nothing to explain why Cal was taping people without their consent. It’s this desire to always do the most that results in a show that feels confusing more than edgy. I want art with “bad” queer people but that’s only radical if their humanity is centered. The way Sam Levinson writes just feels very Hays Code to me.
The rest of the episode takes place during the play except a moment after the play where Rue tells Lexi that she loved the play except wait that’s also part of the play still? I don’t know. I guess it’s supposed to be artful that we don’t get to know which scenes actually happen and which don’t.
The play finally ends and Jules sits next to Rue in the emptying auditorium. She says she loves her and misses her and Rue kisses Jules on the forehead but says nothing. The season ends with Rue walking through the school as she narrates. She says that Jules was her first love even if she was too high throughout their relationship. She then says that she stayed sober throughout the rest of the school year.
For those keeping track at home, Lexi’s play gets two episodes. Rue’s sobriety throughout the rest of the school year gets some narration.
And that’s… the season?? The credits roll confirming what we all could’ve guessed — Sam Levinson responded to criticisms that he should work with other writers by no longer working with other directors. It goes without saying that because of his various identities — including nepotism baby — Levinson gets to do things in a way nobody else would. But I see nothing enviable in using all the resources in the world to make something bad.
Congrats to Martin McDonagh for not having to do rewrites. Congrats to Sam Levinson for not needing a writers room or other directors or a shot list. Congrats to every artist privileged enough to squander their talent with ego. Congrats.
+ This episode was once again written and directed by Sam Levinson.
+ What happened to Laurie? What was the point of Laurie? Where is Laurie??
+ Laurie is just the most obvious dropped plot thread, but I’m also trying to figure out the point of Minka Kelly’s character and her vaguely erotic relationship with Maddy.
+ I still don’t understand why Ethan played Lexi’s mom in the play.
+ Cassie, Maddy, Kat, and BB end the season in the bathroom together. I don’t know.
+ I’m still pretty sad about Jules getting a special episode that finally deepened her character only for this season to reduce her role to “cheats on Rue with a boy.”
+ It really is impressive how little happened in these eight hours of television considering a million things are always happening.
+ I watched season one for Rue, Jules, and Kat. Or, rather, for Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, and Barbie Ferreira. But now Kat isn’t a character, Jules is barely a character, and even Rue — the narrator of the show — has had her story reduced to focus on the Howards and the Jacobs. So, why am I still watching? Well, because I was paid $80 an episode. The bigger question, I suppose, is why are you still watching?