This Euphoria recap contains mild spoilers.
Euphoria makes me think about trust. Not because Rue is lying about doing drugs or Cassie is lying about fucking Nate or Cal is lying about his whole deal. I’m thinking about the trust a creator asks from an audience — especially when telling stories about people whose stories have often been told wrong.
I don’t want queer media that’s simple. I don’t want queer media that’s palatable and boring and risk-averse. I don’t want to put rules in place that say this kind of storyline is not okay and this kind is. Because in my own life these rules get broken. Sometimes I say things “a trans person wouldn’t say” or do things “a trans person wouldn’t do” and I want to see those things on TV.
But it’s about trust. The problem I face again and again is trust. I don’t trust Sam Levinson.
Some of that is because of his identity. But it’s not just that — while I generally prefer work made by people who share the lived experience of their characters, that’s not always the case. And sure it’s in part that instead of acknowledging his limitations, he has stubbornly insisted on writing the main seasons himself unlike any other ensemble show on TV. But even this alone wouldn’t lose my trust if the work itself didn’t reveal these limitations. In both his film Assassination Nation and Euphoria — I skipped Malcolm and Marie — his writing has had moments that feel off. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but the work itself has felt like it’s written by a cis straight white man. And yet, it’s some of these moments that have the most potential for complexity.
This episode begins with a queer love story — a flashback centering on Nate’s dad Cal. Narrator Rue tells us about his high school best friend Derek who he wrestled with. Like on a wrestling team. As a teen, Cal stares at dicks the way his son will two decades later. He gets tangled up in a relationship with Nate’s mom who is extremely horny and aggressive in the way Levinson’s teens love to be. Cal repeats his sexcapades to Derek like they’re in a whitewashed porn parody of Y Tu Mamá También. And then one day Cal starts “eating pussy” and Derek gets upset.
Sometimes you just have to bro down with your bro at the gay bar and Cal and Derek do just that. It’s under the guise of the bar not carding but pretty soon they’re several tequila shots in and when-in-Rome-ing their way to rimming. A little dancing, a little crying, a little making out and who knows what else. Of course, this show is a tragedy, so the next morning Cal wakes up to a call from Nate’s mom that she’s pregnant. Based on what I learned in health class this is not due to all the pussy eating.
Levinson doesn’t feel the need to clarify Cal’s sexuality and that’s okay. I’m just left confused about what he’s trying to communicate. It makes sense that Derek would be hurt by Cal doing a sex act he, as a cis boy, reads as aggressively straight. But Cal’s obsession with the act makes me shrug. It doesn’t really tell me anything. Just like my confusion with Cal’s habit of secretly fucking young men — with the exception of when he fucked Jules. Is Cal supposed to be bisexual? Or is he gay and read Jules as a male because the Jacobs boys — like their creator — just really love dicks? I’ve talked to enough cis male-amorous trans friends to know that none of this is inherently unrealistic. I just don’t really get what Levinson is going for in how he’s telling these stories.
When I reviewed the show in 2019, I was quick to say that Levinson’s storytelling was unrealistic. I now feel less inclined to make that kind of declarative statement. But I will say that his writing feels muddled, that it leaves me confused, and that it makes me uncomfortable in the wrong kind of way. I will say that I don’t trust Levinson’s perspective.
Like the previous episode, this is a chaotic hour of television that jumps from character to character and is never quite clear when it’s fantasy and when it’s reality. Maybe that’s to mirror Rue who is high dancing around her house singing along to “Call Me Irresponsible” by Bobby Darin. Her sister Gia asks if Rue is high and we shift into our first fantasy sequence. Rue is in professor mode flipping through an old-timey projector, teaching us how to get away with being a drug addict. Basically she’s managed to convince everyone in her life that she’s just smoking a little weed and that she needs to do that to avoid being suicidal. It’s a good cover since most non-drug users and even some casual drug users can’t really tell the difference between highs and Rue is so obviously high on something.
In addition to her faux weed confession, Rue also asks Jules why she doesn’t like Elliot. Jules says it’s because he’s obviously trying to fuck Rue. This leads to a moment I thought was a fantasy but I think was real where Jules is grilling Elliot about his identity and sexual history. She asks how many girls he’s fucked and how many guys he’s fucked. And he asks her the same. We find out that Elliot is basically bisexual but he doesn’t really like labels. And we learn that Jules has started wearing a binder.
Rue and Jules race on bikes and then make out. Rue reaches her hand down Jules’ pants and as she checks in if that’s okay. It’d be sweet if Rue wasn’t so fucking high.
All of this is exciting to see. It’s rare for queer trans women to be on TV and it’s thrilling to have these sorts of complicated conversations about this character’s identity. I’m sure Sam Levinson has consulted with Hunter — especially since she’s the only other person to ever get a writing credit on the show — but I still felt a little uncomfortable watching this. Again, not because anything is wrong. I just wanted more detail. It’s a big deal to have a trans girl character who is wearing a binder! I wish I trusted Levinson to get into it more and to do it well.
Rue and Jules begin hanging out with Elliot and start playing an ongoing game of Truth or Dare. This includes Elliot daring Jules to pee standing up in the road. Jules makes a remark about genderfucking and this all felt so real and true. Jules goes down on Rue while Elliot sleeps in the bed next to them. So, um, things seem to be heading in a complicated direction.
Meanwhile, chaos is brewing with the Howard sisters. Lexi has decided she’s meant to be an observer and so she begins turning her life as a sidekick into a play. It seems her play is largely about Cassie who is busy waking up at 4am in a twisted take on self-care that’s really about looking as hot as possible when she passes Nate in the hall — even though he’s ignoring her except when they fuck on Friday nights.
There’s a very funny scene in the girl’s bathroom where Lexi is trying to hide her play from her sister — who is in an absurd cutesy outfit — and says that she’s just talking about the school play Oklahoma. Maddy and Kat then think that’s why Cassie is dressed like that. This cast has such good comic timing! Sam Levinson can be a good writer when he gets out of his own way! Like last week’s bowling scene, it’s nice to get a moment of relief when the show lets itself really be a teen show. And I’m sure we’ll get way more drama in the future as Lexi is positioning herself as Euphoria High’s Jenny Schecter.
One person who will for sure be coming to her play is Fez who continues to be harassed by Cal. Ashtray leads Cal inside by gun point and smacks him with the gun as Fez tries to figure out why Cal has been hanging around. Cal seems to think that Fez has the disc and is going to release the tape of him fucking Jules but Fez has no idea what Cal is talking about. This is another really funny scene — if the stakes weren’t so high for Jules.
All the bisexual men want to fuck Jules. It turns out that Elliot isn’t into Rue because he thinks she’s probably ace — he is into Jules. Jules confesses that Rue is probably not the most sexual person and Elliot starts really flirting saying that Jules is creative and a whore and has great tits and Kurt Cobain’s haircut and she deserves all the love and sex she needs.
I want to get mad at Levinson for having every person who is into Jules be bisexual, but every person who is into me is bisexual so it kind of takes the weight out of my argument. I do think it’s true that people who are sexually fluid tend to be more interested in trans people because monosexual people bring so much baggage to dating us. But, again, it’s not about whether this is realistic or not. It’s about how the story is being told, the specificity — or lack thereof, and whether or not I trust Levinson to give him the benefit of the doubt here. Just because something can be true doesn’t mean that it’s not revealing the biases of its writer. Like I wonder how Jules — who I’ll remind you is currently wearing a binder — feels about being told she has great tits.
One thing Levinson does have experience with is drug addiction. And Rue is really struggling. She’s trying to figure out a way to do drugs for free and this leads her back to the lady drug dealer’s place. She offers to deal to kids at her school and the drug dealer gives her a suitcase with $10,000 worth of product. She then says that if Rue screws her, she will sell Rue to some sick people.
Rue brings her drug suitcase to a meeting and when Ali asks her what’s in the suitcase it leads to a heartbreaking confrontation. Ali has been trying to find the balance between encouraging her and letting her come to recovery at her own pace. In this moment, it seems like he’s accepting that she may be beyond helping. At least at this point.
The episode ends with Rue doing some of the drugs herself and there’s just no way this isn’t going to end extremely poorly. It’s heartbreaking to watch. It’s also part of the problem with Levinson projecting his experiences onto a middle class queer Black girl. I know Rue is fictional — and Levinson’s creation — but I care about her. The risks are higher for her than they ever could have been for Levinson and it’s really hard to watch the show treat her this way.
Again, it’s not a critique. I know this is a dark show about dark things. I just wish I trusted the puppet master to understand who he’s playing with. These characters aren’t real, but trans people are real, queer Black girls are real, addicts with far less privilege than Sam Levinson are real. I hope he remembers that.
+ This episode was again written and directed by Mr. Levinson.
+ As a trans woman who has never dated men, I know I’m a bit limited in understanding Nate and Cal. I’m curious how other people perceive their sexualities and if you feel like Sam Levinson is writing them in a way that feels authentic and well-developed.
+ Fun fact! Chloe Cherry who plays Faye played Jules in a Euphoria porn parody!
+ The only thing Kat gets to do this episode is go to an awkward dinner with Ethan’s parents.
+ I like the comparison of Jules to Kurt Cobain because I am a Kurt Cobain was trans truther.
+ Rumor has it Hunter Schafer is dating Dominic Fike who plays Elliot. Apparently some people are upset because they thought she was a lesbian and I just want to say leave Hunter alone! Let her date the cute boy with the little apple face tat!