“Euphoria” Episode 203 Recap: Great Tits and Kurt Cobain’s Haircut

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.

More Glitter:

+ 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!


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Drew Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 267 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. I’m loving you’re reviews!

    I don’t know what’s going on with Kat, maybe they’re cutting her scenes or something.

    What did you think about Nate and Cassie hardcore fu*king with Cal and his wife in the house, Jesus Christ.

    I felt so bad for Ali, I hope he doesn’t give up on her, I’m sure Fez will have to save Rue from that psycho monotone lady.

    • Yes to all this. It’s hard to trust privileged writers with underrepresented stories in their hands and SL is juggling so many of them. I find the show beautiful in many ways but also frustrating in the ways you describe. This season’s feeling chaotic as it tries to keep up with all the characters (I preferred last season’s format that let us deeper into a single character’s world one at a time). And it’s hard not to notice an increasing focus on white characters like Lexi, Fezco, and Cassie taking up a lot of screen time, while it feels like he’s not sure what to do with certain other characters like Kat or Maddy (or season 1’s McKay who just faded away). I want SO much less of Nate and Nate’s dad. That one scene where the boys dancing turned into kissing was lovely and I wished it wasn’t about this evil character idgaf about. Do we really need another repressed gay villain (let alone two)? I get that he and Nate provide conflict that serves the plot. But trying to humanize either of them feels almost like a waste of time when they’re this awful. I really hope we get more insight into Jules and Rue this season and that he takes on more writers if there’s a season 3

    • I definitely think we’re building to a Fez vs. drug dealer lady showdown. And it’s just like… not interesting to me.

      Also I’m really trying to stay away from dismissing things as unrealistic but why WHY would that drug dealer trust Rue??

      • I don’t know, maybe she has something shady in mind and actually wants Rue to get in debt with her. I remember one episode of the sopranos in which Tony deliberately lends a lot of money to a long time friend and gambler in orden to bankrupt his business for his profit

  2. It think we’re meant to be confused about Cal’s sexuality because Cal himself is confused about his sexuality. It seems like he genuinely enjoyed having sex with his girlfriend, but then had this beautiful romantic/maybe sexual experience with Derek and probably would have taken the time to explore his queerness…only to find out his girlfriend is pregnant. So instead of going to Duke and figuring himself out, he got stuck in his hometown with an instant wife and baby. Cal is a dick, and has done some seriously f*cked up things, but his origin story is pretty devastating.

    • Yeah, I saw that as Cal is probably bi/pan/queer, and that was NOT an easy thing to figure out in the early 90s (I say this as a now-out bi person who was a teenager in the late 90s – NO representation other than cis gay or straight, and even cis gay rep was super limited). Like he really would have had no idea and then…surprise pregnant girlfriend!

      I LOVED that sequence but to quote my best friend “I’m having a hard time seeing how that sweet bisexual boy becomes a monster.” It’s not like I WANT more screen time on Cal, but to me, that’s not a point A to point B situation.

      • Yeah THAT is my problem. The closeted queer man who becomes a hypermasculine monster is such a tired trope, but this version of it doesn’t even make sense to me?

        I just don’t think Cal is written well enough to justify this transformation.

      • I totally agree with all of this. I see Cal as being Bi/pan/queer and I’d imagine that he had no real way to identify his feelings for his best friend as being queer. I was a preteen in the late 90s and I was beginning to suspect I was bisexual but there was very little representation. Bisexuality was a big joke in the 90s and 2000s. Even with shows like L word I still felt a lot of shame and doubt from queer communities, so I stayed closeted. I am in therapy now, trust.

        I loved the scene where they danced together at the bar. The tears in both their eyes and after getting off the phone with his pregnant girlfriend. Cal never even got to figure out how he identified. I hate Cal but I felt for this sad bi teen.

        One thing I did find interesting is Cal going down on his girlfriend maybe convinced him he was straight because he liked doing it. There is this weird myth that queer men don’t like giving women oral pleasure and that obvious disdain for it means queer. When uh…. let me tell you, I wasted a lot of years dating cis straight men and they are the biggest pussy phobes around.

        It sucks that Cal became such a monster and raised another monster (a bi monster) but that story was sad to see. The music was fantastic tho.

  3. I found the Cal Flashback Sequence incredibly sweet (so much that it brought me to tears… although as a water sign that doesn’t take much), but similarly I was very confused as to what it was supposed to say. If the only thing standing in the way of him being with men was his girlfriend getting pregnant, where does all his anger and internalized queerphobia and hyper masculinity come from? Are we meant to believe that’s just who he is, or an aspect of personality he doubled down on in the intervening years?

    • I imagine he’s internalised all the anger and frustration that he never got to live his queerness – the teenage version of him seemed nice enough, and oddly sensitive, quite the far cry from the quietly intimidating monster we know in the present. That version of him is, I think, the result of twenty-odd more years of resenting his situation.

  4. This is one of the many shows I do not watch but I always read the reviews here. However, my wife watches Euphoria, and sometimes I’ll hear snippets of dialog from the other room and I’ll think to myself “Drew is going to have a FIELD DAY with this!” Love to be right, love to read your reviews!

  5. Would love if Hunter Schafer more formally joined the writing process. She was credited as a writer alongside Levinson on Jules’s special. There should be more of that if we’re going to dive into the kinds of issues that it looks like we’re diving into.

    • Great review! This is the sort of grown up queer show that we’ve been deserving of for a long time. It has the air of a young adult drama on WB with one gay character but that lives firmly in the real world.

      To whit, the main character reminds me very much of my son (except with much better features). He used to think he was into girls, but is slowly coming to the realization that he’s not cis-. Like him, he dispels his anger badly and now just builds birdhouses and spends lots of his time alone.

      This is a great show to watch with him I think.

  6. I LOVE these recaps, Drew! I recently binged all of s1 and now I’m hooked but god I wish wish wish there were a writers’ room, especially for characters like Rue, Jules and Kat. This is why we have writers’ rooms, Levinson!

  7. drew I love your reviews!! I definitely agree that my trust in levinson as sole writer to bring these diverse characters to life is low. I think jules relationship to her gender and having that expand could be really interesting but it’s only episode three and it already feels rushed? euphoria has a history of major life events unfolding for jules only to be addressed/acknowledged later which leads to detached, confusing storytelling. I’ve also been frustrated and confused by Kat’s background arch this season, it feels like such a clear example of another reason someone other than levinson should be writing this show, occasionally it feels like they’re almost touching on interesting realities and pressures of growing up a fat girl and trying to find yourself and confidence, but just when they’re almost there they miss the mark and it feels shallow again.

    • i have very mixed feelings about Rue being sam levinsons self insert and the things he’s willing to put her through and the different consequences for rue as a black queer person (as you highlighted). but I did think it was an interesting/heartbreaking directorial choice to have rue and jules moments of intimacy get cut off just as they begin by scenes of rue doing drugs apparently so she can live in the moment forever. just the juxtaposition of her claiming drugs are a way to preserve the moment while we as the viewer are pulled out of those moments to witness her drug use.

  8. I had all the same problems with the Cal flashback as all the other commenters, but also I couldn’t get past the timeline?

    Like, that INXS song they kept listening to came out in ’87, but even if it was a few years after that, it would mean the kid that Cal got “tied down” with is now like, thirty. I remember vaguely that Nate has an older brother but I remember him being college-aged. Not thirty. Unless I totally missed something, I’m confused.

  9. I have the same problem of trust regarding sexual violence. At this point, I’m not sure if Sam Levinson feels the weight of it, or what has already happened to his 16, 17-year old characters. The amount of it. I can be wrong, but the tension around it starts to make me nauseous. I’m not sure anymore if he knows that four of his six main female characters are survivors of sexual or/and domestic violence. And there is just more and more and more of it. Girls are being abused and gaslighted about their experiences and bodies and what is “normal” and there is no way out. And I’m afraid it’s not a story about toxic patterns anymore.
    I’m re-watching “My Mad Fat Diary” now, a show made a couple of years before #MeToo, also written mostly by a single male writer (it’s a British show set in a little town in Lincolnshire, where nothing happens). There are countless resemblances, thematically: mental health issues, self-harm, suicide attempt, fatphobia, homophobia, 16-years olds posing as grown-ups, first love, sexual exploration, teenage girl’s horniness, bodies bodies bodies, the tension between childhood friends, the tension between the sarcastic smart one and the hot dumb one, struggling parents, absent parents, therapy, death, and, at last, but not least, sexual violence. But God how DIFFERENT it feels. It feels MATURE. Like, it sees the difference between what teenagers think is happening and what actually happens. Between the sh*t teenagers say and the truth. You are with these kids, you are in their heads, and the show is very inventive formally, but the violence and harm and toxic patterns are not glamourized. And the show is interested in the ways the characters will figure things out and grow up and heal.
    And with Sam Levinson, I’m not exactly sure anymore. Maybe he really thinks that what Jules and Rue are doing in the backyard with their dirty teenage hands is less interesting than whatever the real sex god Nate Jacobs is doing?

  10. I’m so shocked to find out there’s no writers’ room on this show!!!
    He writes it all? How is that possible? What does that say about me feeling like this show is revolutionary and so queer and good? I have to reexamine everything now.

    • I mean in some ways the show is revolutionary! I wouldn’t be spending the time recapping each episode if it was totally without merit. My frustrations toward the show — which I largely connect to that lack of a writers room — are because there’s so much potential.

    • Just to play devil’s advocate a bit, it’s totally normal for novels. How many times do you see a novel that is written by two authors? Hardly ever. Some novels are sprawling epics with all sorts of characters and…one author. There is no such thing as a writers’ room for a novel.

      There are usually, but not always, writers’ rooms on TV shows. But the existence of a writers’ room isn’t exactly a guarantee of anything in itself. And there is a legitimate argument to be made along the lines of “too many cooks spoil the broth” and for the value of a single coherent vision. We’ve also all seen shows where the writing and characterization varies wildly from episode to episode. Levinson isn’t the only one to write every episode of a show; Micaela Coel wrote every episode of the recent amazing I May Destroy You series, and plenty of that was not necessarily “in her lane” (she identifies as an aromantic cis woman, while writing about women who are romantic, about gay men, about trans characters).

      Finally, just because there isn’t a writers’ room does not necessarily mean that Levinson takes no notes or accepts input from anyone. It certainly seems like Hunter Schafer and Zendaya have his ear. It’s just like the novels I referenced before; just because there’s only one name on the cover doesn’t mean the author didn’t get some input from others, whether editors or beta readers or their spouse.

  11. I am obsessed with these reviews, also I heard that there was some drama between Barbie (who plays Kat) and Sam Levinson over where Kat’s plot is going, and that they disagreed over it. She wasn’t at the premiere and her scenes seem few and far between…

  12. Just some corrections here:
    -Jules doesn’t go down on Rue cause she wont let her in Elliot’s bedroom
    -Elliot says he DOES* have a crush on Rue but that he thinks she’s ace and Jules agrees that “she’s not a sexual person” (which feels problematic but I digress)

  13. First time here, linked from a Slate.com article… I think… I have so many goddamn tabs open lol. I enjoyed review and I agree with a lot of what is said here and in the comments although I can’t comment on Cal’s origin story as I’ve just finished S1. But in terms of trusting Levinsons writing, I feel really connected to Rue and I know she’s the main character at least in Season 1 but it does feel like he knows what he’s writing about there and it’s easy to get inside her story. The rest feels just a little off and in some parts waaaay off. @germaine commented above about how Levinson doesn’t seem to be feeling the full weight of the amount of trauma that has happened to these teens. I think back to 13 Reasons Why and how Jessica’s character almost immediately started binge drinking after her unconscious rape, not even knowing why herself but just feeling like she needed to numb something out. But there doesn’t seem to be any radical consequences to all of the violence and abuse these kids are experiencing. I wonder if it’s just so normalised in some areas and cultures that it just doesn’t phase them. Then again, trauma works in funny ways. A lot of the time it’s pushed so far down that the person can live a relatively normal life, or a dissociated ‘functional freeze’ life and then have a complete nervous breakdown and crisis 20 years later. Trauma tends to be buried and repressed, fester under the surface and build slowly to a head later down the line. So… it can seem accurate in that sense, and I speak from experience too. Mae Martin’s “Feel Good” series does a good job of portraying this unraveling of trauma too. I’ll have to check out ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ @germaine thanks!

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