“Euphoria” Episode 206 Recap: The Devil You Know

It’s not always a good idea to read the comments. No matter what you write people are going to take issue with it — sometimes with cause, sometimes very much without. But if you do read the comments literal and proverbial there are a few ways you can respond. You can make a pandemic movie with rants against your critics using stand-ins with different experiences from yourself. You can become the main character on Twitter and then stay the main character for a week. Or, you know, you can actually reflect on the ways you need to improve.

And so let me start this Euphoria recap by saying I had to respond way too much last week with “I’m not saying this couldn’t happen, I’m saying it isn’t being done well” for the problem to not have been on my end. Whether my writing was muddled or whether I let my frustrations with this show — and how seriously I take the issues the show deals with — get the best of me, I don’t know, but I wasn’t clear.

So let me be clear. My issue with Euphoria is not about the realism of the broad strokes. Like Sam Levinson, I cannot speak to many of the experiences portrayed and even the ones I can are just my own personal experiences. Never mind the fact that “realism” is not something that is inherently good or bad in storytelling. My issue with Euphoria is not the broad strokes, it’s the moment to moment intimacies. When I say those feel false, I don’t mean what is happening is false to our world — I’m saying line by line, beat by beat they feel hollow.

It’s strange then to get to this episode that will definitely incite less praise and discussion than last week, but that I ultimately found more successful. If Euphoria was just a show about Sam Levinson stand-ins Nate Jacobs and Lexi Howard, I wouldn’t be watching. But this week felt like a relief to have so much time with dynamics that Levinson seems to actually understand. The intimacies ring true amidst all the soapy drama.

We open on Rue sitting at her kitchen table, going through withdrawals. She’s looking at a Jolly Rancher as her nose drips. Narrator Rue delivers one of my least favorite lines of the episode saying, “You know what I love about hospitals? They don’t need to know if you’re a good person.” She goes on to wax poetic about the neutrality of hospitals and I promise I’ll get to the stuff I do like in this episode but my God does Sam Levinson really live in such a bubble that he thinks HOSPITALS are neutral? That Rue as a middle class mixed race Black girl would be treated the way he was? That trans people are given the same care as cis people? You’re killing me, Sam.

Rue’s mom is caring for her and Rue notes that her mom grew up in the church and at least Christians believe in forgiveness. We get our first glimpse of a young Leslie singing in a church choir and I really thought we were finally getting a Leslie-focused episode! But no. All we get is she was in the church and in the choir in the church and is Rue’s mom which we already knew.

Rue is feeling remorseful about all the things she said and all the things she doesn’t remember saying. Most of all she’s feeling remorseful about what she said to Ali. She knows most of the world, including his family, writes him off for the same reasons she could be written off and she doesn’t want to contribute to that.

She calls him and says she’s sorry. He says he forgives her. All the talk about last episode securing Zendaya a second Emmy, this was the moment for me. It’s quieter than last week — I mean she’s still sobbing, it’s still Euphoria — but it’s just an incredible moment of nuanced performance.

Ali comes over to cook for Rue and her family. He sends Rue and her mom away and talks to Gia. He says as tough as things have been on Rue, it’s been tougher on her. Thank God someone is thinking of Gia! I still don’t think Levinson has written in a nuance to these moments the way he does with the Jacobs or the Howards, but I do think what he understands best about Rue is her addiction and these discussions of forgiveness and hurt worked for me. And it helps when you have Colman Domingo to deliver your lines.

Smash cut to Nate Jacobs lifting weights. He’s happy his dad is gone and doesn’t yet know that he has 38 missed calls from Cassie. You know, Cassie Howard from Maddy-is-on-the-phone-with-Kat-talking-about-how-she-wants-to-literally-kill-her fame. Kat is taking said call while out with Ethan who she’s about to break up with. She chickens out and instead tells him that she has a terminal brain disorder. He doesn’t buy it and storms off in frustration. Considering this is one of Kat’s few scenes this season, I wish it didn’t make Kat into such a comical bad guy. Would the Kat we know really break up with Ethan like this? I’m not sure… but Barbie Ferreira does her best to sell it.

Meanwhile, it’s seeming like Cassie might do the job herself. She is hysterical to the point that her mom has Lexi hide all the knives in the house. Lexi is starting to have doubts about her play but then she goes over to Fez’s and he reinforces her artistic spirit. The internet has been begging for Lezco? Fexi? Lezco. scenes since they flirted in the premiere and Levinson has finally delivered. Fez tells Lexi that she should include him beating up Nate in her play and insists re: Cassie that some people need to have their feelings hurt. They talk about how the play is going to have Stand By Me vibes because these characters all have the cultural references of their 37-year-old creator.

Another unlikely pairing happening across town is Nate and his mom. She’s gone full wine mom mode in the wake of her husband’s breakdown and she tells her son not to marry someone he meets in high school. She mentions him being an angry guy and Nate angrily argues that he is not. His mom then comes out as #TeamCassie and talks about how Nate was such a sweet boy until around 8 or 9 he darkened. Is the implication that Nate was raped? By Cal? Later Narrator Rue will confirm that Cal is technically not a pedophile so maybe something else happened that will be revealed later? After this mother-son drunk bonding moment, Nate sets out to recover Cal’s evidence. He doesn’t care about Cal but he does want to save the family real estate business. Of course the Jacobs are in fucking real estate.

While this is happening, the Howards are having their own family togetherness moment. Cassie is ranting about how she didn’t do anything wrong while her mom is like… okay babe. Lexi is just sitting there observing. This is a BIG episode for younger siblings trying to keep quiet and keep the peace. Cassie then tries to slit her wrists with a corkscrew before finally getting into a big fight with Lexi about her ratting on Fez. She continues her rampage a bit later shouting about how she may be bad but Rue is worse, as if that is relevant or comparable. Cassie’s mom, rightfully, says that Cassie needs an exorcising.

These scenes are so good?? Sydney Sweeney is hilarious and Cassie’s antics ring so true for a nightmare teenage girl. These moments are both painful and funny and they feel worth all the exhaustion of this season’s Nate and Cassie affair.

It was around this time that I thought “where is Jules??” and Rue answered by explaining that Jules is at home and— fuck Jules and Elliot, Rue doesn’t want to talk about them. Back to Maddy.

Samantha — MILFka Kelly — comes home and tells Maddy they should get drunk and go for a swim. Maddy confides in Samantha about Nate and Cassie and Samantha admits to pulling a Cassie against her best friend when she was in college. There’s a vibe as they bond about being messy and then Samantha pointedly notes that Maddy is 18.

Lezco are watching the end of Stand By Me and Lexi is crying. It’s a cute little moment that convinced me the kids on Twitter are right about this pair. While this is happening Faye takes out the trash in the rain — elite house guest — where she meets her boyfriend who admits to collaborating with the police against Fez and Ashtray and asks Faye not to reveal this secret — less elite house guest.

Next stop on the Nate Jacobs redemption tour is a reminder that he does not deserve one. He’s sitting in Maddy’s room in the dark holding a gun. He asks Maddy where the disc is of his dad’s sexual exploits and when she says she doesn’t have it, he puts one bullet in the gun and gets on top of her. He points it at her head and then moves the gun to his own. Click. No bullet. Click. No bullet. Maddy, through tears, tells him it’s in her purse. He gets the disc and then apologizes(??) saying there weren’t actually bullets in the gun(??).

He pulls a Cal — drinking and driving with a cocky smirk — as he calls Jules to tell her he’s coming over. She goes outside to meet him with a boxcutter up her sleeve — the literal definition of bringing a knife to a gun fight. He apologizes. He says he was protecting someone who didn’t deserve it. And then he gives her the disc. As she’s leaving, he grabs her hand and says that he meant everything he said to her. She leaves — thank God — but if Levinson tries to endgame them, I will lose my mind.

Nate calls Cassie and tells her to pack a suitcase. As Cassie stands at her front door, she locks eyes with her mom. Then she gets a text from Nate that says “here.” To roughly quote Lady Bird: “You’re not gonna get in a car with a guy who texts, are ya?” Alas, she does. They drive to Nate’s house and he lets her beat his chest before they kiss. All the while, Jules is watching her experience with his dad on her computer that still has a disc drive.

Finally, we return to Ali’s dinner with the Bennetts. Rue says she wants to get clean and Ali asks Gia how she feels about that. She’s skeptical. Leslie starts to object and Ali defends her. He says losing faith is fair until Rue finds some for herself. Really loving all of Ali’s Gia defense!!!! All Gia has done is be a good sister!!! She hasn’t even used the material for a play!!!

Gia asks to sleep in Rue’s bed and, as they lie there, Rue says she feels like she doesn’t know anything about Gia’s life. Gia says I’ll tell you when you get back.

But back from where is the question. The episode ends with Leslie on the phone with the rehab facility. She’s crying and begging and it’s clear there’s some sort of problem. Rue may not be going back to rehab after all.

This episode doesn’t work, because it’s realistic. It works because it’s grounded in its creator’s experiences. Levinson may not know that people get treated differently at the hospital, but he does have experience with addiction. He has experience with Rue’s guilt and her forgiveness. He has experience with people like Nate Jacobs and Lexi Howard. And, I assume, he has experience getting dumped by someone hotter than him.

More Glitter:

+ This episode was once again written and directed by Sam Levinson

+ I know Fexi is the more common ship name but this is Autostraddle dot com. I’m calling these straight people Lezco.

+ Nate’s mom mentions wanting to buy a Peloton. What is it with TV and Peloton?? Were all these scripts written early pandemic when Pelotons were all the rage?

+ I’m on Team Maddy because she’s funnier, but I do think there’s a difference between having sex with your best friend’s recent ex and having sex with your best friend’s boyfriend. Cassie is right that she didn’t technically fuck her best friend’s boyfriend. Continuing to fuck Nate once he and Maddy rekindled wasn’t the best though.

+ I really, really, really like when older writers make recent period pieces rather than awkward contemporary-set stories. Not to reference Lady Bird for the second time, but that movie being set in 2002 let’s Greta Gerwig include all her personal specificity. I wish Sam Levinson had done that with Euphoria even if Rue wouldn’t get to be born right after 9/11.

+ People on the internet are so fucking harsh on Rue and Jules. They’re teenagers! Rue is an addict! Jules is… Jules has done barely anything wrong. It’s one thing to critique their behaviors but the hatred toward these flawed teen characters is wild.

+ This TikTok is fascinating. It’s not uncommon for actors to reword their lines, but it is uncommon for every single line to be vastly improved. Give Zendaya a writing Emmy along with her second acting Emmy.

@dannyrayes

#euphoria zendaya stayed on script and went off script at the same time haha

♬ original sound – tv clips


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Drew Burnett 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 Burnett has written 311 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. Nate was such a sweet boy until he found his daddies videos, I think that was what they were hinting at, they showed him finding them in season 1.

    Also I know it’s problematic and gross but I do want the MILF and Maddie to hook up, please judge me.

    Also Jules watching the video Cal made!!!! destroy the disc!!

  2. One critique I’ve seen you make often in these recaps is that Sam Levinson doesn’t have the lived experience of being a Black woman, and so he shouldn’t be writing about it. But Zendaya is an executive producer, and from her interviews, it seems she had a great deal of influence on Rue’s storyline. At the same time, you’ve come down on Levinson for letting characters ad-lib or work with them on set to rewrite their lines for a scene, arguing that it’s bad or lazy writing. It seems like a bit of a contradiction to chastise Levinson for writing characters with which he doesn’t share a lived experience, but then also chide him for allowing the actors that play these characters, who DO have a real lived experience (Zandaya being a woman of color, Hunter being a trans woman, Barbie being a fat woman) to have such a weight in their characters’ lines and scenes.

    I’m by no means saying Levinson gets everything right, but I think the beauty in a lot of the show is Levinson allowing and trusting the actors to speak through their characters.

    • Malcolm and Marie does cast a very unfavorable shadow over a lot of Euphoria’s dramatics though. However, I’m not convinced that a lot of the flaws were entirely down to Levinson ventriloquizing through his actors. John David Washington is also a Hollywood legacy kid. Zendaya was a child actor who amassed a lot of clout at a very young age. The whole film smacks of a group of collaborators blinkered in a incredibly privileged industry bubble talking each other into its worst excesses.

    • It’s one thing to trust your actors to make changes. It’s another thing to trust your actors INSTEAD of hiring a group of writers who have those experiences as well. That’s where the contradiction lies.

      Especially when dealing with a young cast, it’s a shitty position to put actors. They are not being paid as writers — with the exception of Hunter’s one episode — and the responsibility should not fall on them. And none of these actors should have to speak solely for their identity especially when also balancing the desire to have screen time, not upset the single cis straight white man from a Hollywood legacy family who has already demonstrated how easily he can write off characters.

      It’s great that Levinson actually listens to (some) of the actors. But it’s still a way to maintain complete control especially with the actors who are not as famous as Zendaya. And I think it hurts the show.

      • The reason Nate “darkened” at around age 8 is actually because I think that’s when he found Cal’s tapes. It’s shown in a flashback in the first season I believe. I don’t think the implication is that he was molested.

      • I don’t think you’re taking into consideration that actors generally don’t like it when they’re expected to stick exactly to a script, or when a script is so specific that it leaves no room for the actor to bring in their own interpretation. (e.g. a script that specifies how every line is to be delivered – loud, quiet, sad, etc. – or what exactly a character is thinking). They find it very fulfilling to be part of the creative process instead of just executing somebody else’s vision like they’re puppets or something.

        This kind of thing would be happening even if Sam Levinson did have a writer’s room. That’s part of the magic of television, one of the things I find really interesting about the medium. It starts with a script, but then the actors get involved, and all sorts of things can happen then. Some writers really hate that, actually, but Levinson is someone who makes space for it.

  3. For what it’s worth Drew, I’ve always thought you were exactly right about your criticism of Euphoria. Something about the details rubs me the wrong way. It doesn’t feel real- except the parts he lifted from his own youth. The scenes about recovery feel true. The long monologues about addiction feel true.

    I also don’t feel comfortable with Levinson really handling Rue as a fully developed character along with the implications of putting himself into her shoes. The story never feels exactly true because the things Levinson can tell truly (being an addicted teenager) just wouldnt happen the same way for a young Black (and mixed) teenage girl. She just doesn’t have the easy privilege and second chances Levinson had at that age. Also, how does she go entire seasons without feeling like she exists in a Black family? I also don’t trust him with Jules. Love the idea, love the casting, love the relationships- but is he truly capable of writing her without it seeming like she is an object? The idea itself of a young black cis woman in love with a trans girl is revolutionary to see on screen for young adults. So why does it feel like just two white cis straight teenagers talking so much of the time? Does he really think that they wouldn’t talk about all of that more? Or that they would experience the world like this?

    • I mean.. I can’t speak to most of your comments but Jules and rue’s topic of conversation ring pretty true to me. As someone who pretty recently grew up in a bubble with other young queer people who were comfortable in their identifies aside from the occasional gay joke after the initial ‘I’m (fill in the blank identity, wbu)’ we didn’t talk much about the specifics- there were just other things to talk about

  4. One thing I’ve had a hard time following this season is where Jules is coming from at any given time. I feel like that may be why there’s a lot of vitriol directed at her sometimes in discussions of the show. This could just be me but I feel like Jules’ feelings are much more ambiguous than most other characters. That was kind of true in season 1 as well, but after Jules’ special episode I would have liked/hoped to see her thoughts and feelings get as much attention as other characters. Like, I can understand her sleeping w/ Elliot because she’s hurt and lonely, that feels in line with her character for me. But to then bring the guy she just slept with/basically cheated on Rue with (tho granted they were in a bad place) to Rue’s intervention? And bring Rue along to steal alcohol and then get upset when she drinks? Or make out with Elliot while Rue is in the other room and laugh about it with him? It’s not so much about are these shitty things to do as like, what is her thought process here, how does she feel about what’s going on? Jules basically tells her therapist one of her biggest fears is Rue relapsing and season 1 begins with her finding out that very thing happened and there’s no real screentime given to how she feels about that! It’s just interesting to me that after 2 special episodes dedicated to Rules both as individuals and what they mean to each other season 2 would dedicate so much of its time to Nate/Maddy/Cassie and Cal’s backstory of all things.

    • I also clocked that and wondered what the ramifications will be?!

      Also to the person who commented that this article needs trigger warnings. It’s Euphoria, it’s triggering every week…? Plus you already know what happens if you watched the show, since this is a recap..? Isn’t a TW precisely that, a warning? Ie making you aware of something you had no reasonable idea was coming?

  5. Hi Drew, I love your criticism and I don’t think what you wrote last week is wrong! I appreciate your willingness to engage with the comments, but you are consistently making great points I’m not seeing anyone else make. I am super concerned with where Rue’s storyline is going, especially with anything related to sex trafficking being a huge, glaring dog whistle in these reactionary times. Sure, art should have the freedom to take liberties, but a storyline like this requires care that I just don’t trust a flashy, wealthy, cis white man to take. The fact that Black teenage girls are so much more in danger of sexual exploitation makes it all the more important to approach Rue’s story with a sociopolitical consciousness that Sam Levinson really doesn’t seem to have, or at least be all that interested in beyond a surface level. There’s not much of a lens into how racism affects Rue’s experience, and the only dark-skinned character completely disappeared without explanation this season. To my eye, Sam is much more concerned with white people problems, but wants to package them in a cool, Hype Williams aesthetic that will appeal to POC without seeming all that interested in their experiences. We can’t say for sure where Rue’s story is going, but Sam Levinson knows sensational stories get views, and you can tell he’s gearing towards tragedy. I’ve already been hearing some really weird, reactionary conversations about this show and if Rue ends up getting trafficked, I don’t expect that to get better.

    Also there’s been a huge spike of teens dying of fentanyl overdoses lately, and a significant portion of those teens are Black (source: a Bloomberg News article from this weekend). Teen suicide spiked after 13 Reasons Why came out too, and times are hard– art that deals with this sort of thing requires really solid intention. I’m sick of watching wealthy white men get carte blanche to tell these kinds of stories when there is risk involved. Artists in sexual / racial / gendered minorities would likely be able to tell these stories much better, yet are policed relentlessly and don’t get anywhere near the same privilege or permission to flout respectability politics. I don’t trust Sam Levinson either!

  6. Nothing says Euphoria needs a writer’s room more than this:

    “All the while, Jules is watching her experience with his dad on her computer that still has a disc drive.”

    Ok, lots of things about Euphoria say this, as Drew has really expertly laid out, but a disc drive yall. A COMPACT DISC DRIVE.

  7. I also preferred this episode! I think Zendaya got to really shine without having to curse and yell every second. I also found the bit about hospitals being neutral very… bad writing/framing lol.

    I *think* the reference Nate’s mom made to what happened when he was 8 or 9 was when he found his dad’s collection of discs? But I might be misremembering!

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