Euphoria: A Conversation for a Generation
Note: This article may contain information that you would not know if you have not yet watched "Euphoria", particularly season two. AKA: SPOILER ALERT. Also, the interview material contained within has been edited for clarity.
Like many, the barrier of HBO Max stopped me from watching "Euphoria" for a long time. With the (gradual) release of the most recent season, though, I was fortunate enough to have a group of friends who proposed to watch it together. If you’re not familiar with the show, it focuses on the experiences of a group of high school students — led by a drug dealer and addict named Rue, played by Zendaya — in order to highlight socially relevant issues like gender, friendships, relationships, parenting, loss, addiction, sexuality, and sexual assault. To follow is a sort of paraphrased mass interview with the girls that I watch with — whom I’ll refer to with "Euphoria"-themed names. Our watch parties are beautiful in the way that we each bring our own experiences and perspectives to viewing, and I want to share that with you as well.
The Luggage (on how this season compares with the last one): “In terms of content, the new season is a lot more intense than the last season. Interestingly, the visuals are a lot different; things are less glorified. There are less colors and less lights and it's all these more intense events and things to watch without the softening aesthetic that used to be there. It almost seems like they’re easing us into a darker approach to what’s happening. In the same vein, even though there are still a lot of difficult events happening, it seems like they’re diving way deeper than the individual approach; it’s not just about Rue anymore, it's becoming about the drug industry at large.”
This seems true, especially after the last episode. We are exposed to a whole range of drug-related experiences that are in no way unique to Rue: withdrawals, the effects on family relationships, and potentially even human trafficking. It’s extremely dark, and there is absolutely no buffer for it. Something that we as a group incorporate into our watch sessions is the opportunity for an overload break; this show gets intense, and we collectively recognize that watching it all in one go might not be the most comfortable experience.
The Needle (on discomfort in Euphoria): “Personally I started watching a little later than most people and was surprised by how fast things became almost unhinged. Literally within the first ten minutes of one episode they broke the fourth wall. At times it became almost straight porn … [one scene involving a needle] genuinely gave me a nightmare, but the artistry and depth of the writing still makes me want to watch it and actually enjoy it.”
The writing and production of the work itself is certainly something to comment on. Stylistically, the show straddles a gray area between vintage and new-age, which as The Luggage mentions, is reflected heavily in the soundtrack. The show’s music includes new pieces from artists like Lana Del Rey and Laura Les mixed with classics from INXS and Steely Dan set on the recurring Labrinth backdrop — a kind of nod to the vintage/modern aesthetic coveted by so many youth right now.
The characters in "Euphoria" are equally complex and also equally significant to the overall experience of the show. Rue in particular has a sort of control over the story that many fans theorize about.
The Parrot (on Rue): “I don’t know if this is necessarily true, but I’ve heard a lot of people say that the reason things have been so crazy and jump around so much this season is because Rue is really the narrator and we are seeing things from her perspective. Because she’s really high, she’s becoming an unreliable narrator and we are seeing it reflected in the show's jumps and even weird camera angles because she’s focusing on things that you wouldn't normally focus on. That explains a lot of what’s going on right now, but if you didn’t get that it would be a [insert expletive here].”
Meanwhile, the state of affairs with the other characters is shaky at best. Much of the last few episodes have focused really intently on Rue or Rue and Jules, even though there is the ticking time bomb of Cassie, Nate, and Maddy to be concerned with.
The Luggage (on Maddy, Nate, and Cassie): “People spit a lot of hate on Cassie, but personally I am a Sydney Sweeney sympathizer. Of course I think they’re all sort of bad people, but people love to side with Maddy and forget that she’s really toxic, especially with Nate. A lot of the stuff they did last season was really horrible, and even though Cassie is a mess, I don’t think she should be the sole target of the hate.”
I couldn’t agree more — personally I think that if I was in Cassie’s situation, I would do many of the same things. While some of us are fortunate enough not to have to experience some of the things that happen in Euphoria, it’s a credit to the writers that the characters and their emotions and motivations still seem so relatable. Especially in a group, we share almost as much with the characters as we do with each other.
Every Sunday at 9 p.m., we gather in our dorm lounge and watch an episode on someone’s laptop. In itself, there's something wonderful about this, and I think it speaks to the nature of the show and its culture that we do this. I choose to ignore the capitalistic reasoning behind the weekly releases in favor of its drawing back of the traditional viewing of television. In the week in between releases, we are able to reflect on what we have seen and grow in anticipation for what is to come, increasing our motivation to watch as well as to communicate how we feel — almost as if we were part of an ultra-cosmopolitan book club.
This discussion, and even the act of watching it together in the same room, is so integral to the show’s meaning. We are watching some of the most extreme and traumatic events that might happen in a teenager or young adult’s life today, we almost feel as if we need each other for support. We relate to things and we learn new things and we do it together, because more than anything, Euphoria is meant to be social. It's a conversation. It’s a conversation about where we are as people, what we endure, queer life, addiction, grief, trauma, love, and obsession. We watch and we bleed out what we’ve endured; it’s beautiful and it hurts just a little bit, but that’s just as it was meant to be.