Review: Euphoria S2E3 “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys”
Euphoria really goes off the rails in “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys“, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Writer/director Sam Levinson spends the entire pre-title sequence trying to garner sympathy for a pedophile using nostalgic colors and some great New Wave tracks in the painfully predictable saga of Cal Jacobs (Played by a forgettable Elias Kacavas) having a repressed upbringing and only getting to spend one real night with his best friend/true love Derek before being thrust into his role as patriarch and father when his girlfriend is pregnant. Closeted queer men being pedophiles is a painful stereotype, and honestly all this information about Cal could be deduced from his actions in the present day except for him being a Ministry fan.
Honestly, this scene is Exhibit A of Euphoria being a show with a gorgeous visual style and an uncanny sense of how to weave in musical cues, but this can be done in a bloated and self-indulgent way like having a romantic dance sequence to “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS featuring a younger version of total irredeemable monster character. It’s better in the sequence immediately following the flashback where Levinson draws upon Zendaya’s dance background to show how much her drug addiction has consumed her life as Rue is in her own little world and puts Pop Tarts in the fridge and milk in the cupboard. This reverie ends with a deadpan line reading from Storm Reid as Rue’s little sister Gia, who asks if she’s high. And we’re back to the fourth wall breaking slide projector device where Rue (with an assist from Elliot) breaks down how she manipulates people in her life that she’s not a drug addict, including her family and friends by using key phrases to make everything seem okay. Of course, only her sponsor Ali sees through this bullshit so she has to go for a more direct approach towards the end of the episode and bring up that he was a bad father while toting around a suitcase with $10,000 worth of drugs. Colman Domingo strikes a balance between vulnerability and rage in his performance, and cinematographer Marcell Rev’s camera drinks up his face while the generic AA meeting drones on.
And speaking of the suitcase with $10,000 of drugs, this is where Euphoria loses the plot and becomes Tarantinoesque instead of showing the great lengths that Rue will go to feed her addiction. After a rough day at school and home, Rue has an epiphany where she realizes a way where she can do drugs for free. Of course, Fezco doesn’t buy her yet unspoken business plan mostly because he knows she’s an addict. However, Laurie (Martha Kelly), who was the drug queenpin from the season premiere, doesn’t share his qualms and totally goes for her half-assed pitch that includes pointless Steve Jobs references and a plan centered around high achieving teenage girls and blackmail. Of course, Rue doesn’t have any of these apparatuses in place, and there’s a real sense of danger when Kelly flatly delivers a line about kidnapping and selling her to make the money back. The suitcase that Rue nonchalantly takes to an AA meeting and home in front of her mom raises the show’s stakes, but also takes the focus off Rue and her relationships for a generic crime story. Also, Laurie’s only been in two episodes, but there’s no way in hell that she’d move forward with that business plan.
Like the previous episode, “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” checks in with all the characters of Euphoria whether it’s as big as a potential love triangle between Rue, Jules, and Elliot (Dominic Fike and Hunter Schafer have insane chemistry.) or as minor as Kat sticking her foot in her mouth when having dinner with Ethan’s parents. Once again, Sam Levinson doesn’t know what to do with her this season. However, he does go full metafictional with Lexi, who is directing a school play seemingly based on Euphoria and especially her relationship with Cassie, and shoots the scenes where her parents are arguing like a behind the scenes featurette for a TV show. This is all because Lexi perceives herself as someone who watches and observes, but never intervenes. She obsessively writes on her laptop while Cassie spends three hours getting ready every morning so Nate will still be into her although he ends up getting back with Maddy by the end of the episode.
Sydney Sweeney pulls off deranged and obsessed very well in this episode mainly through body language and one big monologue while she’s hanging out with Maddy about how Maddy should be with someone who doesn’t fight with her and worships the ground she walks on. Lexi wants to bring this kind of main character energy to her own life, but for now, she’ll settle for having a bunch of students auditioning for her play because Oklahoma! is played out in 2022. Maude Apatow bringing a mix of energy and passivity to the expanded role of Lexi has definitely been one of the highlights of Euphoria Season 2, and it’s interesting to see Levinson use a similar fourth wall-breaking, narrativizing device for both her and Rue’s arcs this season. It’s like they used to be friends or something…
To end this review on a positive note, I love the playful and slightly chaotic interactions between Rue, Jules, and Elliot in this episode. They have frank conversations about sexuality and queerness with Elliot observing that Jules is a trans girl who wears a binder, and she sees him as “not gay” and “not straight”. With Rue out of the room, they also chat about how her sexual desire waxes and wanes. For example, she and Jules mess around a little bit this episode, but then the drug suitcase plotline kicks in, and there isn’t a lot of interactions between them. There’s also something naturalistic about how Hunter Schafer goes from Jules shining a lamp on Elliot like she’s interrogating him to smiling at him and starting to realize that she has similar feelings for him like she does for Rue even after he admits having a crush on Rue.
Plus Elliot has one hell of a monologue about how great a character Jules is that hits home after Fezco and Cal Jacobs call her “Jewel” in an interaction where Cal rolls up to Fezco’s shop looking for the disk of him having sex with Jules. He immediately gets cut down to size verbally and physically as Ashtray hits him with a rifle butt over and over again because Cal know he’s behaving suspiciously and can’t go to the police. Fezco and Faye’s (Chloe Cherry) response to Cal’s pedophilia plus Nate being in love with a girl that his dad had sex with immediately contradicts the opening flashback, and it’s nice to have Sam Levinson take a break from the sympathizing flashbacks and dream sequences and let Angus Cloud and Cherry react to how fucked up everything is. It’s also nice to see Cal put in his place for once instead of using his standing in the community to get his way, and also Euphoria is at its best when it’s pitch black comedy and not romanticizing abusers and pedophiles.
When I saw the previews for this week’s episode, I knew that “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” would be a step down in quality thanks to a flashback trying to make viewers sympathize with the monstrous Cal Jacobs. And it was worse than I imagined with Levinson and Rev going full 1980s nostalgia for the hell of it and not adding any new depth or information that we could have gotten from Cal’s present day appearances. Throw in an inconsistent approach to Rue’s arc that goes from clever and ingenious (The dance sequence) to hackneyed and melodramatic (The aforementioned suitcase.), and this episode of Euphoria is kind of a bummer. However, there are some bright spots like Fezco and Faye’s Greek chorus role to all the fucked up stuff going down at Euphoria High, Lexi using story to find herself and become more assertive, and the queer love triangle of Rue, Jules, and Elliot. More of that and less creepy old dudes in future installments, please.
Overall Verdict: 7.1