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Review: Euphoria S2E6 “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood”

A Thousand Little Trees of Blood

Although Sam Levinson wisely bookends “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood” with sequences of Rue (Zendaya) dealing with her withdrawals with the help of her mom Leslie (Nia King), little sister Gia (Storm Reid), and sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo), Euphoria is back to its multiple storyline juggling ways in “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood.” And they range from sick and twisted, yet compelling (Anything Nate Jacobs touches) to too damn sweet (Fezco and Lexi talking about her playing and crying and Stand By Me) and utterly forgettable (Kat and Ethan break up after barely interacting this season). There’s also that crime plot line baked in, and Laurie doesn’t make an appearance, but it definitely seems like Fezco (Angus Cloud) and Ashtray (Javon Walton) could be in trouble from the police or a rival drug operation. This episode feels like a deep breath before a tragedy, and its ending is especially bleak after the slight hope at the end of the whirlwind of “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”.

Levinson spends most of the opening of “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood” showing Rue struggle with drug withdrawal as there’s bit of time between her returning to rehab. She has less screen time than the previous episode, but Zendaya still gives a strong physical and verbal performance as Rue calls Ali and apologizes for reducing him to his addiction to crack and struggles with his ex-wife and children. It’s interesting to see the difference between the eloquence of Zendaya’s narrator and the sheer emotion of her speech patterns as Rue with her realization that Ali is under no obligation to forgive her. This idea continues in his interactions with Gia, who helps him make dinner, and he gives her attention and advice in contrast with Leslie, who’s trying to keep the family together, and Rue, who is consumed by her addiction. They aren’t chatting away like buddies, but Ali can get through the defenses Gia has built for herself after the trauma of her dad dying and Rue overdosing. Domingo is one of the true “good” people in Euphoria, and the fact that he helps and believes in Rue even after she treated him like shit gives an air of hope to every scene he’s in. That’s why the dark coda to this episode hits so hard because he’s not there when Leslie gets a fateful call from a healthcare provider.

Before diving into the utter drama of the Nate/Cassie/Maddy situation, I want to touch on this episode’s main misfire, and a character arc/relationship that has been scattershot all season. I kid you not, but Kat (Barbie Ferreira) got her boyfriend Ethan (Austin Abrams) to break up with her because she faked having a brain disorder and then jumped down his throat when he feigned skepticism about it after she pivoted from talking about possibly breaking up. It’s dysfunction at its finest, and I feel bad for the waiter, who lost out on the table at the restaurant that they’re meeting at. Honestly, the conversation is a metaphor for how Kat and Ethan have been characterized all season, which is vague and written in broad strokes like the scene about self-love that ended up having nothing to do with the conversations they actually have. Also, I hate to say this, but Kat and Ethan could have been written out of this season, and it would have had no effect on the story although he is involved in Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) play down the road.

Sam Levinson crafts scenes where Nate (Jacob Elordi), Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), and Maddy (Alexa Demie) are apart to really vent their feelings about the situation of Nate and Cassie sleeping together even though Maddy loves Nate and is Cassie’s best friend until going full darkness with a bit of an erotic thriller when he finally decides to act. For the most part, Sweeney is in freak out mode and playing Cassie totally unhinged leading up to a scene where she reunites with Nate and says that she ruined her life to be with him. Her mom Suze (Alanna Ubach) plays off her with pure disdain as she just wants to drink her wine and watch day time TV instead of having her daughter try to justify betraying a friend. There is a look towards of the end of the episode where Suze maybe realizes that she should have been more listening and empathetic towards her daughter and figured out why she was so obsessed with Nate.

A Thousand Little Trees of Blood

Yes, she could have been more like Samantha (Minka Kelly), who Maddy babysits for and opens up to after sharing a couple glasses of wine at her pool. Before they chat, there’s another scene of Maddy trying on Samantha’s clothes and presumably fantasizing about a stable life with nice things as Levinson cuts to a camera on the digital clock in the closet. However, Maddy isn’t punished, but finds a listening ear in Samantha, who slept with one of her friend’s boyfriends in college and never heard from her again. This definitely sets Maddy off, but they end up finding common ground when Samantha shares that people back then thought she was too “messy” to be a mom or married. Characters have said the same thing about Maddy this season, and Nate’s mom Marsha (Paula Marshall) even refers to how she behaved at the carnival last season when Nate choked her. Marsha also mentions that she was glad Nate didn’t get her pregnant because she would have kept the baby out of spite. The chat between Samantha and Maddy shows that she can break the cycle of break up/get back together with Nate and get a fresh start.

However, this is all undercut when “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood” goes full horror, including a creepy static shot of Nate sitting in Maddy’s bedroom with a gun while she changes after her babysitting job. It gets even worse as Sam Levinson goes for intense close-ups, and Nate doesn’t address their relationship or the cheating at all. He just wants the CD of his dad having sex with Jules (Hunter Schafer) so it won’t get out that he’s the son of a pedophile when he takes over his dad’s real estate company. This sequence and another one where Nate gives the disk to Jules shows how free he feels without his dad in the picture, but he’s still “flawed” like his wine-drunk mom Marsha said earlier in the episode. These two scenes show that Nate is beyond redemption even though Jules darkly jokes about him being a good person, and he continues to be manipulative inviting Cassie over to stay with him as she is in the throes of emotion. Jacob Elordi channels real darkness in his portrayal of Nate from his half-bored line delivery to his overpowering physicality as every woman he interacts with this episode from his mom to Jules is afraid he’s going to get violent. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the CD he gave Jules, especially after an earlier scene in the episode implied that he wanted to wipe all traces of his dad’s pedophilia to not ruin the family business.

A Thousand Little Trees of Blood

A dark cloud of toxic masculinity in the form of Nate Jacobs was over Euphoria this episode, but there was room for sweetness in Lexi and Fezco’s interactions. Cinematographer Marcell Rev even lights up their scenes making it feel like a relaxed mid-afternoon hang instead of an emotional roller coaster with rain and darkness. Fez continues to be interested in Lexi and asks about the premise of her play that he basically deduces is Stand By Me with women so they end up watching the movie, crying, and singing at the end. This time is a nice escape from the conflict between Maddy and Cassie as well as Fezco getting reprisals for Ashtray killing a rival drug dealer in the season premiere either from other drug dealers or the police. It also fits in with Lexi’s character as she uses fiction and fitting her life into narrative to make sense of things, hence, the play.

While continuing to focus on his strong suit as writer/director/creator, namely Rue’s addiction and letting Zendaya’s explore those painful emotions, Sam Levinson also resolves (for now) the Nate/Cassie/Maddy situation while giving each character some time on their own to chat with either their own mothers or mother-type figure about relationships and who they are as people. The support or lack of support they get ends up dictating their actions this episode, and we also see this is in Rue’s story with Leslie fighting to get her in rehab and not just detox as the hour concludes. “A Thousand Little Trees of Blood” didn’t have the momentum of the previous episode, but it felt less bloated than many of the episodes this season that juggle multiple plotlines even if Kat and Ethan’s stories this season have been non-starters.

Overall Verdict: 8.7

Review: Euphoria S2E3 “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys”

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…

Euphoria' Season 3 Release Date: How Long Will the HBO Show Last?

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

TV Review: “Euphoria Special Episode Part 1: Rue”

Euphoria Rue

Because of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, writer/director/creator Sam Levinson gets creative and crafts an episode of Emmy-Award winning show Euphoria that is stripped down of its usual visual, costuming/makeup, and musical flair. “Rue” begins with a dream sequence of Rue (Zendaya) living her ideal life with Jules (Hunter Schafer) complete with lots of kissing, cute conversations, and not having to sneak out of the window because Jules is in art college, and they share an apartment. However, reality floods in as Rue snorts pills and relapses. This leads to her meeting with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) at a diner on Christmas Eve. They talk for the remaining 50 minutes of the episode about life, addiction, loss, their families, faith, and “real shit” until he gives her a ride home in the rain while Euphoria composer Labrinth sings a gorgeous cover of “Ave Maria” that is definitely going on the holiday playlist.

“Rue” reveals that Euphoria has a hell of a lot of substance underneath. Domingo is a veteran theatre actor, and he and Zendaya embody the old adage that “acting is reacting” in this episode. Because she is high, Zendaya plays Rue in a heightened way at the beginning of the dinner as she slurs her way through talking about how she’s a functioning addict. However, Ali is a great listener, asks good questions, and finds out that when Rue does drugs, she doesn’t want to kill herself. He responds to this with empathy about addiction is a disease, and that while some people want to keep folks like them out of sight and mind, that he knows what she’s been through. Ali even reveals to Rue that he has been clean for seven years, not 20 telling her that he had a relapse after being clean for 13 years.

Sam Levinson doesn’t really play any of the dinner between them for melodrama, but Zendaya’s delivery becomes a little less flat as they launch into a fascinating conversation about the role of faith and a higher power in Narcotics Anonymous. Levinson does a great job connecting both Ali and Rue’s current life situations to the larger world around them in a more organic way than, say, Euphoria’s pilot, which strung together Rue’s birth, the beginning of the universe, and 9/11 in a frenetic opening sequence. Ali is a devout Muslim, which Rue finds out when she wonders why he said his name used to be Martin in a quick bit of comic relief before she sarcastically defines “higher power” as something in nature or an Otis Redding. But the real reason that she doesn’t want to believe in God or a higher power is because of her father’s death because she’s tired of hearing survivors of tragic events say that God “saved them for a reason” when her dad had the purpose of raising her and her younger sister.

This scene hits a real emotional vein and also exhibits Ali’s emotional intelligence as he kiboshes the religious angle and gives a stirring, almost in character monologue about the life of Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement. He wraps it up with a personal anecdote about Nike’s “Our Lives Matter”, and how they co-opted the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of activists like Colin Kaepernick to sell expensive shoes made by Chinese Muslim slaves. Domingo’s passion comes out in this dialogue, and Levinson crafts a study in contrasts between him and Rue, who is too busy dealing with the shit in her own life and how she can’t forgive herself, to pursue activism or revolution, which he says is “spiritual”.

Euphoria Rue

And this “busyness” flows nicely into their side conversation with Miss Marsha (Marsha Gambles), who shares Gambles’ own story of recovering from addiction and being clean from 17 years while telling Rue (Who got a “Miss you” text from Jules while Ali smoked and called his daughter, Imani) that she needs to focus on her sobriety before getting into a relationship. And speaking of relationships, the chat that Ali and Rue have about her relationship with Jules shows a tiny bit of a generation/communication gap as Rue thought she was exclusively dating Jules because they kissed a lot, said they loved each other, and wanted to get matching inside lip tattoos. However, they didn’t have an actual conversation about their relationship status and instead reveled in the messiness, which can be fun, but usually ends in heartbreak and drama like Jules getting on a train and leaving Rue behind at 1 AM. Storywise, it’s really satisfying to have Rue open up about how she feels about Jules and the connection to her addiction to a third party that is unaware of the utterly fucked up reality of her high school. (See everything about the whole Nate Jacobs situation.)

One of my favorite parts of “Rue” is the “interlude” I mentioned earlier where Rue listens to the thematically relevant “Me in 20 Years” by Moses Sumney and sees a text from Jules while Ali goes outside and tries to reconnect with his daughters (Who Rue asked about earlier) while taking a smoke break. This short scene does a good job of fleshing their characters as Rue retreats to the sanctuary of her music, and Ali tries to show his daughters that he’s a good person even though they witnessed him assaulting their mother when he was high in the past. Rue is at the stage of her life and addiction where she just wants to retreat and try to feel good for her last few years while Ali is trying to make amends. Colman Domingo really nails both sadness and emotional honesty in this scene, and this grief is why they have a strong connection and “like talking to each other” like they both say towards the end of the episode.

With clear shots of both Rue and Ali’s faces, Sam Levinson shows that this isn’t just a polite truism, but they actually like having someone that they can basically empty all their darkest thoughts, saddest feelings, and sometimes, brightest hopes around. They are both characters that are not into bullshit (Unless Rue is skirting a talk about her addiction.) and small talk, and this episode reveals this in a beautiful way with some lived-in performances from Domingo and Zendaya. Levinson also shows detractors that Euphoria isn’t just a flashbang show meant to scare mommy blogs and pearl clutchers, but is deeply invested in the emotional lives of its characters.

In “Rue”, Sam Levinson doesn’t lump Rue’s relapse with a dozen other plots, but he puts it into full, bloody focus. This allows viewers to understand the nature of her addiction, and how it personally affects her and her relationships with her family, Jules, and yes, Ali. Zendaya’s delivery and scrunched up facial expressions enhance this intense character study (Give her a second Emmy already!), and I’m intrigued to see how Euphoria Season 2 explores her addiction, depression, emotions, and relationships.

Overall Verdict: 8.9

SDCC 2020: Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Premieres October 6

During AMC‘s Walking Dead panel for Comic-Con@Home, the network revealed the sixth season of Fear the Walking Dead will premiere Sunday, October 11 at 9 pm. The show also got its first trailer for the season that you can watch below.

It was also revealed that cast member Lennie James will be making his directorial debut in season six, joining fellow cast member Colman Domingo, who will be directing his third episode this season.

Domingo also announced his digital series on Youtube.com/TheWalkingDead and AMC.com, Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s, has been picked up for an additional six episodes. The 20-minute video-chat-based show, hosted by Domingo from his home in Los Angeles, taps into his favorite way to stay connected to his community of family and friends – brunch – and takes it virtual. The series returns Sunday, August 23.