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.
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 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