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TV Review: Euphoria S2E4 “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can”

You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can

Euphoria really bounces back in the middle episode of Season Two. It leans on its two main strengths: a unique visual style from writer/director/creator Sam Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rev as well as music that brings out the inner lives of characters whether that’s Labrinth’s score (He has a cameo in “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can“) or the cues chosen by music supervisor Jen Malone. Beginning with a montage of Jules and Rue in various famous paintings (Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, “Birth of Venus”), photographs (John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz), and films (Titanic, Brokeback Mountain), Levinson sets up a basic, yet powerful theme of our own self-reality being different that what people perceive and explores it through different cast members of Euphoria culminating in powerful montage that nails where different characters are in their stories in one image. There are other connections between the storylines like alcohol’s ability to make character’s tell the truth about themselves (Often in a disgusting way) and love triangles, namely, Rue/Jules/Elliot and Nate/Cassie/Maddy.

Sam Levinson spends this episode cutting between three major storylines. There’s Rue, Elliot, and Jules hanging out and failing at platonic relationships and monogamy broken up by a liquor store theft that shows Dominic Fike can do funny and mixed signals. Along with this, there’s Maddy’s birthday party, which means Cassie’s anxiety is on overload as she wants to celebrate her friend and also feels guilty about sleeping with Nate behind her back. Finally, in a sequel to the flashback sequence from last episode, Cal Jacobs dusts off his old jeep and drives to the gay bar where he shared a tender moment with Derek as a teenager and realizes he hates himself, is a hypocrite, a fool, and predator.

The early part of the episode leans heavily on the chemistry between Fike and Hunter Schafer as Jules and Elliot joke about Rue faking an orgasm at the start of the episode and start messing around until Rue sends them a text about being outside. The faked orgasm happens because Rue is so high from the stock of drugs she got in the previous episode (And is definitely not selling), and Levinson contrasts the awkwardness between Rue and Jules with the physical bond between Jules and Elliot. Elliot is definitely being manipulative in this episode, but he has a moment of clarity when he comes clean later in the episode and tells Jules that he has been doing drugs with Rue. For once, he speaks directly instead of hiding behind flirtation or jokes.

Intensified by Rue getting high, “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” spends a lot of time showing Rue’s feelings about her dad’s passing and relationship with Jules in dream sequences set up Labrinth’s vocal and scores. As mentioned earlier, Labrinth appears in this episode singing and embracing Rue as she thinks about her father and is actually swaying by herself in her room. This is the slowed down, sadder version of the musical number at the end of Euphoria Season One, and Rue sits in her grief and negative energy. In fact, after Rue drinks alcohol, Zendaya strips the humor from her performance and goes darker and more straightforward. Her actions may have had an influence on Elliot finally telling Jules about his and Rue’s drug use that is how they initially bonded in the season premiere. Labrinth’s fallen angel score and vocals convey Rue’s emotions in this episode better than any dialogue and shows Euphoria is at its best when it shuts the fuck up and lets him, Rev, and Sam Levinson paint with sound and light.

You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can

In contrast with these more physical sequences, the party is a little talkier with some flat CW-esque line delivery from Jacob Elordi about where he stands with Cassie and Maddy. However, Alexa Demie gets to channel some of the energy from the carnival episode last season and pick apart Nate’s tone of voice with Kat backing her up and helping her call out some of his toxicity while also wanting to be with him. And, of course, this is happening while a super drunk Cassie is in the hot tub right next to him. After being rejected and snubbed by Nate, Sydney Sweeney nails Cassie’s sad, drunk state as she dances alone to a Sinead O’Connor song and becomes interwined with balloons all leading up to an epic moment of vomit that kills the party and once and for all reveals that something isn’t right with her. Cassie is suffering alone this episode with Lexi turning her story into a play, Maddy and Nate dealing with their relationship status, Kat not being into her underwritten relationship with Ethan, and her mom trying too hard to be Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls.

That theme of suffering alone continues to a much less sympathetic character: Cal Jacobs. The veneer of stern patriarch is all but gone in this episode as he returns to the gay bar he frequented with Derek and slow dances with man whose face almost gets superimposed with Derek’s. As O’Connor’s music plays (The same song as Cassie dances to.), Levinson slyly cuts to the other, predominantly younger denizens of the gay bar to show that Cal is in his own little world. Eventually, awkward looks turn into full on melodrama as Cal is unceremoniously kicked out of the bar when he tries to relive his wrestling and then rants to his wife and sons about how he loves to sleep with men and transgender women while urinating in the foyer. Even though both feature nostalgic New Wave music, Cal’s scenes in this episode are the polar opposite of the previous as Eric Dane goes full id and destroys his reputation and persona of town father in a single night. He’s super pathetic and doesn’t respect people’s boundaries and is definitely the worst part of Euphoria, but it’s nice to see Sam Levinson utterly cut him down to size instead of creating sympathy for him.

Lexi’s play auditions and Fezco, Ashtray, and Faye’s movie night seem extraneous and not as connected to the three major storylines, but for the most part, “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” lets Levinson, Rev, and Labrinth wallow and play in light, darkness, music, and emotion that is bolstered by strong performances from Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney, and Eric Dane with Sweeney and Dane seasoning their tears with gallows humor. With the aid of alcohol, drug abuse, projectile vomiting, and public urination, this episode rips the Band-Aid of the facade that characters have built for themselves whether that’s a play tent in a snow storm (Rue) or a well-built mansion (Cal Jacobs).

Overall Verdict: 8.2

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…

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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

Review: Euphoria S2E2 “Out of Touch”

Euphoria S2E2 "Out of Touch"

The second episode of Euphoria Season 2 begins right where the last one ended with Nate being beaten to bloody pulp by Fezco. This is because in the last season, Nate tipped off the cops on Fezco’s drug business to blackmail Rue and Jules so they wouldn’t bring a DVD of his father/town leader Cal (Eric Dane) having sex with Jules. This plot point gets revisited in the closing moments of the episode, but only after writer/director Sam Levinson threads together an episode looking at the dreams the characters of Euphoria have about relationships and the often dark reality. “Out of Touch” is a dense, yet visual stunning hour of television sprawling across the families and friends of everyone in the main ensemble in contrast with the premiere staying confined to the Fezco flashback and a New Year’s Eve party with a drug dealer pit stop.

After going full gory medical drama, Levinson uses Nate being unconscious to probe his inner thoughts that are bathed in angelic light. This dream sequences shows a softer side of one of the most sociopathic characters on television as he loves, respects, and desires Cassie and wants to build life with her while breaking the cycle of abuse and in the Jacobs family. His dad is an almost comedic figure doing yoga stretches instead of being a menace and interrogating Cassie and Lexi about who attacked Nate at the party and then taking a gun to Fezco’s gas station although he doesn’t start shit because Lexi is there being awkwardly flirtatious around the malt liquor cooler. There is also a darker side of these sequences with images from Cal’s sex tapes, and Nate having sex with his ex (and Cassie’s best friend) Maddy showing up in an image overload. None of Cassie and Nate’s actual interactions are like the dream sequence with a truck ride to some houses under construction ending up being super-terse except when Nate says they can’t see each other again, and they end up having sex on the second floor of an unfinished house in the pitch black. Maddy and her penchant for violence and outburst (As seen in a quick cut montage) is what comes between them, and honestly the Jacobs family has bigger fish to fry thanks to the aforementioned CD.

The other big dream sequence in “Out of Touch” involves a characters that’s the polar opposite of Nate Jacobs: Kat (Barbie Ferreira). She didn’t get much screen time last episode beyond being sweet with her boyfriend Ethan and keeping Jules company, but Sam Levinson returns to her arc of empowerment and escapism from last season. He goes full visual overload with Kat having a vision of a Dothraki warrior from Game of Thrones killing her boyfriend and having rough sex with her, which basically boils down to Ethan being nice so maybe she should let him go. This extends to the real world as he’s darkly lit during their bowling outing while Kat, Jules, and Maddy get Instagram-ready montages of them bonding and having a good time. The other dream sequence involves, I guess, influencer-type women of different shapes and sizes telling Kat to practice self-love while she’s in her bed practicing self-loathing. Euphoria is never subtle, but it’s some heavy-handed messaging about social media’s obsession with ultrapositivity. Levinson is better at digging into his character’s psyches than social commentary so it’s a bit of an unwanted detour even though it does eventually find its way back to the simple, yet effective message of being afraid to be happy for once. (A bathroom chat between Maddy, Kat, and a fellow Euphoria High student gets the point across in a more natural way.)

Euphoria S2E2 "Out of Touch"

The other main plot line in this episode of Euphoria is Jules getting jealous about Rue’s new friendship with Elliot, and by extension, her relapse into drug use although she does go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and introduce her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) to her mother. Zendaya and Dominic Fike have an easy chemistry in the scenes they share and feel at ease in each other’s presence with Sam Levinson’s images and Labrinth’s score showing their connection over music and drugs. And when there’s dialogue, Elliot brings out an honesty in Rue that’s the opposite of how she interacts with Jules and her mother later on in the issue. (Ali is a fellow addict and can see through her bullshit.) Rue ends up opening up about her dad passing away from cancer and finds a kind of comfort in the messiness of life as she and Elliot understand that her drug use didn’t come out of grief, and she would probably still be using even if he was alive. Zendaya brings a haze and awkward energy to her performance this episode that plays off Fike’s insight and straightforwardness, and it doesn’t feel contrived at all that Jules think Rue is romantically interested in Elliot.

In addition to these multiple relationship tension plot lines, “Out of Touch” has so much else going on from Fezco harboring a fugitive Faye (The girl doing heroin last episode) to the beginning of a Lexi empowerment arc and Maddy having her own kind of a fantasy sequence as she tries on her employer’s fancy dresses and outfits. Two episodes, and Euphoria is juggling lots of plotlines and succeeding with most of them. Sam Levinson dips into the manic crime saga energy from the premiere with Faye’s, I guess, G-plot that involves her escaping from a motel through a ventilation shaft into a dumpster by a Taco Bell. She’s an awkward presence, especially when she interacts with Lexi and Cal and exists more to show shit could hit the fan with Fezco at any time. Angus Cloud definitely plays him in a more harried and terse way even though there are still sparks between him and Lexi, and he treats Faye kindly although she’s really a pain in the ass.

“Out of Touch” doesn’t get as good as its radiant opening sequence where Nate imagines a happier and more conventional alternate future for himself that doesn’t involve lies, threats, and blackmail, but Sam Levinson does a good job of checking in with characters like Kat, who didn’t do much in the premiere, and Elliot, who has amazing chemistry with Rue. Plus Cal Jacobs reminds everyone that he’s the true antagonist of this show thanks to a menacing performance from Eric Dane with just the right touch of paternality. The sequence with him in the gas station is a great little mini-thriller and shows that Euphoria can be suspenseful and not just visually beautiful and have great musical choices.

Overall Verdict: 8.1