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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

TV Review: Euphoria S2E1 “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”

Euphoria

After over two years off and a couple special episodes to tide viewers, Euphoria is back for second season and doesn’t waste any time getting back in full swing. Writer/director Sam Levinson uses “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” to check in with all the main cast members from season while also telling the origin story of Fez (Angus Cloud), East Highland’s drug dealer with a heart of gold.

The episode kicks off with a potent opening sequence shot on gorgeous, grainy film stock by cinematographer Marcell Rev and introduces us to Fez’ grandmother (A scene-stealing Kathrine Narducci), who is truly a “motherfucking G” as Zendaya’s voice-over puts it. Levinson does tracking shots through the bowels of a strip club before stopping on a dime as Fez’s grandmother puts two in the legs of his father while he’s getting oral sex from one of the strippers. (This is the first of several scenes with male full frontal nudity.) Then, she goes back to the car where young Fez, who has a black eye from his dad’s abuse, is waiting and drives him home launching into full flashbacks of how he became partners with her. This is in addition to being Ashtray’s (Javon Walton) brother and guardian after his mother abandons him.

This flashback reinforces Fez’s strong bond with those he considers to be his family, including Euphoria‘s protagonist Rue (Zendaya) and that him being willing to kill for them isn’t just an exaggeration. The opening scene establishes a cycle of violence that Fez is caught up in and can’t escape by chilling on the couch and chatting with Lexi (Maude Apatow) about the origins of Christmas and the ethics of drug dealing. Fez’s world is full of tension, and he’s 100% aware of that like when he chides Rue for joking around after a drug buy where Fez, Ashtray, and her have to strip down because their supplier is paranoid that they’re wearing wires. Zendaya’s facial expressions when a burly drug dealer named Bruce tells her to strip down are pure trauma and going from that charged environment to a New Year’s Eve party takes a toll on both her and Fez, who doesn’t leave the couch until the end of the episode.

The New Year Eve’s party with its unbridled, hazy atmosphere of drugs, sex, booze, and wash cloths covered in shit is a great device from Sam Levinson to take the temperature of the main characters of Euphoria and also play with some different pairings of characters. Until the Labrinth/lens flare/ring light finale of the episode, Rue actively is avoiding Jules (Hunter Schafer) so she spends a lot of the episode dancing and having a good time with Kat (Barbie Ferreira). Kat and Jules bonded pretty early in Season One, but Jules’ relationship with Rue took center stage and made her world “smaller”. It’s nice to see her circulating around the party even as she keeps an eye out for Nate (Jacob Elordi), who manipulated and blackmailed her last season. As mentioned earlier, Lexi and Fez bond, and his upbeat attitude and the fact that he’s generally impressed with helps her enjoy the party while she tries to figure out where her sister Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) went. It’s a real opposites attract situation, and you can tell in Apatow’s eyes that Lexi is happy to spend time with someone who genuinely cares about what she has to say instead of trying to get something from her. Lexi and Fez were both underrated characters in Euphoria Season 1, and it’s nice to see them get the spotlight off the bat.

Euphoria

The third pairing is the darkest and saddest, Nate and Cassie. Before viewers even get time to settle into the party, Sam Levinson whips over to Cassie buying powdered donuts at a gas station and generally wallowing. Of course, she runs into Nate and his big truck, who offers her a ride to the party. Nate’s recklessness and objectification of women is on full display on the ride up as he drinks beer and hits triple digits on the speedometer. Sweeney hits a great range of emotions on the ride up from total fear to elation as she sticks her head out of the window while Orville Peck plays on the stereo. Cassie is struggling with her self-perception, and if she wants to be in relationships or just keep it casual. She’s not in a good place, and Nate takes advantage of this in a messy bathroom hookup that is one of the main sources of tension in the episode as Cassie hides in a bath tub while Nate’s star-crossed ex Maddy (Alexa Demie) uses the facilities and roasts a former classmate, Travis for trying to fit on her. Cassie’s ex McKay (Algee Smith), who isn’t that bad of a guy, tries to have a conversation about possibly getting back together, but she can barely speak after the utter humiliation of hiding in the tub, betraying her best friend Maddy, and being present for yet another instance of male full frontal nudity.

Humiliation and disgust along with the little bits of violence are recurring motifs in “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” with Rue mixing heroin and cocaine and almost overdosing on her new buddy Elliot (Dominic Fike) only saved by her knowledge of drugs’ effects and bringing her pulse back to normal with Adderall. There’s a warm, smoky vibe around Rue and Elliott, and it’s fitting they end up smoking weed by a camp fire, which is where Jules finally finds her. Levinson and Rev pull out all the stops for a big romantic reunion while using light and dark to show there’s still tension, especially between Nate and Fez. This whole episode is full of shots of different characters keeping tabs on each other keeping an uneasy stalemate until it all boils over in a moment of violence in the final moments as Fez’s world collides with the world of the party.

“Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” sets the tone for what is likely to be a very dark season of Euphoria with Fez unleashing a killer instinct that’s usually hidden behind jokes and keen insight. Kathrine Narducci’s grandmother barely appears in this episode, but we see the impact her presence had on Fez with repeated dialogue and actions in the present day. Also, Sam Levinson and Marcell Rev have successfully changed Euphoria’s visual look to better reflect its broken and on-edge characters while the music is more oldies and nostalgic needle drops than the latest hotness as almost stand-in’s for the missing parents or homages to folks like Fez’s grandma or his new drug source, a soft-spoken former teacher named Laurie. Euphoria Season 2, Episode 1 is confident, depraved, and not afraid to get its hands dirty with an incident towards the end of the episode that has me anticipating the fallout next week and for the rest of the season.

Overall Verdict: 8.9

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

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