Tag Archives: hbo

HBO drops a “coming soon” teaser with a look at The Last of Us

HBO/HBO Max has a new video teasing the shows coming to the streaming service including new seasons of Titans, Doom Patrol, and Pennyworth but it’s the final moments for the main attraction, the first look at The Last of Us.

The Last of Us is based on the critically acclaimed video game from Naughty Dog released in 2013. The show stars Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, and features Gabriel Luna and Nick Offerman.

The show will debut in 2023.

Our Flag Means Death: All Pirate Flags Are Valid (and some are accurate)

“[Blackbeard] is presenting as a queer character, not just within our time, but within his own time” – Tea Fougner.

“It’s historical fiction about pirates if the executive producers were all tumbler users” – Cayden Mak.

Pirate Tea and First Mate Cayden Mak have boarded the show to talk about Taika Waititi and David Jenkins‘ glorious new show on HBO, Our Flag Means Death. It’s a queer pirate romcom with roots in history and a remarkable diverse cast. 

The conversation is spoiler-free till about 13 minutes in. There’s a special intro to this episode about a real life crisis that’s happening– and what you can do about it (one place to start – https://transequality.org 

My guests:

Tea Fougner (who is 30% pirate facts by volume) is the editorial director for Comics at King Features Syndicate and co-chair of Programming for Flame Con, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ comic convention. Tea co-modded a 200-person pirate RPG for three years and has a 13-hour piratecore playlist on Spotify. Listen here  https://t.co/Abq5wIkips & follow https://twitter.com/teaberryblue

Cayden Mak https://twitter.com/cayden has spent the past decade organizing people for racial justice leveraging many aspects of technology and pop culture formerly of 19 Million Rising (an Asian American Pacific Islander civic organizing group I love. 

Review: Euphoria S2E8 “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name”

Euphoria

Euphoria wraps up its second season in a final episode that is violent, emotional, and occasionally even farcical. Writer/director/creator Sam Levinson begins with last episode and arguably this season’s tensest storyline with Fezco (Angus Cloud) about to go to Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) play, but Custer (Tyler Chase) wants to have a little chat aka the police are on his door step to get him and Ashtray (Javon Walton) for the murder of Mouse way back in the season premiere. Since last episode, Ashtray has known what’s going on and immediately slices Custer’s throat in a move that causes Fezco to backhand him for this act of violence and then help him arrange the evidence so Fezco can take the fall. However, this doesn’t end up working out. Walton’s wordless, glance-heavy approach to acting has been one of the highlights this season, and Levinson mines so much emotion from letting the camera linger on him and remind the audience that he’s a kid facing death.

After the violent opening sequence, Sam Levinson goes idyllic and gives us one last look at Lexi and Fezco’s relationship as a kind of what it could have been. Apatow and Cloud continue to have fantastic chemistry even if they’re just chatting over the phone, and even their differences make for both entertaining and real conversations. For example, Lexi mentions her abhorrence of guns while Fezco mentions how they’re necessary for protection, and you can see the kind of violent people he has had to deal with in the tension in his face. But on the flipside, Fezco’s life goal is to have a farm like Little House on the Prairie, which Lexi has never seen, and they bond over this innocent (If problematic in its treatment of Native Americans.) show, and they have realize they have shared values like curiosity, empathy, and caring about their families. The season finale of Euphoria Season 2 is dark and violent, but there is room for sweetness like Rue’s (Zendaya) reaction to Lexi’s play and asking to spend time with her as well as Rue giving Jules (Hunter Schafer) a forehead kiss. (But that seems more like a goodbye than a reconciliation especially with how little screen time Jules has gotten in the back third of the season.)

However, these moments are few and far between and mainly center on Rue healing through art and conversation from the trauma of her addiction and father’s death. This episode is mostly drama-filled beginning with the aforementioned murder and flowing into Lexi’s play, which completely goes off the rails with Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), Suze (Alanna Ubach), and Maddy (Alexa Demie) all jumping on the stage. Mentioning that she’s a villain in her monologue is on the nose, but that’s Euphoria trademark at this point, and Levinson and Sweeney unleash the horror film monster inside the high school cheerleader, who played the victim even when she was sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend. Cassie’s monologue is cringeworth and even veers into racist territory when she compares her treatment in Lexi’s play to Afghan women being beheaded. She completely lays into Lexi for just being an observer and not taking chances in life, which causes Suze to intervene and shows how self-centered Cassie is because Lexi was trying to keep the family together. Combined with Fezco not showing up, Lexi is in a real down place, and Maude Apatow uses more passive body language to show how overwhelmed she is by her sister’s actions.

Euphoria

But the messiness doesn’t stop at the Howard family enacting their dynamic on stage, but gets even wilder when Cassie uses the names of the characters in the play to allude to her situation leading to a verbal confrontation with Maddy. After a short lull, the play restarts, and of course, it’s a scene based on last season’s infamous carousel “ride” leading Cassie to assault the actress playing her. Maddy jumps up on stage to take Cassie out, and she ends up slapping and hitting her head against the wall with cellphones filming everything. Most of the episode focuses on the more substantial Rue and Fezco plotlines, but there’s a little coda where Sam Levinson includes a shot of Maddy using a Coke can as an ice pack and has her basically tell Cassie that this is just Round One, and that she doesn’t sympathize with her because she was dumped by Nate (Jacob Elordi) last episode.

And speaking of Nate, there is a resolution to his and his father Cal’s (Eric Dane) plot this season. After dumping Cassie, Nate gets in his car with a gun, jump drive, and a bottle of beer hell bent on something with Levinson cutting between him driving and Fezco, Ashtray, and Faye (Chloe Cherry) getting ready for their door to get kicked in. He ends up finding his dad and a bunch of queer people squatting in one of the Jacobs construction sites. Returning to patriarch mode, Cal’s voice deepens and gets more serious as he wants to find some kind of peace with his son.

However, that doesn’t happen as Nate reveals that he saw Cal’s stash of sex tapes growing up and had traumatic dreams of Cal having sex with him. Sam Levinson firmly points the camera at Nate’s angry face while Cal mentions that he does feel happier, which is the opposite of how Nate wants him to feel. So, that’s why he plants the jump drive on the scene as East Highland’s police come in and arrest Cal while Nate strides out. However, there are a few shots of him looking back with the blue and red on his face that might be regret or his dad’s reputation getting irreparably damaged. Or maybe he knows running the family business is out of question now. Cal is a pedophile, and it’s good to see him face justice. However, there’s zero evidence that Nate will try to break the cycle of toxicity in the Jacobs family with him pointing guns at people to get his way and straight up saying to his dad’s friends that he hurts people to get what he wants.

There’s still the dangling plot thread of Rue owing Laurie money, and it seems like the last two episodes wrapped up her storylines with Leslie, Gia, and Ali. But the season two finale is the most hopeful Rue’s story has been in a long time with Zendaya’s giving an emotionally vulnerable performance in her reaction to the play. Sam Levinson weaves in flashbacks from her father’s wake to actors on stage and the audience that Rue is watching from, and she ends up beaming at its ending: an awkward candid photo of Rue, Lexi, Cassie, Maddy, and Kat at the wake taken by Suze. The play inspires her to reconnect with Lexi, who has provided contexts and a narrative for what she’s feeling. The most touching scene in the episode (Along with Lexi dedicating the play to Fezco) is them hugging and empathizing over their dads with this scene bridging over to a voiceover mentioning that Rue was clean for the rest of the school year. Because they don’t know what’s going on with Fezco and Ashtray, these scenes seem like a bubble of hope that will probably get burst next season. But it’s nice to see Rue grow as a character, and even though Jules being relegated to the sidelines is unfortunate, it could symbolize that she’s moving on from that relationship to new ones.

However, not everything with Rue works in this episode. She gets Elliott (Dominic Fike) to ask forgiveness for telling her mom that she’s using drugs, but then also thanks him for getting rid of them and kickstarting her path to sobriety. Elliott is still using drugs so he’s probably not the best friend for Rue, which is something he alluded to in the season two premiere. However, instead of just having this short encounter, Elliott plays a whole acoustic song co-written by Zendaya and series composer Labrinth with lyrics referring to Rue growing apart from her friends. Fike has a fine voice, but this scene drags on , and the themes in the lyrics are explored in further depth during the play. Plus the play is more powerful because of Lexi and Rue’s long friendship, which is strained, but has potential. The scene is redundant and would be better off as a DVD extra (If those still exist.), especially since the fate of Jules and Rue’s relationship ends up being told in voiceover. The pacing and placement of the scene is way off, but an incisive acoustic ballad for recovery and separation makes sense in contrast with the highly choreographed, postmodern pop “All for Us”, which played when Rue relapsed at the end of season one.

Euphoria

However, the most heart-rending parts of the Euphoria Season 2 finale is the SWAT raid on Fezco and Ashtray’s house. It’s already been set up by a soft minor tone score from Labrinth, gaps in conversation, and heavy breathing from Angus Cloud, Chase, and Cherry. (Walton is always the stoic.) But when it happens, Euphoria truly becomes the crime drama set up in this season’s premiere. Fezco immediately surrenders, but Ashtray holes up in a bath tub with a machine gun and shoots back at the SWAT team injuring Fezco in the process, who is pleading for the police to take him alive because he’s just a kid. Firing a semiautomatic might seem cool and badass, but by inserting shots of Ashtray’s completely overwhelmed face, it grounds his last moments as he keeps firing and never surrenders. Also, Levinson puts in some of the Rue voice over about how her father’s death seemed like a movie and was unreal on shots of Fezco being ziptied and carried out by the police.

The crime plotline seemed like another show than Euphoria for much of this season, but by centering it around characters fans care about like Fezco, Ashtray, and scene stealer Faye, it ends up adding a lot of tension and danger to the show. The shootout is utter carnage and tragedy with bullets flying indiscriminately and destroying Fezco’s grandmother’s house and legacy as well as Ashtray’s life before it really started. Most of the other parts of the episode deal with Rue’s continued grief over her father’s death, and this plot will eventually give Rue and Lexi something to grieve at in the third season because Sam Levinson focuses on the moment, and not other characters’ reactions to Ashtray’s death and Fezco’s arrest.

Elliott’s musical interlude went on for far too long and Jules along with Kat were forgotten, but “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name” is heartbreaking season finale centered around griefs, both old and new. After missteps trying to make him sympathetic, Levinson shows real consequences for Cal Jacobs and plunges Nate into even more darkness. He uses the power of narrative to help Rue contextualize her life and have Cassie continue to ruin her life through Lexi’s play. Also, Lexi’s arc is probably the most compelling one this season with her going from the sidelines to the literal spotlight, and Maude Apatow being a charisma-filled, yet vulnerable leading lady. Finally, from the first scene of season two, Sam Levinson colored in the world of Fezco, the drug dealer with a heart of gold, and turned what started as a Tarantino-esque fever dream into cold, sad reality.

Compared to season one, Euphoria isn’t as effective giving the main ensemble their own journeys, but Rue’s struggles with addictions and journey to hope continue to be compelling and harnesses Zendaya’s unparalleled skills as a performer whether she’s the center of the story or reacting to art about her character’s life.

Review: Euphoria S2E7 “The Theater and It’s Double”

The Theater and It's Double

Sam Levinson and Euphoria really put it all together in the soul-churning, emotional, and just plain extra penultimate episode of season two with “The Theater and It’s Double“. Simply put, we finally get to see Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) play in all its glory, and how it affects each cast member of Euphoria from humiliation (Nate Jacobs) to roaring laughter (Suze Morgan). The device of the play allows Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rev to play with time and show Lexi’s perspective of key events of the show, including Rue’s (Zendaya) dad’s death, her and Cassie’s (Sydney Sweeney) dad’s alcoholism, and Cassie’s friendship with Maddy (Alexa Demie) that has been ripped to shreds thanks to her sleeping with and now being in an incredibly, toxic controlling relationship with Nate (Jacob Elordi). There’s also a bigger universal point of using art to make sense of things that have happened to us, which Lexi elaborated on earlier in this season in the fake behind the scenes interview scenes, but now it’s come to beautiful life.

The basic arc of Lexi’s play is how her friendships with Rue, Cassie, and Maddy have evolved over the years all wrapping up with a song and dance number with Ethan (Austin Abrams) playing a very thinly veiled version of Nate Jacobs that brings the house down. (Abrams’ comedic timing, dancing, and playing Suze in drag provide energy and much needed comic relief to a tense hour.) Sam Levinson brilliantly cuts from the play to the event that inspired the scene in the play, including Rue’s dad’s wake and a grainy, nostalgic scene of Rue and Lexi talking about going to high school, and if they should try to be cool. It reinforces that as recently as last season (See the Halloween party.) that these characters had a real friendship, but Rue’s addiction has put a strain on her relationship with Lexi along with every other one in her life.

The actors in the play combined with well-time reaction shots of the characters they’re based on provide opportunities for reflection and even humor with Levinson adding scenes that give context to the play like Maddy banging on the bathroom door to confront Cassie one last time, or Nate getting off on controlling everything about Cassie including her clothing and seeing Maddy, Jules, and finally his own dad while having sex with her. It’s Euphoria in fever dream mode even though Sam Levinson does poke fun at the aesthetic (and especially makeup) of Season One in the costumes in Lexi’s play. As well as being visually engaging, this type of structure mimics how most people actually see the world as loosely connected fragments of past, present, and sometimes future.

I’ll return to the play later, but while Lexi’s play is happening, there’s a white knuckle thriller going on at Fez’s (Angus Cloud) residence as he tries to get the best fit for sitting in the front row in her play. Cloud brings a happiness and sweetness to the role that you can see in his phone conversations with Lexi in the beginning of the episode and as he asks Faye (Chloe Cherry) questions about what he should wear or if he’s handsome or not. However, while this is going on, Custer (Tyler Chase) is up to no good and is whispering and sweating because he’s probably in kahoots with the police. Thankfully, Ashtray, played by a silent, yet deadly Javon Walton, has Fez’s back though, and brings a defensive menace and awareness every time he’s in frame. This is definitely a kid who’s killed a man.The scenes at Fez’s house seem to be in their own reality, and there seems to be a time gap between what’s going on there and the play. It’s like there’s a missing reel between Fez putting his pants on, and Lexi and her assistant director Bobbi looking out at the crows and seeing an empty seat.

Between bits of the play, Levinson takes time to check in with Rue and her relationships with her mom Leslie (Nia King), sister Gia (Storm Reid), and ex-girlfriend Jules (Hunter Schafer). Most of Rue’s and Jules’ interactions are through silent, awkward glances as they sit far apart at the play, and the loud blowing of the hands dryer cuts off any opportunity for conversation in the school restroom. They are far from speaking terms after the intervention a couple episodes ago, but do share laughs at Ethan’s utter demolition of Nate Jacobs in the play. It’s nice to see Rue happy and having a good time for once even if it’s at a homoerotic dance to “Holding Out for a Hero”. The scenes with Leslie and Gia are done in extreme close-up with Leslie bringing the real talk to Rue and saying that she’s focusing on Gia, who has been struggling with her grades and being in detention this year. Coupled with her confession that she doesn’t know anything about Gia’s life, Rue’s ignorance shows how self-absorbed she’s been as a side effect of her addiction. After the shit she’s gone through the past couple episodes, Leslie isn’t afraid of tough love and having Rue experience the consequences of her actions even after last episode concluded with her tearfully pleading for Rue to be in rehab, not detox.

The Theater and It's Double

Sam Levinson’s use of the play gives Lexi some of her strongest moments as a character as she bares her soul to the entire school about how she wishes she looked like her sister Cassie and wasn’t boring, forgettable, and always on the sideline. But the tables are turned in “The Theater and It’s Double”, and Lexi gets the A-plot and the insightful voice-over narration. She and her play end up having an effect on the actual plot of Euphoria as let’s just say people react to art in different ways. This episode is also an opportunity for Maude Apatow to be a real leading lady nailing everything from screwball backstage banter to sitcom style jokes about marijuana and puberty and even some big emotional beats that mostly happen when she’s looking out at the audience or beaming at her cast making her life into art like Marta (Izabella Alvarez) bawling her eyes out in a scene based on when Maddy lived with the Howards after her family was constantly fighting and before she started dating Nate.

I’ve hinted at it throughout the review, but the most memorable moment of the episode is a dance scene set to “Holding Out for a Hero” that lampoons the intense scenes of Nate grunting and working out as well as the slow motion, Gregg Araki-esque locker room sequences in Euphoria Season 1 and turns it into a big gay joke complete with a punching bag and medicine balls standing in for something more phallic. Even though she tells Fez that her play isn’t cruel, Lexi holds up a mirror to how toxic and repressed Nate Jacobs is that is greeted by the sneering laughs of his peers that is honestly the best part of the episode, especially Maddy gassing Lexi up from the audience. (They have a cute flashback where Maddy puts glitter makeup on Lexi and tells her about the importance of confidence.) Rev lights Nate in red, and Jacob Elordi’s face is stern and unrelenting until the musical number just won’t stop so he leaves the theater with Cassie tagging along beside him. He feels like a fool just like his dad, and it’ll be interesting to see what he decides to do in the finale as he lumps Cassie in together with her sister.

“The Theater and It’s Double” is a creative, engaging episode of Euphoria that caps off Lexi’s arc of self-reflection and confidence this season and showcases Maude Apatow and Austin Abrams as a charismatic actors. Levinson uses the play to mess around with time in the story and build tension in Fez’s plot line while providing commentary on Lexi and Rue’s friendship, Rue’s addiction, and Maddy and Cassie’s fractured friendship plus their relationship with Nate Jacobs. I love how he pulls the camera away to show the audience and artifice of the stage, which is a metaphor for how many of Euphoria’s characters are self-absorbed for various reasons. Episodes like this are why I fell in love with Euphoria originally, and Lexi Howard joins the pantheon of characters that use narrative to cope and understand tough times in their lives. And times will definitely be tough for her as Fez didn’t make the show…

Overall Verdict: 9.1

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 S2E5 “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” is a beyond stressful episode of Euphoria as Rue Bennett leaves physical and emotional damage in her wake when an intervention featuring her mom Leslie (Nika King), sister Gia (Storm Reid), Jules, and Elliot goes terribly wrong. Zendaya is an Emmy-worthy wrecking ball in this episode and burns bridges with literally everyone except Laurie, who wants to get her hooked on morphine and sexually traffick her. Writer/director Sam Levinson creates tension in this episode from a variety of pressure points from Rue withdrawing to how she says terrible things to Leslie, Gia, and Jules and finally her fear of Laurie after Jules tells her that she and Leslie flushed the drugs down the toilet. Plus she makes a little pit stop at the Howards’ house and reveals that Cassie has been sleeping with Nate, which predictably makes Maddy go psycho, and more pragmatically for Rue, it allows her to avoid an intervention while evading police, causing a car accident, and committing robbery along the way.

Unlike the bloat of the previous three episodes, Levinson’s script is lean, mean, and emotionally compelling spending almost 20 minutes on Leslie, Gia, and later, Jules confronting for relapsing in her drug use. He really pulls at the heart strings by opening with Leslie and Rue off-screen arguing while Gia is in her bed putting headphones in and just feeling terrible. Reid does a good job playing basically a kicked dog and has a great moment later in the episode when she’s just messing around on her phone trying to keep her mind off the fact that her sister is back on hard drugs and is on the run. However, once the camera focuses on Leslie and Rue, it’s a heated, close quarters battle filled with anger, sadness, tears, and the dashed off sarcasm that Zendaya delivers deadpan and is worse than yelling “Fuck you” at her mom and friends. She tells Gia that she has to be a lawyer or neurosurgeon so that Leslie doesn’t look like a bad mom after her dad passed away, and the low blows are fully on display later in her conversation with Jules when she says that Jules doesn’t actually love her, but wants to be loved. Rue also brings up how she left her behind while taking the train at the end of Season One and ultimately salts the ground of her friendship.

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

Sam Levinson and editor Julio Perez do an excellent job of opening up the cramped frame to show that Jules and Elliot have been listening to Rue’s outburst the whole time, and they and Marcell Rev play with foreground and background a lot in “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”. For example, there’s a lingering shot focusing on morphine and a chipmunk knick knack while Laurie feigning motherliness to Rue in the bath tub is blurred out in the background. Unlike Leslie, Laurie just cares about her money and will do everything to get it back. Martha Kelly brings an even keel, Midwestern faux warmth to the role of Laurie, and her kind demeanor is the exact opposite of her high security dwelling with locks from the inside on all the doors and all but one window locked as well plus parrots acting as a kind of analog security system to go with her muscle that made teenagers strip down in the Euphoria Season 2 premiere. It’s a frightening environment, and Levinson directs a mini-thriller with the threat of Rue being sex trafficked looming in the background every time a floorboard creaks or the scary men that Laurie keeps around almost wake. Oh, and while this is going on, Rue is about to dry heave from her withdrawals even though it’s not as bad as earlier in the episode.

The scenes between Leslie driving Rue back to rehab and her harrowing night at Leslie’s are basically one big chase sequence broken up by the aforementioned interlude at the Howards’ house and a shorter one where Fezco gives her some tough love and physically lifts a withdrawing Rue from his house after she tries to take some of his grandma’s pills. After the raid last season, Fezco has completely separated his work as a drug dealer with his home life so his inability to help Rue makes sense. The scene at the Howards, which features Maddy, Cassie, Lexi, and the always underutilized Kat is full of drama thanks to the big reveal with Alexa Demie doing some impressive acting with her hands and obliterating Cassie with cutting remarks. However, it comes across as petty high school drama in the middle of an intervention with a suicidal drug addict, who could lose her freedom. And Leslie understands as she tries to talk over the bullshit and get back to helping Rue, who gets away.

What follows is a physical manifestation for all the emotional hurt that Rue has shown the people she loves as she steals from a random rich and angry couple’s house and then goes on the run from the police ruining people’s get togethers, yards, and of course, the aforementioned car accident. The first bit of the episode was mostly score-less, but Labrinth’s bass and vocals kick in as Rue hops fences, hides in trash bins, and eludes cops, flames on a grill, and prickly pear cacti to just name a few. Sam Levinson films this chase sequence to show how self-centered Rue is in her quest to get some pills to stave off the withdrawal sickness that has her clutching her stomach and vomiting between parkour, real life Frogger, and Grand Theft Auto sans the cars. After the fiery, yet emotionally grounded conversation/argument/intervention with her family and friends, this part of the episode is very heightened and honestly transitions very well into the world of drug kingpin Laurie. It also show that Rue has hit rock bottom and alienated all of her family and friends except for her mom, who searched for her all night and welcomes her in the episode’s closing minutes.

Along with addiction, primal fear, and anxiety, Levinson and Zendaya tap into Rue’s grief about the loss of her father. It flares up early on when she throws it in Leslie’s face and returns when she’s submerged in the tub at Leslie’s house in almost a recreation of Euphoria’s pilot’s opening scene that began with Rue’s birth. There’s a flashback of her dad holding her, her heartfelt speech at his funeral, and even her looking at Gia in the infant ward showing the bond they had from the beginning. This sequences creates sympathy for Rue that even though she’s slagged off the people she cares about most in her life that she’s still a human being who’s going through utter hell that happens to be an addict.

Heart-rending performances from Zendaya, Nika King, Hunter Schafer, and Storm Reid plus a gonzo foot chase and a tense mini-thriller that sets up Laurie as an even more sinister figure than Cal Jacobs makes “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” easily the best episode of Euphoria Season 2. Sam Levinson doesn’t shy away from showing rock bottom for an addict with he and Zendaya putting the lies, sneaking, and manipulation on the play to go with the pain and anger that Rue feels as she struggles with withdrawal symptoms, estranging her family and friends, and having to payback a chilling drug lord. Zeroing in on Rue’s addiction and how it affects everyone around her was effective and honest storytelling from Levinson, but it does make the show’s other subplots (Cassie sleeping with Nate, Lexi’s play, Kat’s relationship issues, whatever the fuck Cal Jacobs is going through) pale in comparison.

Overall Verdict: 9.3

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…

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

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

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