Review: Euphoria S2E7 “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.
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