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.
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