With a plethora of prosthetic penises, a gun-slinging granny and the best musical rendition of “Holding Out For a Hero” since “Shrek 2,” “Euphoria’s” sophomore season started and ended with a bang… literally.
Picking up at the New Year’s Eve 2019 following Rue Bennett’s (Zendaya) drug relapse, season two delivers an eight-episode run that struggles to find the proper balance between greatness and failure. While able to portray the gut-wrenching reality of addiction and deliver visuals that rival masterpieces of art, season two betrays its weaknesses in poor character development and even worse story lines.
Perhaps the shining star of “Euphoria’s” second season is episode five, titled “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” a reference to a book of the same name by Henry Miller. Though in the past, “Euphoria” has been criticized for glamorizing drugs by organizations like D.A.R.E., this episode dispels this notion completely.
Gone is the glitter and enticing psychedelic trips of the first season, leaving the audience with only the bleak and disturbing nature of drug withdrawal and its consequences. Season two is a gruesome and all-too-real look at how addiction affects not only the person afflicted, but also their family members, friends and surrounding community.
Further pushing the second season into the territory of spectacular is the further development of characters like Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) and her impossibly high-budget and entertaining play, “Our Life”; Fez’s little brother, Ashtray (Javon “Wanna” Walton) and his striking penchant for violence; and Ethan (Austin Abrams) and his Tony-level performance of Suze Howard, Lexi and Cassie’s (Sydney Sweeney) mother, in “Our Life.”
Then, there is the season’s cinematography. To put it simply, season two is visually breathtaking.
From floral shots inspired by Mexican murals to an entire montage of recreated art and film history, “Euphoria” is saturated with pointedly crafted television artwork. If nothing else, “Euphoria” season two is a visual feast for the video glutton.
However, it’s largely style over substance.
The writing, while at times humorous and poignant, isn’t able to stabilize itself enough to create and finish any coherent storylines. The plot jumps around from character to character, at times giving extended screen time to near pointless scenes (such as Elliot, played by Dominic Fike, who sings an entire three-minute song), while limiting screen time for other characters (especially in the last two episodes), including Jules, played by Hunter Schafer, and even Rue.
Then there’s the unresolved storyline with McKay (Algee Smith), who makes exactly one appearance this season, despite being a focal character in season one. There’s the lack of acknowledgement of Laurie, the teacher turned drug dealer (Martha Kelly), despite Rue owing her a debt. That’s not to mention the half-baked and wildly unnecessary drama triangle between Rue, Elliot and Jules.
The amount of loose ends this season could knit a sweater.
Further pushing the second season toward the edge of failure is the constant blurring of fantasy and reality. This occurs to such an extent that the audience is no longer left intrigued, but rather feels a sense of disorientation and confusion. It’s ambiguous to the point of absurdity.
Another miss in storytelling is that of Cal Jacob’s — played by Eric Dane, but portrayed by Elias Kacavas during flashback scenes — backstory. “Euphoria’s” season two dedicates the first 16 minutes of its third episode to creating a story, that while beautiful and devastating on its own, serves only for viewers to sympathize with a known sex offender. The backstory raises the question of why?
Why do we need to devote so much time to create sympathy for a predatory side character, when parts of the main cast, including the story of Kat (Barbie Ferreira) and her cam girl days get completely sidelined? Why does this backstory have to rely on tired queer tropes that only end in loss?
It’s messy and stale writing.
Overall, “Euphoria’s” sophomore season almost miraculously scores and misses in the same intensity. Its failures are as equally devastating as its successes are redeeming. The acting is stellar, the outfits are trendsetting and the humor is well-balanced. But, there are simultaneously periods of little-to-no plot development, an oversaturated cast of characters and writing that goes nowhere.
Jenna Quinn contributed reporting to this story.
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum. She is an English and Spanish double major and is pursuing a certificate in creative writing. She enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, procrastinating with solitaire and binging reality TV on the weekends.