Let’s break down ‘Euphoria’s’ utterly, extravagantly chaotic Season 2 finale
The two-year-plus gap between “Euphoria’s” first and second seasons was nothing if not eventful, producing two specials filmed under COVID restrictions and star Zendaya’s maiden Emmy win. Still, it’s been refreshing to have HBO’s gritty teen drama — created, written and directed by Sam Levinson — finally back on TV week in and week out this winter, serving up fodder for outrageous memes and “absolutely belligerent” behavior.
So, did Sunday’s Season 2 finale top the most expensive high-school theater production of all time? Avid viewers and comparative geriatrics Lorraine Ali and Matt Brennan are here to break down all of the Gen Z hijinks at “Euphoria” High:
Life on the set of ‘Euphoria’ isn’t as dramatic as life in ‘Euphoria.’ But for four Season 2 background actors, there was plenty to be ‘hyped’ about.
Matt Brennan: “Euphoria’s” Season 2 finale, “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name,” takes its title from the French writer André Breton, whose most well-known work may be the “Surrealist Manifesto.” It’s a fitting allusion for an episode that features, in its first 25 minutes alone, a knifing-slash-suffocation, a high-school play turned onstage riot, and an extended acoustic musical number — exactly the kind of pharmaceutical-grade chaos that has made “Euphoria” HBO’s latest Sunday-night darling.
It also means the episode is an almost nonsensical grab bag of multiple timelines and plot threads long in need of tying up. In fact, this would normally be the paragraph to do a little plot summary — about the fallout from that little psychopath Ashtray stabbing the visitor and Fezco trying to clean up his mess; about Cassie melting down over “Our Life”; about Nate calling the authorities on his father out of revenge; about what’s become of Rue and Jules and Elliot’s love triangle. But I’m too exhausted to do much more summary than that. If you need more, reader, Wikipedia is right there!
We can get to my knee-jerk reaction — which is, as usual, somewhere between awe and exasperation — in a moment. But first I’m dying to know: What did you think?
Lorraine Ali: I love a messy story that doesn’t try and clean everything up in the final act, which is why I liked the Season 2 finale — with a few exceptions Teen life is a dramatic clusterf—, and this season of “Euphoria” in particular has done such a great job at exploring the emotional mayhem without trying to make sense of it. Remember 17, Matt? Nothing made sense! The finale captures the confusing, ironic and dangerous undercurrents of their world so well. They’re hurtling, out of control, toward their future, asking, “Am I pretty? Am I loved? Will I make it through high school alive?” Not to mention, “Do I even want to, if adulthood is as awful as it looks?” If you’re Rue, it’s: “Can I be a better person?” (Though whether that’s even possible if she still owes Laurie the soft-spoken drug dealer the remaining $8,000 remains to be seen.)
All of that was there in the finale, onstage, in a production by Lexi that I wish I’d put on as an act of revenge my final year in high school.
Brennan: I completely agree — “Euphoria” has become the kind of show I love for the immersive experience of watching it, rather than the plot arcs it attempts to pull off or the big themes it explores: adolescence, addiction, lust, love, neglectful to actively insidious parenting.
I actually became frustrated tonight after the finale had ended seeing people on Twitter complaining that it didn’t meet their narrative expectations. We’re talking about a season written and directed by one man, filmed on celluloid, which opened with a dude getting shot during a sex act and took its episode titles not just from French surrealist poets, but abstract painters and obscene novelists. Like, what did you expect, folks? On that note, the lines that struck me most in Sunday’s episode may have been Lexi’s exchange with her (totally unruffled) stage manager after the play goes off the rails. It read to me as Levinson’s way of speaking directly to the audience, and perhaps to the press, about the criticisms the series has received for being over-the-top, unrealistic, a millennial man trying to speak in the voice of teenage girls.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done, and it’s a disaster.”
“It could be worse.”
“It could be boring.”
And I’ll give him this: Season 2 was never boring.
In Screen Gab no. 23, we drop in on ‘Euphoria High,’ catch up with ‘Bel-Air’s’ Jabari Banks and prepare for the return of Hollywood’s ‘Real Husbands.’
Ali: So true. It kept moving, and fast. Characters that had been sitting on the precipice of breakthroughs or the edge of breakdowns over the past seven episodes were pushed to conclusions. The Fezco storyline slayed, and no, not just because it was the most violent. He’s the conscience of the show. If he was killed off I may have ended up, hating the series so thanks Levinson for keeping his heart beating.
But a piece of me died along with Ashtray. He was essentially born to die, and there was no other way for that kid to go out but hunkered down in a bathtub, with a military-grade arsenal in hand — death by cop, after dropping a snitch. “Euphoria” is built upon the cause-and-effect of family dysfunction, particularly drug abuse, and his story will always be the pinnacle of neglect, so it was hard letting him go.
The tragedy of that moment pitted against the staged dramatics of Lexi’s play — the gay Nate musical number, Cassie on the carousel horse — made each situation seem all the more obscene, yet uncomfortably connected. Fezco, after all, almost made it to the play. Plus, many things did come to an end by the time the season concluded. Elliot and Rue’s friendship, for instance. His musical ode to the end of them was quite bittersweet: “I hope it was worth it in the end. You and my guitar. Think you may be my only friends.” Be honest. Did you tear up, Matt?
Brennan: While I didn’t cry — I was too busy taking notes for this conversation — that was, for me, the most extraordinarily beautiful scene of the episode, in part because Levinson let it unspool, simply switching between Elliot holding his guitar and Rue reacting, for something like four minutes. Which sort of sums up the effect of the season as whole: It was full of moments so transporting — the flashback to Cal’s young, thwarted love; Cassie’s crisis in the girls’ bathroom; Rue’s chase sequence through the backyards of “Euphoria”-ville — that the fact that they didn’t quite hang together in a coherent whole sort of felt… beside the point.
There were disappointments, of course. Kat — one of the breakouts of Season 1 — was essentially relegated to the role of glorified extra. And Jules, caught between Rue and Elliot, didn’t feel to me like she had a storyline of her own this season. But it all feels like quibbling after a season that left my jaw on the floor so frequently. I cannot resist a TV show that uses a school play to comment on itself in such an audacious manner that Ryan Phillippe is tweeting about it.
Whether “Euphoria” can keep it up is another matter. But I’m excited for Season 3 — which, unsurprisingly, has already gotten the green light from HBO.
Ali: The season where everyone’s matured and found their purpose. Now that would be boring.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.