The opening sequences to Euphoria continue to be a major reason to keep watching. Yes, the content of the stories continue to shock and it’s hard to ignore the more salacious elements and display of nudity, but Sam Levinson’s writing and his characteristically stylish direction continue to make for a potent combination.
The extended teasers such as the one that opens Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys almost feels like a glorious adaptation of a novella, one written by John Hughes and adapted for the screen by Martin Scorsese. If the episode’s that followed were only half as good, it would still be worthy for a recommendation, but Euphoria’s second season is easing into a groove at this point, its stories coalescing together, branching off in their own direction and yet always feeling cohesive to the world Levinson has crafted.
Of all the parental figures on the series, Eric Dane’s performance as Cal has remained a forever dark centre of proceedings given his (unknowingly at the time on his part) indiscretion with the underage Jules and his antagonistic relationship with his son Nate.
With INXS turned up on the soundtrack, we are presented with an origin tale, one that Euphoria characteristically displays in a full-on nature where teenage sexuality, missed opportunities, and the guiding hand of fate come together in powerful fashion. Inevitably part of that journey takes in the boy’s locker room and with it full-frontal male nudity and explicit sexual content just to remind you of what the viewer is watching.
It’s a fantastic piece of television and filmmaking, showing just how great Levinson is at long-form television in short-form bursts. He compacts everything into clear cut chunks that leave a lasting impression.
In fact, there is almost an episodic structure to the entire hour, as it dips in and out of the lives of its main players, picking up on their threads as they wander into the orbit of other characters, with the attention moving on to them for a brief period of time before it passes off to someone else.
It reaches a comedic zenith of sorts when it places focus on Lexi (Maude Apatow) and with it that glorious fourth wall breaking moment when she imagines her life as a television set and herself at the centre of a ‘making off’ documentary. It’s a comedic tour-de-force from Maude Apatow who captures both the comedy and poignancy of a character whose dramas don’t quite reach the levels of epic as those around her and is fully aware of it.
Euphoria doesn’t always do light and fun, but it’s a smaller comedic moment that adds to the proceedings in a lovely manner before plunging us back into its darker, acidic sequences. While we laugh along with Lexi and enjoy her attempts at putting on a school play, Fez, (Angus Cloud) who she was only flirting with two weeks ago, finds himself violently interrogating Cal who tries to find the disc that Nate hinted at owning last week.
The image of Dane with his head bleeding profusely and Rue’s (Zendaya) attempts at procuring drugs with which to start a business, something that eventually leads her to butt verbal heads with Ali who severs ties with her as a result of cruel jibes, hint at the sometimes elastic tone of the series, but it also positions it characters on different levels to ones where we expect them to be.
There’s a darkly lovely push-and-pull going on throughout, and nothing is quite going the way you expect it to. Only a few weeks ago in the season premiere, one might have thought the series was angling its way towards Rue cheating on Jules (Hunter Schafer) with new character Elliot (Dominic Fike), but the final scenes hint that maybe it’s Elliot’s burgeoning friendship with Jules that might be the real threat. The same goes for Nate who chooses to be with Maddy instead of an increasingly fraught Cassie, the image of him bringing flowers to Maddy something that one might not have expected given events in last week’s episode.
As always, this is incredibly intense stuff and mileage will always vary with just how much onboard certain parts of the audience can get with Levison’s extreme material. It remains brilliant but also troubling, where the excessive qualities almost feel offputting, but where its cinematic approach draws you in so powerfully.
Euphoria Continues Sunday on HBO and Sky Atlantic and NOW.