Sometimes Euphoria can be a lot, to put it mildly. There is a branch of the film and television conversation on Twitter that cannot abide sex scenes and frequently question whether or not scenes of a sexual nature are at all necessary on screen. It’s a stupid query to have. Is anything necessary on screen? Are prolonged action sequences or moments of slapstick comedy really needed in their own respective genres? It gets to the heart of a strange conservatism that has taken hold, perhaps because of just how PG-13/12A rated friendly a large part of our pop culture diet has become, at least on the big screen where a preference for R-rated content has been replaced with a mentality that is maybe too quick to ask ‘what about the children?’
Well, if you’re Sam Levinson, the answer is that your kids are misbehaving on a grandly cinematic scale that is the worst nightmare you could ever think of. After two specials (still amazing, still worth watching) and last week’s geographically contained episode set during a New Year’s house party, Out of Touch sees the season spread its wings a little more, expanding the storytelling to its ensemble cast. The entire hour is a massive bag of anxiety-riddled energy as a result, where everyone is on the receiving end of things that prove mentally troublesome, where life is found to be not going the way they want it to.
Even Nate’s dad (a returning Eric Dane) spends the majority of the episode on a threatening level, seemingly in brutal control as he is prone to believe he is before Nate gets the upper hand of sorts in the final scene and potentially leaves his dad spiralling at the potential revelation of his darkest secrets.
As always, it’s not for everyone. Sex, nudity and drug taking are dialled up to levels that sometimes feel as if Levinson is trolling the type of audience that will take against every second of its duration, and the fact that these characters are young feels even more like a controversy magnet.
Sex has always been a factor in teen dramas. I guess we’ve just watched so many series featuring protagonists at this age on network-friendly series such as Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill and The O.C where sex is talked about but never shown too graphically that to see young protagonists having energetic bedroom scenes feels like a massive middle finger to other television series that have painted teens talking about sex in flowery language and dialogue but which cannot be shown because of restrictions placed on them by network television Standards and Practices.
It’s funny to think that when Dawson’s Creek and Beverly Hills, 90210 made their debuts in the nineties there was a smidgeon of controversy regarding the conversations its teen characters had about sex that made them feel to some as potentially dangerous works. Looking at it now, Dawson’s feels borderline conservative, especially since most of its characters waited until the ‘right moment’, while BH90210 famously had to include a pregnancy scare so as that two of its lead characters bore the brunt of what it meant to have sex. There is no waiting here, and no ‘punishment’ doled out to its characters for having sex. Nate and Cassie’s dramas come about not because they didn’t wait, but more because of the infidelity nature of their relationship and also because Nate is, for lack of a better term, a jerk (which is putting mildly, admittedly).
Once again we are presented with a gloriously edited teaser that feels more akin to a Zendaya-narrated short film as we follow the inner workings of Nate’s (Jacob Elordi) mind as he is rushed to the hospital following his brutal beating by Fezco (Angus Cloud) at the tail end of last week’s episode. His fantasies of a happy home life in the future with Cassie are interspersed with graphic depictions of their infidelity in the present, while both Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Maddy (Alexa Demie) keep watch over him and his battered face in the hospital.
It’s a sequence that dares to paint Euphoria’s resident ‘bad boy’ in a three dimensional way, but never loses sight of just how toxic a character he is also capable of being, daddy issues or not.
Cassie and Nate’s physical infidelity contrasts nicely with the (by comparison) more grounded teen dramas going on with Rue and Jules (Hunter Schafer), the former already committing a form of emotional infidelity with Elliot (Dominic Fike), her new drug-taking buddy that she met last week. In some respects it’s as close to a more conventional teen drama as Euphoria gets; Jules is upset and jealous not because anything has happened, but the hint of it is there, especially as Rue throws herself ever more into her relapse.
Similarly, the hour also devotes time to Kat (Barbie Ferreira) and her own anguish at not being in love with ‘perfect boyfriend’ Ethan (Austin Abrams). It’s a plotline that feels like it’s come from many a teen drama, but the episode’s detour into a Game of Thrones-style fantasy involving a Jason Momoa-like character and his considerable erection reminds you that this is Euphoria and not ‘insert-other-teen-drama-name-here’.
The episodes’ best moment comes when Nate’s dad learns that Fezco is responsible for his son’s beating. He follows a besotted Lexi (Maude Apatow) to Fezco’s store and confronts him. The brilliance of Sam Levinson’s direction is that the tension is immediate despite not a lot happening. Nate’s father is by far one of the scariest and unpredictable characters on television and this short but tension-filled sequence perfectly illustrates his command presence. He thinks the better of it, buying some confectionary rather than confronting the drug dealer. It’s a secne that reminds us of the darkness that is always present in even the lighter scenes in the series.
The angst and confusion coming from every character is palpable. The entire hour feels like a never-ending slice of spiralling anxiety that feels increasingly difficult for anyone to walk away from. As always, it is as stylish and controversy baiting as always, but as is part of the course for the series, the moments of profound revelation and the more grounded dramatic moments give this is a potent combustible charge that even while you’re watching it and thinking that maybe, just maybe, Levinson could dial it down just a tad, you can’t help but get drawn into its dramatic, cinematic orbit.
Euphoria Continues Sunday on HBO & NOW.