The season finale of ‘Euphoria’ showcases the show at its most audacious and tender.

by | Mar 2, 2022 | All, Reviews

The final moments of last week’s episode promised fireworks, even the potential for horror, and for its final chapter of season two, Euphoria follows through on that promise. However, it might be the smaller, quieter moments that you’ll come away remembering more than anything else. Death, emotional destruction and even a sense of catharsis are all here in a manner that if the series was cancelled (it won’t be, it’s too successful for that now) then this would have been a good enough place to leave it. 

Creator, writer and director Sam Levinson throws so much into the episode, as he is always prone to do, with his plotting, cinematography and filmmaking tricks. He even manages to throw in a prolonged set-piece involving a SWAT team and a shoot-out that is more reminiscent of something you might have seen in a Jerry Bruckheimer production back in the late 90s or early 2000s. 

That sequence, which takes place at Fez and Ashtray’s house, sees the series at its most visceral and devastating and is a reminder, if any was needed at this stage, that we’re a long way away from previous teen dramas that have been on our television screens over the years. Even the more notorious likes of the British series Skins never went and delivered the number of bullets and carnage that takes up a bulk of the screentime as witnessed here. The blood flows and there is even a body count to ram home just how darkly unforgiving Euphoria’s world continues to be. 

That it’s Ashtray that is killed here makes this whole section of the episode even more distressing. The entire prolonged sequence depicting the destruction of their house, bullets flying everywhere and Fez’s dire declarations that Ashtray is ‘just a kid’ are stomach-churning in their intensity. The episode cuts back and forward from the build-up of the attack to the more comedic shenanigans of Lexi’s play which becomes all too real when Cassie takes to the stage and effectively becomes the villain that she has been slowly building towards all season. 

Maddy’s crusade to the stage to basically show Cassie who’s the boss, a moment which involves a surprising amount of violence doled out to Cassie, is one of those laugh-out-loud moments which will have you cringing and cheering in equal measure. There’s an elasticity to Levinson’s direction here which is quite welcome and which makes it one of the most unique episodes of television this year. It’s a finale that doesn’t just stick to the one tone and hit you over the head with it. There is genuine levity, heartbreak, hope and sadness coursing throughout its sixty-minute duration.

The best moments of the episode, perhaps of the season, are when Levinson becomes more introspective with the characters and when it just wallows in sadness and reflection alongside them. Some of these moments land powerfully. When Zendaya and Maude Apatow are on screen together, the wordplay of Levinson’s script and the way in which both actresses deliver their lines and play the scene are uniquely powerful in how raw and emotional they are in the moment, and yet they never go for the obvious hysterics. They sit, they talk, the tears flow and they will with you too. 

The less said about Elliot’s song to Rue the better. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when television shows nowadays stop for five minutes just to let their musically talented stars display their singing abilities. We get it, he can sing, but it’s when both himself and Rue are talking that the scene plays better. 

That nagging piece of self-indulgence aside, Euphoria’s second season comes to a fine end and it will no doubt leave its adoring audience clamouring for more, of which there will no doubt be. This has very much been a transitional year for the series, with conversations about it dominating social media every Monday. 

It has remained a series that cannot help but tie one in knots. It’s delivered some of the most truly, brilliant television of the last couple of years and yet it’s also easy to understand and agree with the criticisms levelled at it. Comments from the actors, and even some controversies regarding behind the scenes drams, have been reported to a large degree showing just how prominent a presence it currently is in the pop-cultural sphere. It has become one of the most-watched series on HBO Max, its audience having multiplied quite considerably compared to the first season to suggest this is now, like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and Sex and the City, a flagship series for the cable giant. 

It’s easy to see why it has become so popular but also just as easy to why it continued to be a source of controversy. Its sexual content is constantly explicit and cannot help but leave one feeling queasy at just what it is that Levinson is writing and showing. By the same token, there are elements to the series that make it amongst the greatest on television right now. The observations that it makes of its characters and the way it parlays them onto the screen, not to mention when it does have those smaller character beats, show Levinson to be a fine crafter of character and teen writing today, perhaps the best since Winnie Holtzman created My So-Called Life.

Unfortunately, that can sometimes get lost amongst the more sensationalist moments that the show falls into and what everyone else wants to talk about. It’s easy to see why that drives so much of the conversation; there is a discomfort to be had in watching a series that gets its teen characters to be naked as often as this one does. Sometimes it comes across as potential self-sabotage because when Levinson delivers scenes that are as well written as he is clearly capable of which gives this cast the chance to deliver award-worthy performances, it’s evidence of just how brilliant Euphoria is. 

Being an HBO series means that it has the means to shows material that more sanitised fare on The CW and dotted throughout the history of the teen drama genre has never been allowed to do on the small screen in the US. In comparison to the big screen, Euphoria has frequently had more in common with the works of Gregg Araki and Larry Clark than it does John Hughes, but a scene like the one at the end of this episode between Zendaya and Apatow shows that it can not only do the John Hughes level of sweetness and profound character beats magnificently, it can also do them better. 

Nowhere is that perhaps clearly summed up so strikingly than in the season’s final image of Rue leaving the play, exiting her high school, the voice-over summing up what happened next and the character walking off to a future whose eventual destination is unknown. It leaves the audience wondering what will be next for this most talked about television drama.

Eamon Hennedy

Eamon Hennedy

02/03/2022

Eamon has spent too much time of his life watching TV and wouldn't have it any other way. If there's anything you need to know about The X-Files, he's the person to turn to. From Northern Ireland, his eyes are amongst the most square in the land, and his "continue watching" on Netflix gets longer by the week.

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