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(Credit: HBO)

Film

'Euphoria' attempts to balance heart, tragedy, and unexpected scene-stealing

@notmyyaztattoo

Take to social media, and you’ll have no trouble finding teens and adults alike gushing over Euphoria‘s incredible acting, set design, soundtrack, story concepts, and, of course, those bewitching costumes. Although to many, this is a show that can do no wrong, season two left a few questions hanging in the air by the end credit, some to the show’s benefit; others, not so much.

The show’s first season was created without expectations. When Sam Levinson got to work on what would later become the hit series to take over the nation, it was fully centred around the fixed point of the protagonist: Rue, played by Zendaya, who also narrates the show from an omniscient (and now sometimes confusing) perspective. However, as the show began to gain hype, fans were quick to form cult followings around their favourite characters. 

Lexi Howard, played by Maude Apatow and Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney, both of whom took on smaller parts in the first season, were thrust into the spotlight this round, which satisfied plenty of fans and offered more character depth. Angus Cloud, who plays Fezco, and Eric Dane in the role of Cal also saw more screen time this season. 

However, giving underappreciated characters more time in the sun doesn’t come without a price. Especially as the season neared the end, plenty of the original characters dropped off entirely. Although this setup was created with the purpose of giving each character an equal opportunity to hold centre stage a la Skins (the UK version, not the atrocious US version), the execution was often disorganised, leaving audiences asking, “Wait, where’s Jules?” or “What happened to Kat?” This challenge wasn’t helped by this season’s introduction of new faces, Dominic Fike and Chloe Cherry who, although talented and captivating, seemed squeezed in to where they simply couldn’t fit. Even Rue drifts from the centre at times, often seeming like she’s only there to offer narration, perhaps aligning with Zendaya’s growing media requirements.

Storylines that seemed determined to go somewhere often disappeared by the time we find ourselves seated at Lexi’s play. Maddy’s babysitting storyline, which teased an intriguing character in Samantha, never comes back around. Kat and Ethan never resolve their poorly-communicated relationship. Fezco and Lexi hardly interact in person after their flirtation in the first episode. Laurie and Ali are never seen again. And finally, in an intentional plot point that works, we exit the season without knowing Fezco’s ultimate fate.

Even with Euphoria‘s disjointed messiness, it’s hard not to recognise the emotional, stylised power of this show. It’s difficult to even have the conversation about who should end up with an Emmy because there are so many viable candidates. Zendaya and Hunter Schafer both bring their A-game, as always, and Sydney Sweeney shines bright with her wild, unhinged breakdowns episode after episode. 

In the final episodes, while the dreamlike sequence of Lexi’s play blends reality into in-universe fiction, a few truly unexpected performances steal the show in true can’t-look-away fashion. 

Angus Cloud, who is not unfamiliar with the criticism that he “plays the same character in everything” or “isn’t really acting at all” puts those critiques to rest with a heartwrenching sequence. As law enforcement breaks down Fezco’s door, ready to catch him and adopted baby brother Ashtray, his screams echo long after the camera cuts away—hell, long after the credits roll. From banging on the door trying to look out for the only real family he has to lying on the ground with a bullet in his side, Angus Cloud delivers a scene that’s nothing short of haunting.

The gritty, heartbreaking performances aren’t the only ones shining in Euphoria’s last few episodes, though. In fact, Austin Abrams in the role of Ethan, who plays a fictionalised version of both Nate and Suze in Lexi’s production, breaks up the drama with some genuine, much-needed laughter. It can be easy to forget that comedic relief, especially in a show like this one, can be tough stuff to pull off, and yet, Abrams leans into being a meme in the making, and it works surprisingly well.

The real shining star of the final episode sticks out by a mile-wide margin: none other than Javon Walton in the role of Ashtray. The youngest member of the cast, Walton plays off of Angus Cloud in their final scenes together for an unforgettable, emotional, genuine sequence that’s hard to watch, but harder to turn away from. This kid could win an Emmy for sure, and has quite the future ahead of him if this role is any indication.

As Zendaya closes out the season with a soft, calm narration that walks her out into the sunlight, it calls to mind images of the first season’s finale. If there’s one thing the show has no doubt done right, it’s always ending things with a heady cocktail of different stories vying for attention. Where last season left us craving the notes of hope, this one does the same with a sense of darkness lingering around the corner.