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‘Euphoria’ returns with crazy stakes but little plot

Second season of HBO’s biggest hit delivers enthralling storylines that struggle for cohesion

<p>The second season of Euphoria, released in Jan. 2022, has propelled the show to skyrocketing popularity. </p><p>Courtesy of Warner Media</p>

The second season of Euphoria, released in Jan. 2022, has propelled the show to skyrocketing popularity. 

Courtesy of Warner Media

Back in June 2019, a new show aired on HBO. With dazzling lights, eccentric makeup, gripping storylines and a side of superb acting, “Euphoria” immediately drew in a young adult audience — a switch from the traditional Gen X target of HBO — and established itself as one of the best in the teen drama canon. Now, almost three years later, “Euphoria” is back with a new and even crazier season. 

The sophomore season of “Euphoria” takes all of the most successful aspects of the first season and amplifies them by a hundred. 

The show’s production manages to be even more impressive and impeccable than the critically acclaimed visuals from the first season. It’s shot completely on a Kodak Ektachrome —  a rare, discontinued film that Kodak specially manufactured at the request of “Euphoria” director Sam Levinson. Plus, it features another riveting soundtrack by singer Labrinth as well as notable hyperpop and throwback classics. It’s even prettier, even more charming and just euphoric to watch.

Furthermore, it delivers plots and storylines that make the first season’s intense drug use and party scenes seem like child’s play. Realism went out of the window this season, such as when a school play — which appeared to have a Broadway budget —  exposed students’ private lives and even featured a four-minute-long homoerotic dance sequence. It invested in an absurdist and eccentric nature that only glimmered in the first season. 

And that’s exactly what made the show skyrocket in popularity like never seen before.

After all, it was this plunge into absurdity that had viewers flocking to watch the real Superbowl on Feb. 13: the fight between Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) and Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney). This season was filled with so many intense events that viewers often felt like they were inside the show. 

Still, the elevated stakes of this new season did come at a price.

"Euphoria"’s first season took a new take on the representation of dark themes relating to sexuality, abuse and relationships — it was shocking but not just for face value. Audiences were forced to grapple with uncomfortable topics and how the characters addressed them. That is not necessarily the case for season two.

While the show continues to explore some of the same themes from season one, they are portrayed in a crude and graphic manner that wasn’t present before. Take Nate Jacob’s (Jacob Elordi) storyline with his dad, Cal (Eric Danes). The first season addressed the dark and twisted way in which Cal’s secret life of having sex with underage partners impacted Nate both emotionally and physically. Season two shed more light on this storyline — but the manner in which it was portrayed felt unnecessary and uncomfortable. Surely no one needed to see a drunk Cal return home from a gay bar and then urinate at the entrance of his house before coming out to his family, all while having his penis out.

These complaints regarding the more graphic nature of season two have also been expressed by the cast. Sydney Sweeney, who already has some of the most sexualized scenes in the show, told The Independent that she had to ask Levinson to remove some of Cassie’s topless scenes because she felt they weren’t necessary.

This hints at another big problem with the latest season of “Euphoria” — shock tramples plot. Throughout the season, many moments, like the drug deal scene in Episode One when most characters are stripped naked, left audiences wondering “why am I watching this.” These instances leave audiences feeling uncomfortable without progressing the plot.

This issue is only worsened by the fact that the show does not know how to properly allocate time to storylines and resolve loose ends. The show did a good job at expanding on beloved characters like Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) and Fezco (Angus Cloud) by giving them a beautiful, romantic storyline. But, it ignored half of its already established characters. 

Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schaffer), one of the most prominent characters in the first season, gets the bare minimum in terms of character development. She is involved in Rue’s (Zendaya) storylines, but she doesn’t have much character growth on her own terms this season. This is particularly odd if you consider that Jules was one of two characters that had a special episode between seasons to explore the depth of her character. 

It gets worse. It’s hard to tell if Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira) even had a storyline. Throughout the entire season, she was either the background best friend of Maddy or having nonsensical plot points, like gaslighting her boyfriend Ethan (Austin Abrams) into thinking that she had brain cancer. Meanwhile, the show completely forgot that Chris “McKay” McKay (Algee Smith) was a main character and had a separate storyline in the first season. This season, he was only featured in one episode with hardly any dialogue. 

This lack of consistency with characters is not just frustrating, but also disappointing. The first season succeeded by telling complex storylines and fully fleshing out its characters without holding back. Scenes like when Jules is talking about her sexuality being defined by her relationship with men, or when Rue was describing her depression through not being able to pee, was what made the show so real and appealing. Without moments like this, “Euphoria” feels more like a darker and R-rated version of “Riverdale” than anything else.

By the final episode of the season, viewers anticipated answers to questions such as: Would Rue find out Jules' secret? What is Rue going to do with the $10,000 she owes to drug dealer Laurie? Will Maddy and Kat stay friends with Cassie? What lies ahead for Nate and Cassie’s relationship? What is going to happen to Fezco and Faye? Instead, almost four minutes of the finale were filled with Elliot (Dominic Fike) playing the guitar and singing a song he wrote to Rue.

“Euphoria” has been renewed for a third season. One can try to hold out hope that the new chapter will harken back to what made its initial release so great. But, considering it was season two that doubled the viewership and made it one of the most commented shows on social media, it’s hard to believe that Levinson will return to more grounded storytelling. 

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