Content warning: This article discusses drug addiction.
After two years of delaying production due to the pandemic, Sam Levinson’s highly anticipated and culturally groundbreaking hit series “Euphoria” (2019–) has finally returned for Season 2. After introducing each of the characters and their backgrounds in Season 1, Season T explores the progression of relationships between characters while honing in on the plotline of 17-year-old protagonist Rue Bennett’s struggle with drug addiction and relapse that serves as the backbone of the show. The show has received massive attraction and critical acclaim — including lead actress Zendaya’s Emmy Award win in 2020 — and its large audience has returned for Season 2. But, attitudes toward “Euphoria” have changed as a result of the new season.
Levinson’s uncompromising, raw depiction of drug addiction tries to stay true to addiction’s harsh realities, no matter how emotional to watch. Zendaya’s performance in the most recent episode of Season 2, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” has raised many speculations at the possibility of her winning a second Emmy for the hit show. Formerly having struggled with drug addiction during his adolescence, Levinson’s authenticity shines through in Rue’s storyline especially in his portrayal of the mental state of a drug addict and the complex relationships that come with it. However, with an amazing performance portraying the self-destructive and abusive patterns of a drug addict comes just as much difficulty in watching it unravel. As Rue becomes more deeply entangled in activities that perpetuate her relapse, the decisions she makes become increasingly riskier and come with more severe consequences, contributing to the tense and bleak mood of the episodes so far. The turns that this season has made increase the intensity of the atmosphere drastically from Season 1, changing the audience appeal. Many viewers who became familiar with the provocative nature of the show in the first season are finding difficulty in adapting to its heightened intensity in the second season.
Further reasons for approaching Season 2 with a more critical viewpoint are the highly dramatized storylines of the other characters, particularly regarding Cassie, Maddy, Nate, Jules and Kat. In the first season, the plotlines centered on the personal backgrounds of different characters’ experiences with issues such as self-worth, identity, difficult relationships and mental health. In this season, however, the characters’ greater purpose is not clearly defined. In the first five episodes, the audience is strung along a love triangle that ensues between Cassie, Maddy and Nate that strictly adds to the drama of the show. The relationship between Jules, Rue and the new character Elliot also serves this limited purpose. Additionally, with the choice of adding even more nudity and sex scenes, it is instinctive to ask about the motivations and reasoning behind this decision. Since no explanation or clear motive has been shared, this has created another source of controversy among viewers.
Despite issues with the progression of the show’s themes so far in Season 2, “Euphoria” continues to push the film and television industry standards for creativity in its filmmaking and production elements. Levinson has stated that Season 2 was shot entirely in the 35mm format, giving the series a new visual that suitably feels both nostalgic and crazed. One scene that stood out was the lover’s montage in Episode 4 with Rue and Jules referencing various romance movies such as “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Titanic” (1997) and “Ghost” (1990). The impressive cinematography, editing and visuals of Season 2 uphold the show’s status in terms of artistry and creativity.
Overall, the first half of Season 2 succeeds in continuing to raise the caliber on a filmmaking level. However, the show struggles to keep the values, relatability and thematic depth it possessed in Season 1. Hopefully, the show’s highly regarded reputation and revolutionary cultural impact will remain intact by the end of Season 2.