“Euphoria” fans collectively rejoiced when the smash-hit HBO drama returned for its highly-anticipated second season at the start of the new year.
The show’s popularity only grew with each subsequent week, ultimately doubling its viewership from the show’s first season and securing an impressive 6.6 million viewers by its explosive finale. Even before the current season completed its eight-episode run, it was immediately renewed for an upcoming third season.
It’s no secret that fans can’t get enough of East Highland’s outrageous teens but did “Euphoria’s” long-awaited second season truly measure up to the standard of its predecessor? Let’s discuss.
**Warning: Spoilers Ahead**
Where “Euphoria’s” first season was all shimmering eye shadow, strobing lights, and atmospheric camera work, Season 2 offered something much more raw. This stylistic change was intentional, as the show’s director, Sam Levinson, and cinematographer, Marcell Rév, chose to shoot the entire second season on 35mm Kodak Ektachrome film. As opposed to digital filming, Kodak Ektachrome presents a grainer and more saturated image.
As stated by Rév, “Season one was very in the moment, and had a present feel to it. [Season 2] feels like some sort of memory of high school. Emotionally—the [Ektachrome] film felt like the right choice.”
“Euphoria” remains a visual treat in its second season. The incorporation of Ektachrome film compliments the season’s grittier and rawer moments, visualizing a harsher reality behind the sparkling spectacle of the show’s first season. Season 2 is brimming with stunning closeups of Euphoria’s central characters and chronicles their lives with intimate camerawork set against another phenomenal score by Labrinth.
However, this does not prevent “Euphoria’s” second season from becoming somewhat of a gilded shell, where even master filmmaking cannot mask a story that is frequently disjointed and ill-paced.
Production on “Euphoria” Season 2 was initially delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing showrunner Sam Levinson to rewrite the majority of the season’s script. These rewrites could potentially explain why certain storylines feel underdeveloped, cast aside, or forgotten altogether. However, the largest issue “Euphoria” faces this season is trying to accomplish far more storytelling than it is able to within an eight-episode time frame. The second season’s script tries to develop new challenges for Season 1’s central players, all while elevating new characters, tackling difficult societal issues, and wanting to meet fan expectations. The result is multiple disjointed storylines that infrequently come together into something of true substance.
At its core, “Euphoria” Season 2 lacks intentional direction. The season’s predominant plot points, like that of Nate (Jacob Elordi) and Cassie’s (Sydney Sweeney) puzzling relationship, newcomer Eliott (Dominic Fike) driving a wedge between Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer), and Cal Jacobs’ (Eric Dane) numerous antics are drawn out to the point of tedium and ultimately reach a conclusion that is not nearly as satisfying as their screen time should demand.
However, there remain some strong points in Season 2’s story. Namely that of Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) autobiographical school play, which even includes a suggestive dance sequence to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” in true “Euphoria” fashion. In fact, much of Season 2’s grittier moments are underscored by much-needed bursts of memorable dark comedy. Season 2 is at its strongest when it works as an ensemble piece, allowing the characters to interact and engage in more dynamic scenes.
Zendaya also gives another commendable performance as the show’s flawed lead, Rue. Season 2 sees Rue reach new lows in her recovery from drug addiction and Zendaya masterfully portrays Rue’s more heartbreaking moments with care and honesty. Led by a powerhouse like Zendaya, much of “Euphoria’s” strength still lies in its cast. While Zendaya, Angus Cloud, Maude Apatow, Alexa Demie, and Jacob Elordi were all frequent standouts, Season 1 favorites like Hunter Schafer’s Jules, Barbie Ferriera’s Kat, and Austin Abrams’ Ethan felt unfairly underutilized.
While the season’s final episode sought to tie up loose ends, it ultimately offered a hurried and unsatisfying conclusion that left more questions than answers. In the aftermath of Lexi’s contentious play, we see the police raid Fezco’s house, Cal being led into police custody, and Rue claiming that she has carried on with her sobriety.
While all of these elements lay the groundwork for more Season 3 storytelling, they don’t offer a satisfying conclusion to a season’s worth of conflict. Fez’s entire storyline builds to this penultimate police raid only for us to not see what happens to him? The entire Jacobs family drama culminates in Nate anticlimactically turning his father? Despite the honest depiction of Rue’s addiction up to this point, she seamlessly finds sobriety via a voiceover narration? Being the unreliable narrator she is, is she even telling the truth?
But the questions don’t stop there. What became of the bone-chillingly creepy Laurie? Did she forgive Rue’s debt to her? Why were Maddy’s employers recording her? Did Ashtray really not make it out of the police raid alive?
We can only hope that Season 3 will begin to answer these questions.
You can watch Season 2 of “Euphoria” here.