The Darkness Behind the Glamor of ‘Euphoria’

If you have not watched the entirety of Euphoria”, please note that there are spoilers in this article.

For the past eight weeks, students, teenagers and adults alike tuned in on Sunday nights to catch the long-awaited season two of the hit HBO show “Euphoria. Starring actors including Zendaya, Jacob Elordi, Eric Dane, Alexa Demie and Sydney Sweeney, the star-studded cast alone drew fans in.

Season two of the acclaimed series centered around Rue, Zendaya’s character, and her battle with drug addiction, in addition to experiences of navigating relationships and the challenges of high school. At the end of season one, viewers were left intrigued as to what the next season would entail following Rue’s relapse after being sober for three months. This was shown through Rue running through the streets, culminating to an intricately choreographed scene to the song “All For Us” by Labrinth. The intense ending of the first season drew many fans back in for the second. The drama of the show is a major factor as to why fans love it so much, which was clearly seen through the events of the new season.

The theme of relationships remained prevalent throughout season two in another major plot line: the battle between former best friends Maddy (played by Demie) and Cassie (played by Sweeney) over Nate (played by Elordi). Tension built up with each passing week as Maddy learned about the affair Cassie had with Nate while Maddy dated him. Fans were eager to see the characters confront one another given the dramatic change in their relationship over the course of a season. 

Vanity Fair reporter Yohana Desta describes their friendship as having taken a “left-turn” when Maddy cuts Cassie out of her life for good. The complications of relationships are also seen through Rue and Jules (played by Hunter Schafer), whose relationship ends when Rue is offended by Jules interfering with her family issues regarding her drug abuse. Fallouts were a common theme throughout season two, as seen through the ending of these two relationships, both friendly and romantic. 

Family complications were featured much more heavily in season two as well. Specifically, the Jacobs and Bennett families were honed in on, as many arguments broke out within each family because of the actions of their teenage kids.

These arguments held significance in that it gave viewers a different perspective on Nate. Portrayed as the “tough guy,” it was refreshing to see him in a new situation as his family trauma takes a toll on his emotions. His vulnerability shines through, but this soon returns to the anger that fans are used to.

For the Bennetts, these family arguments show how the consequences of Rue’s actions spread like wildfire throughout her family. Her mother and sister go through many challenges when trying to get Rue sober. For starters, Rue’s mother, Leslie Bennett (played by Nika King), is a single mother and a widow. Coping with the death of her husband, in addition to the trauma of having her daughter overdose, shows how strong she is from the moment viewers meet her. 

This strong facade slowly withers away as the show progresses, however. By the end of season two, Leslie says that she has to save at least one of her daughters, and ultimately tells Rue that if she wants to do drugs, so be it. Rue’s sister Gia (played by Storm Reid), goes through hardships due to Rue’s recklessness as well. Being that Rue is her older sister and her role model, she tries her best to see the good in her, which becomes challenging when Rue loses her temper at both Gia and Leslie.

The way both families are depicted offer two windows into family challenges that feature gutting and raw emotional moments.

“Automatically when you watch something, your first instinct is to relate yourself to it,” said Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College freshman Gabby Borthwick. “When you watch something as extreme as ‘Euphoria’ that deals with drugs and sex and violence, you automatically relate yourself to it. Some people have had that experience, and some people haven’t.”

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Zendaya reflected on Rue’s journey in the latest season. In the show’s second season, viewers see Rue hit this rock bottom as she struggles to recover from her addiction. “It’s Rue just ripping her life apart and setting her life on fire and kind of tearing everything to the ground to basically come to hopefully what feels like rock bottom for her,” Zendaya said. “It was so intense and scary to tackle, and obviously something that would be incredibly emotionally taxing, but also physically taxing.”

The rest of the show is complemented with stunning sequences, like Rue running through busy streets in between cars, “euphoric” music playing as the characters experience the highs of their substances and other moments which relay their emotions to viewers. While the issues of addiction and abuse remain dark and heavy themes, the moments of jubilation that the characters get from these highs seemingly make all of their pain go away. This contrast shows how one becomes physically addicted to something, thereby always craving the elation from it.  

The season two finale alone drew in 6.6 million viewers, breaking streaming records for a television show. The realistic nature of the series, paired with its intense content, themes and issues, have all contributed to its success. 

There were many raw moments that viewers saw of the characters this season, increasing the interest in following these characters’ stories. 

Drug abuse is something not really talked about, and it’s becoming more of an issue. ‘Euphoria’ addresses this issue and it shows the truth, especially in season two,” added Borthwick. “It wasn’t just about drugs though. Each character experienced something different, whether it was substance abuse or depression.”

The end of season two thereby leaves fans wondering if Rue will stay sober, if Maddy and Cassie will reunite and what the future holds for the rest of East Highland High School. With season three slated to air in 2024, however, “Euphoria” fans will have to wait to get more drama regarding the drug abuse, complex relationships and gossip that spreads throughout East Highland. 

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