Euphoria is a look through frosted glass at the real life but existential existence of the generation XYZ Millennial dream state and the beautiful horrors that make up a modern youth experience.
If that didn’t make much sense to you, it’s because maybe we can’t quite fathom the experience, or we understand it so intensely that we are transported to our own existential crisis though, it may differ from the characters we see in the show.
I know it sounds sad but I didn’t build this system, nor did I f**k it up – Rue, Euphoria
First as important as ever, trigger warning. To be fair, HBO is one big ol’ trigger warning. As soon as you hear that tone and old tv fuzz sound, know you are in for a night of triggering. But forreal trigger warning of the drug and alcohol use, and sexual nature.
Imagine the show is a scrambler ride – you know the ride where you sit in a little metal car and it swings you violently from side to side and all around. You scream in exhilaration as your body is flung into the person next to you, and that person swung into the next and the last jammed into the door of the tin car. It’s a game of centrifugal force really. But as you laugh uncontrollably, the wind in your hair, your head begins to swim and spin, you can no longer see your surroundings and you begin to float, you feel sick, but you like it, and your eyes begin to water. This – is – that – feeling.
I know what you’re thinking wth is she even talking about. Well this is a recap peoples so let me tell you just what I am talking about.
Expertly shot, Euphoria takes the audience through time in tight shots, electric colors, dim lights, and intelligently placed voiceovers. We follow the lives of several young adults in what it seems like is their junior year of high school. I say young adult and not just teenager because this program cannot be summed up in some teen drama about life: it is so much more. Now, I’m not a teenager from the suburbs, but I WAS a teenager from the suburbs so I can attest the show is not too far off from reality. Of course, *cough* I may have been a junior in high school quite some time ago…so there are nuances that I do not have experience with. And I am thanking all that is digital that I did not go through puberty with social media or the advances of a virtually connected world like present day.
The show takes us through time and space in a very intimate and interwoven way. We begin with Zendaya’s character Rue as a baby; yes, Rue, like District 11 Hunger Games, Rue.
And yes, I mean baby. I’m talking literally in the womb squishy pink uterus and the voiceover telling us of Rue’s first trauma… birth. That sounds cliché or just melodramatic, but it’s not. it sets the tone for the idea of trauma and what it really does to us throughout our entire lives. We quickly move through Rue’s life, seeing her next as a toddler counting the light shade squares above the dinner table ceremoniously, with concerned parents looking on. A quick camera swing and a perfect fade transition to the doctor’s office diagnosing this little one with every disorder a kid gets diagnosed with. Mommy Rue Leslie Bennett, played by Nika King, crying over the pressure of it all.
We see older Rue in class as a panic attack creeps in. The use of close-ups and the slowing of time emulates this moment perfectly, before she had it I knew – panic attack. Cut to – mommy is filling Rue’s medicine holder with a colorful palette of pills. This is the conundrum of many young people’s childhoods, the immediate prescription to make you “normal.” Yet you can see in Rue’s mind, this is a heartless attempt at helping her with her anxiety.
We make it to present day Rue, where she hides stealing her mother’s pills by coughing loudly while opening the medicine cabinet in the mornings. She rushes out of the house with her little sister Gia Bennett, played by Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time). Her mom says “Did you eat breakfast?,” and I’m like yea she ate two Xanax – she good. Naw, but for real, it shows just how regular it is for her and to be honest, an accurate telling of this type of circumstance.
Like I said, this show takes us back and forth in time – because what is time really? But really though, in different states-of-mind, time is experienced differently. This show wants you to feel that right off the bat. The use of slow motion, voiceover and references to the past – which could be the future depending on which scene you are watching – is just brilliant.
We see Rue at a party: a colorful montage of drug use and drinking, finishing with a close-up of her face. The use of breathe has you in a trance and transfixed on the scene, making you feel every moment. And Zendaya is doing the damn thing in episode one – GIRRL.
Rue is at the final stages of leaving rehab and returning home to her sister and her mother. Her mom is convinced this is a new chapter for her, but I think Rue has been doing drugs a lot longer than her mom knows and just got caught this time. On the ride home, we slowly pass “some new girl in town I think ur gon be friends with” as Rue’s drug dealer puts it – meaning the character Jules, played by Hunter Schafer. As you may have imagined, Rue is back at it right away. She heads straight to her drug dealer, Fezco, played by newcomer Angus Cloud who is to a T perfect. I say this because I know this guy – yea remember how I said I was a teenager in the suburbs? I grew up with this kid, many of this kid. The white guy who grew up in a certain way, hanging out with certain people, so now has a certain affect if you know what I mean.
They will sell you whatever you need, chill with you – randomly spit the truth but then be too high to make sure you heard them. Real talk though, my husband said he looks and sounds just like Mac Miller (R.I.P). He is Rue’s inner conscience, talking about her staying off drugs and whatnot… as her drug dealer. In another area we find the actual drug slinger himself, Ashtray, played by Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton an ll-year old boxing prodigy in real life btw. Now I love this kid because, well… he’s literally an F-ing toddler with face tattoos – but he’s a G.
We find out that Rue has had an overdose which landed her in rehab over the summer. Fezco then talks to Rue about a new kid in town “looking all Sailor Moon n sh** ” who he thinks is someone Rue would get along with. This new person is Jules, whom we see periodically riding their bike to school or anywhere, I guess. We see this while the voiceover tells us bits and pieces about a beautiful friendship that is going to blossom.
The way this story is laid out, I just want to see if the puzzle pieces fit. Even if they don’t, I just want to see the pieces shuffled around.
We meet Nate Jacobs, played by Jacob Elordi. Also, there are a lot of fairly unknown actors in this show. I am ALL about seeing new talent getting work, so this is exciting for me. Nate is the quintessential Jock of the high school era. These days, however, (speaking as someone who experienced teenage angst in early 2000s) jocks are so much more intense I guess. Maybe because of social media, like everyone can find some lude video and emulate it or send real threatening and inappropriate text messages. In my day – we just didn’t wanna waste the texts, there was a limit on that number of texts you could send. Anyway – obviously he is an a**hole in the most dangerous ways. The way that gets everyone around him to be an a**hole too, even though they’re probably a nice guy. Like his roadie, Chris MacKay, played by Algee Smith (Ralph Tresvant, The New Edition Story). He’s that black friend that for some reason puts up with his friends racist, misogynistic tendencies so that you know he can get made fun of – seems self sabotaging. Point is, Nate is pressuring or basically making McKay (as they call him) have a party at his house while his mom is out of town.
This party is the centerpiece for this episode, of course.
As the story continues, we get to see a little more of Jules who apparently moved to the suburbs after her parents divorced – and her father got custody so… what really went down with her mom? We see the tip of the iceberg of Nate’s F**kery as he yells out the window for Jules to ride his ummm you get the idea. Jules flips him off – (Thank you Jules) but falls off her bike at the same time. Immediately, I want to know how Jules and Rue get together and you hope its romantically – well, I guess, I personally hope. We see Jules in summer school, I’m thinking their move to the suburbs from the city required Jules attend summer school, maybe to catch up, idk. Jules is in class with Kat Hernandez, played by Barbie Ferreira (Ella, HBO’s Divorce). Kat’s texting, asking if Jules is coming to McKay’s party – Jules is like who is that?
We then make it back to Rue who is now returning home kinda late – also after buying like a Requiem for a Dream assortment of drugs. (If you haven’t seen the movie – look it up.) Of course, she immediately gets into a fight with her mom and rightfully so. Like, you just got back from rehab this week, then disappear?? Of course your mom is gonna want a drug test. (I also knew people who had mom’s like this – that home drug test was no joke.) We see Rue getting pissed, slammin doors, and we get that mom moment “Slam another door!” and you’re like ooooo!
Little sister Gia looks mortified, which alright you never wanna see your family fighting, but I’m like girl you’ll understand when you’re a teenager. I didn’t realize there was so much more pain behind those eyes. See what we didn’t know and quickly find out is that Rue overdosed and Gia found her… yup. Splayed out in her room, vomit all down her face. The terror in Gia’s eyes was something I hope no one I know will ever know. It was mortifying.
We’re hearing about this as Rue is in the bathroom with her mom fake peeing in to a cup to take the drug test. Yes. fake peeing. She ran to her childhood friend Lexi Howard’s house – who is played by the eldest Apatow child, Maude Apatow. I was excited to see her on the screen – she’s frickin hilarious, but something tells me this isn’t a comedy….
Either way, Lexi seems to be the straight and narrow type when we meet her. I mean, Rue believes her pee is clean, so she’s at least not doing drugs. We find that the neighbors are at dinner, and who is playing Lexi’s mom?? None other than Alanna Ubach – maybe this doesn’t excite you but it excites me. She played the best friend in Legally Blonde! The sorority sister with the dark hair! Ok, I digress. In this program she plays Suze Howard, mom to Lexi and Cassie Howard.
It looks like life has been a serious thing for her for a while. She asks Rue how rehab was, but in the “yea we all been there” kinda way, and says “New chapter.” I’m like oh dang! Is this a chapter she has read before? Like in a book she cannot finish?? Now remember Cassie Howard. She is played by Sydney Sweeney (Eden Spencer, Handmaid’s Tale) and she’s gonna be important later.
Lexi gives Rue the pee, obviously, because she passes the drug test. We get a sigh of relief from Rue’s mom – and it is a sigh you feel too, like phew! But it also stings at the same time.
Cut to – three ladies are getting ready for the party, Kat, Maddy Perez – played by Alexa Demie (Estee, Mid 90s.), and BB – played by another newcomer, Sophia Rose Wilson. This whole scene had me stuck on Mean Girls in my head. I can’t say that they are the Plastics, BUT they are getting ready in the mirror just hating on their looks, taking turns ragging on themselves with real Mean Girls vibes.
You can see how realistic this and Mean Girls is. I’m trying real hard to ignore that I knew these girls in high school, but it’s just glaring at me at this point. We learn that Maddy dated a**hole Nate and is using this party to make him jealous, I guess. Kat then gets a text that Jules isn’t coming to the party. Also Kat is a virgin and everyone is looking at her like you need to take care of that – so she is determined to lose that before the school year begins.
We make it back to Jules who is at home and getting ready for some kind of night – first takes her dose of hormones in the mirror and starts getting dressed. I immediately was like, I hope this is a trans actor because we’re done with cis people playing trans characters yes? I was glad HBO didn’t cis-wash this and did cast a trans actor in the role. Also, she is a supermodel in real life. I mean – I’m just floored by the real lives of these actors. Angus Cloud, who plays Fezco, is a professional wrestler, and 11-year-old Javon, who plays our tattooed dug dealer Ashtray, is actually a boxing prodigy; where did these actors come from?!
Anyways, Jules is getting ready for a night out and is skimming a dating app. First, I’m again showing my age and was like – wait – wait – WAAAAIT, kids can get on dating apps? Let me tell you, I was like is that Tinder? Do you need rights to show Tinder in a show? Is it like when people can’t get the rights to say Facebook or YouTube and they say like Facespace or Metube. Then I was like NAW that’s Grindr, or the not-paying-royalties, TV version of it.
Jules looks excited about this online date situation, and I’m actually terrified. I’m like, he could be a Craigslist killer. You’re like 16 and this person is probably NOT 16 — aaaaahhh! So, that’s a recipe for nightmares in my mind. But again, this whole show is a surreal nightmare but also beautiful.
That Party Life
Remember when I said Cassie would come up again later? We get to McKay’s house where they are pregaming of course. Now I am SUPER confused because everyone has their shirts off. Not in an, “oh it’s hot, lemme take my shirt off” way. In some strange, almost ceremonious way. In a way where you question, are they cutting up drugs and Nate wants to make sure they’re not sneaking off with some? I was real miffed, but maybe this is what suburban youth are doing these days before parties, just drinking shirtless before it all begins…
Back to Cassie. We quickly see that Mckay has a thing for Cassie. He’s all like, “she’s smart, she’s funny, she likes cars,” and Nate is like she’s a hoe. SO, slut shaming is still a thing *extreme side eye*. Nate sits McKay down to show all these nudes of Cassie to prove somehow this makes her a hoe. We hear the voiceover setting this straight, and I agree with Rue voiceover: taking a nude doesn’t make someone loose.
This is also a poignant argument about girls taking nudes, and the real issue of people taking them and sharing them without permission or the individual’s consent. Things I didn’t really have to think about when I was in high school. Sure kiss and tell was real, and the shaming and all that – sadly, but you could confront someone to their face cuz you knew they were talking behind your back. Now it’s like, what is behind your back? This ish is all over the internet and in peoples DMs – TF! The circumstance is so sad because like I said, Nate is the kind of a**hole that rubs off.
McKay is now at the party with Cassie and they together are ready to “go all the way.” I just keep sounding older as this article progresses. But McKay goes in hot, all rough n what not out of nowhere! Quickly, the voiceover is like don’t worry it’s not going there. Pointing out the problem that lies within porno being some people’s first interactions with sex and youth using some bad examples to decide how they should go about it. This is why comprehensive sex ed is needed in the world – jeez. Thankfully, the two have a real conversation. He stops when she says stop, and they talk honestly about what they ACTUALLY want.
Now we’re in full on party mode. Rue got a ride from the Plastics. Kat is upstairs with McKay’s twin brothers and some other kid. They’re having a bragging contest about who isn’t a prude. Listening to the way they talk about sex is weird as an adult, like what is a prude in this sense? Anyways, Kat is trying to use them as means to an end and I’m like – can we go into the party and choose someone else? I guess she’s made up her mind, but the situation was not ideal to me – but you know 20/20 hindsight is an adult curse.
So Jules makes it to her “date” and I cannot. It’s just as not cool as I thought. This man has to be like 45 and creepy AF. He hands her a drink. She lies and says she is 22 (great lie because you say you’re 21 and that’s just clear indication you are probably lying). The scene immediately becomes a strange fetishizing of Jules. He asks why she dresses like she does. I mean creepy in that f’d up way. It’s hard to describe. But this scene is one of the many moments worthy of the trigger warning. Both people are at this motel for their own reasons – and none are the reasons that make for fairytale endings. After the act, Jules picks up this guy’s phone and sees a family portrait as the home screen. Then, she looks at the time and puts the phone back down next to this dude’s wedding ring. Ugh – but great story telling.
Jules ditches while this guy is in the shower and the next shot tells so much. She’s riding her bike with one single spot as a dolly shot follows from the front, it was heart-wrenchingly jarring and perfect.
At the party Rue has taken something in the bathroom that has her walking on the ceiling. This is not a metaphorical ceiling, she is Inception-style walking around the entire hallway ceiling and floor F-d up.
She’s then sitting on a couch out by the pool, yea I said a couch out by the pool, and has the illest moment with Fezco. He says her whole situation got him rethinking life – telling her whatever is going on in her head, that the drugs aren’t the answer. She tells him a whole story about her dad getting diagnosed, her needing to go to the hospital one day, the doctors giving her liquid Vicodin, and her feeling calm for the first time. Then her dad dying not too long after.
At the party, Jules heads to the kitchen just as Nate sees Maddy, his ex, having sex with some random guy in the pool. Also, WTH, McKay’s mom is gonna murder him. Sex in the pool, during the height of the party. I’ve never witnessed this at parties I’ve been to, but I feel like it’s not too much of a stretch. Nate, pissed from what he just witnessed, heads to the kitchen to drink it off.
In his angry stupor, he yells at everyone to GTF out of the kitchen and Jules is just chillin. First of all, she’s from the city – not to say I know their experience, but some white suburban jock yelling in a kitchen? Whatever, “these problems matter,” *rolls eyes*. But he then turns his anger to Jules and says, “I know what you are.” I’m like – what you say Nate? Do you need to get schooled right now? Does Wayne Brady need to choke a B**ch? But Jules handles it. Grabs a knife which freaks Nate the F out and even cuts herself to seal the deal, then introduces herself as Jules. “I just moved here.” YO! Pan to Rue’s face – I died! Just imagine all the sarcastic hilarious stares Zendaya does as MJ in Spiderman Homecoming. YUP! Hilarious look like, OKAY that went left.
She rushes after Jules and asks if she can go home with her. Jules is all like, sure and they ride her bike back to Jules’s place. Rue watches as she gets undressed, tends to Jules’s wound – but not really, and I am seriously concerned because there is a lot of blood. Also, I am sure Rue is not a licensed physician. But hey, whatevs. We’ll just pat it down with some cotton balls and cover it like a badly wrapped present.
They lie in bed, and we see a montage of Nate DRIVING INTO HIS DRIVEWAY DRUNK! WTF! I’m sorry – does this make me sound like a modern day prude – not wanting people to drive drunk, take stranger danger Tinder dates, and to go to the hospital when we’re losing a lot of blood? Jeez. Nate stumbles into his house, up the stairs with his family photos and – OH. The same photo we just saw on the background of creepy Grindr guy’s phone!! Jules was out with Nate’s dad! Then the episode ends… OF COURSE.
This show got me all over the place in just 75 minutes. Yes peoples, that was just the pilot, and from the season sneak peek it looks like a one-sided love affair happens between Jules and Rue, Kat begins learning what confidence can be, and the rest of the story divulges into deeper than Skins drama. Or maybe this is the American Skins they wish they had done years ago. Well, I think they got it right second time around.
Before I leave you and see you at the next episode. HBO did that thing it does where we get a glimpse behind the scenes and are in conversation with Sam Levinson (Writer, Assassination Nation) and lead actress, Zendaya. You learn that this is almost a retelling of the writer’s actual experiences and the life of a teenager living with anxiety and drug addiction. It brings the story truly full circle.
To sum up – this show is more than a handful of Vicodin and you should definitely take only as prescribed. Know that you will see some shit, feel some shit and learn some shit. Until next episode – don’t drink and drive please. And surround yourself with good company in life.
HBO and Euphoria have thankfully provided a site of resources for anyone looking. Go to https://www.hbo.com/euphoria/resources for more information.