Season two of Euphoria, Sam Levinson’s American teen drama series that follows modern–day high schoolers navigating adolescence, has it all. There’s Zendaya, fancy costumes, stunning makeup, drugs, sex scenes, long takes, lots of music, choreographed dances, and incredible acting. Yet Euphoria still lacks the most fundamental aspect of a compelling show: a thoughtful storyline. In many cases, this season of Euphoria felt more like a compilation of music videos stacked onto each other rather than hour–long episodes.
As the sole writer of Euphoria, Sam Levinson let fans of the show down by failing to create a fleshed–out storyline for season two. Not every show or movie needs a clear storyline to be considered great—think of David Lynch who thrives on confusing plots, as seen in projects like Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive. But for an ensemble–heavy show like Euphoria that boasts beloved characters with intense and dramatic arcs, a cohesive story is the key component that weaves together all of the characters’ motivations and actions.
The biggest problem with Euphoria’s storyline is that, well, there isn’t one. Or at least not a well planned–out one. After the New Year's Eve premiere episode, Euphoria split up its ensemble into three main storylines: Rue’s issues, Cassie/Nate’s issues, and Fezco’s issues. And, for most of the season, these storylines remained separate from each other, with Lexi probably being the only character who was deeply involved in each one. It’s not until the final episodes that the stories are haphazardly thrown together, as the autobiographical play of Lexi’s life, ‘Our Life,’ recaps what's been happening in most of the main characters’ lives. Even then, most of the story arcs don’t wrap up or have any resolution.
Season one excelled because of its character–driven narrative; each episode centered on one character’s story and always began with a stellar cold open delving into their backstory. In season two, Levinson is driven by artistic and creative choices rather than character development, creating a mesh of episodes that are visually stunning but have nothing much to say. Sequences like Jules and Rue’s “Lover’s Montage” with reenactments of Brokeback Mountain or Frida Kahlo's 'Self–Portrait as a Tehuana’ seem calculated to evoke deep emotions from the audience, only for them to make no thematic sense whatsoever and instead come off as cringey. Levinson also seems a little too dependent on his music score. For example, episode four (‘You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can’) contains four separate dance sequences and 24 songs. Music can powerfully convey characters’ emotions, but using music and dancing so extensively makes the show lose its gravitas.
There’s also countless flaws in Levinson’s script—like Rue’s missing consequences for not paying back her drug dealer Laurie, or Kat’s complete absence—but one of its major issues this season has to be Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney.
After breaking up with her boyfriend McKay and feeling single and free for the first time in high school at the end of season one, Cassie pulls a complete 180 in season two and winds up hooking up with the vile Nate Jacobs, her closest friend Maddy’s on–and–off boyfriend. From there, Cassie’s off to the races, being hopelessly devoted to Nate, cutting off her friends, being a spoiled brat to her family, and making a complete scene at Lexi’s play, leaving the season with no boyfriend or friends. Cassie’s in her low point in the series (at least I hope), which Levinson makes abundantly obvious, but she ends the season with no growth. Why would Cassie ever be with Nate in the first place after seeing the abuse Maddy received for years with him? Cassie ended season one as someone who had the potential to develop on her own, without a controlling boyfriend. Yet Levinson decides to have her character morph into an awful, self–centered person, someone who I can’t understand why anyone would root for. Cassie’s actual storyline aside, Levinson’s insistence on her nudity scenes adds to the disturbing treatment of this fan favorite.
Sweeney has also weighed in on Cassie’s abundant nude scenes. She told The Independent that “there are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here.”’ The incessant nude scenes on Euphoria are graphic and often pointless. Frankly, if Euphoria gave up screen time for all of the nude shots, there might've been more time to actually focus on characters’ issues.
The lack of a planned storyline is most evident in the season finale, where most of the characters’ issues are still left unaddressed. Instead of resolving Cassie or Maddy’s storylines, we are all treated to Elliot’s forty–hour long song for Rue, which he’s “still working on.” The finale episode of season one was very fast–paced, triumphantly ending with a musical number complete with a band, dancers, and Zendaya singing “All for Us.” Yet in season two, the pacing of the finale is extremely slow, as the episode culminates in never–ending monologues and quiet conversations with Rue, ending with Zendaya softly singing “I’m Tired.” Not all finales need to end with a bang, but Euphoria season two left all of its conflicts to be resolved in its final episode, which thus required a dramatic and gripping ending.
To its credit, Euphoria does portray Rue’s addiction and recovery very thoughtfully up till the final scene where she announces she was sober for the rest of the school year. But the screen time dedicated to Rue’s addiction comes at the cost of the development of the remaining characters, who have also gone through trauma but face no resolution.
Euphoria season two also decides to ax any storyline centered on Jules. Virtually the co–lead in season one who had her own individual episode between seasons, Jules is given nothing to do in season two. It’s nearly impossible to recall a plot line she had that didn’t revolve around Rue’s addiction or problems. Considering that Jules is one of the most interesting and troubled characters, it’s a bloody shame that Levinson decided to put her on the sidelines this season.
Euphoria is known for tackling serious issues like drug addiction, abuse, and death; Levinson has also said that Euphoria is a “deeply, deeply personal story,” with some storylines coming directly from his own experience as a former drug addict. While it’s admirable to have a show that discusses sensitive topics like addiction and recovery, their meaning is lost when it is rooted in such an unrealistic world. In many ways, Sam Levinson’s Euphoria is more of a fantasy than George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise. East Highland is the most unrealistic depiction possible of a high school: highly over–budgeted student–produced plays, no classes, no school books, and basically a place to just deal drugs at 8 a.m..
Currently, Euphoria is so focused on the superficial, visual spectacles that it’s neglected to address its characters’ problems. Ultimately, it’s tough to call this show great when the story is so trash. Like millions of others, I do find the show entertaining. But instead of watching it with praise and astonishment for Levinson’s craft as a filmmaker and screenwriter, it’s become more of a hate–watch to see how awful and contradictory Levinson can make his characters become.