HBO’s Euphoria: Beautiful Cinematography, But Harmful, Watery Writing

Image from Andre Moura-pexels

Season 2 Episodes 1-4

Review By Rachel Cronin

2 Stars

Upon the release of Season 1 in 2019, praise for Sam Levinson’s Euphoria spread like wildfire. The series’ eerily beautiful cinematography, relatable stories of teen angst and a whole lot of sex, drugs and melodrama caused an eruption of Euphoria fever that engulfed all corners of the internet. Social media was bursting at the seams with glitter makeup tutorials, video essays and fan theories, and Zendaya’s raw portrayal of teenage addict Rue Bennett won her an Emmy.

However, four episodes into Season 2, the ratio of compliment to criticism from fans is much more evenly split compared to last season. The unsure writing, perpetuation of harmful homophobic stereotypes and the hypersexualised female characters are just a small fraction of the HBO series’ issues.

Rue and Jules’ relationship was one of Euphoria’s biggest virtues in Season 1, and the show was commended for its representation of a complex lesbian couple. It was also a triumph for the TV series’ only trans character, Jules, to be played by trans-actor Hunter Schafer.

Despite Sam Levinson’s seemingly woke writing from last season, the introduction of new-boy Elliott (played by Dominic Fike) has turned our beloved lesbian power-couple into a boy-crazy love triangle, which plays into all sorts of negative queer stereotypes. The “cheating bisexual woman” (Jules) and the “easily turned-straight lesbian” (Rue) are both harmful tropes that fans of Season 1 were not expecting to crawl out of the woodwork.

Euphoria is also guilty of a colossal error in the writing of Cal Jacobs, last season’s villain. Cal is a sex-offender who films countless sexual encounters with minors without their permission. Coincidentally, he also happens to be the only actively queer male character in the show, which plays into unforgivable stereotypes of gay men as sexual deviants.

Another painful element of the show (which has admittedly been a problem since season 1) is the depiction of female characters, particularly in sex scenes. This issue is most prominent in Sydney Sweeney’s character, Cassie. The overtly sexual way she is represented is unfeasible and verges on pornography. Although it can be said that the sex scenes have the intention of being raw, gritty, and true to life, we must not forget that the characters in Euphoria are all teenagers, and the abundance of nudity only escalates the unrealistic oversexualisation of young women in the chokehold of the male gaze.

Compared to last season, where we explored Cassie’s backstory, learned about her parents’ alcohol and drug problems, and sat with her in the abortion clinic, this season has betrayed her character by shrinking her down to a two-dimensional sex object, so far that she is unrecognisable.

The link Euphoria makes between queerness and sexual deviance, Levinson’s fatal error in centring a man in the show’s only same-sex relationship and the hyper-sexualisation of female characters are the biggest blunders to blame for the television show’s fall from grace.

Not only have we witnessed the destruction of our favourite characters with lazy generalisations, but the show’s writing as a whole this season so far has been sub-par at best. The pattern of each episode focussing on one main character has been thrown out the window, along with sub-plots being completely disregarded (or forgotten). This below-standard storytelling has made Season 2 a messy, frustrating watch so far.

The only saving graces we can rely on as an audience are the (pardon the pun) euphoric cinematography and haunting soundtrack. Labrinth’s elegant composition of an unmistakable score accompanies the drama, heartbreak and chaos of the award-winning show, and almost tricks the audience into being impressed (before they realise that nothing in the story they just watched made sense).

Despite the alluring aesthetic of Euphoria– bikes on dark streets illuminated by neon, glittery teardrops and smudged eyeliner- pretty pictures are not enough to keep an audience invested when the writing has been so sourly neglected. Sam Levinson’s attitude to his writing this season seems to echo Rue’s iconic line from the end of Season 1: “Honestly? I don’t really give a ****.”