All over social media, Euphoria's Season 2 finale was criticized for what it didn't do. "From a plot perspective, Sam Levinson, the show’s creator and sole writer and director during season two, left a lot of questions unanswered," says Jen Chaney. "Messy as it was, though, Sunday’s episode did do at least one thing quite successfully: This finale slyly and deliberately blurred the lines between reality and fiction in a way that underscores the whole point of Euphoria. As I noted in a piece earlier this month, Euphoria is more interested in capturing the emotional reality of being a teenager than the actual reality. That means that sometimes the series shows us things as they are, to a shockingly candid degree, and sometimes it escalates situations to an almost absurd level because, arguably more than at any other time in life, adolescence makes everything feel high-stakes, super-dramatic, and life or death. When you’re young, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a genuine crisis and a minor problem because everything feels like a crisis." Chaney adds: "The friction between those extremes is especially relevant to what it’s like to be young in 2022, when some teens dump out their deepest feelings on TikTok or Instagram — or, perhaps, on stages at their high schools! — but keep them hidden from those nearest to them. Sometimes people get closer to reality when they’re performing, and sometimes they’re just being performative, and it can be challenging to tell the difference even when you’re the performer. This episode of Euphoria lives within that friction, which, admittedly, can be frustrating to witness. Hey, you know what else is frustrating? Teenagers!"
Euphoria didn't need to do everything in Season 2: "After a season that was at times artistic and engaging and others frustrating and exhausting, the end of Euphoria was simply overwhelming," says Sadie Bell. "As the Euphoria finale attempted to be a crime drama more than it ever had been before, it lost sight of when it really shines: when it focuses on the emotional turmoil of each of its individual characters. Euphoria perhaps has always needed a little bit of restraint, and the finale proved how exhausting it can feel when it refuses to hold back at all when it probably should."
Euphoria Season 2 was at odds with itself: "Few sections work together," says Ben Travers. "Fewer still stand up on their own. Sam Levinson’s follow-up to his Emmy-winning HBO series can be not-so-cleanly broken down into three components: There’s the harrowing parts, which cover pretty much everything with Rue (Zendaya), from bone-chilling peril (like narrowly escaping a life in the sex trade) to soul-shattering despair (her relapse). Then there’s the soapy stuff, including Nate (Jacob Elordi) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Maddie (Alexa Demie), who are stuck in a 'love' triangle, as well as Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Elliot (Dominic Fike), who are new friends holding damning secrets. Both the harrowing side of Euphoria and its soapy secondary plots create an odd dichotomy Season 2 doesn’t really know what to do with."
Sam Levinson embraced Euphoria's messy, surrealist self in Season 2: "Levinson, who writes and directs each episode, has always seemed more interested in usurping narrative conventions, needling his characters’ psyches and dissolving the boundaries between real and unreal," says Lovia Gyarkye. "It’s fitting, then, that the season two finale felt fully subsumed in Levinson’s obsessions, signalling Euphoria’s surrealist future. Episode eight, the title of which ('All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name') is a quote from André Breton, the 20th century French poet and a founder of surrealism, was a heady assemblage of meta-commentary and plot twists that swerved and careened to a confusing, but optimistic finish."
The Season 2 finale captured the confusing, ironic and dangerous world of being a teenager: "I love a messy story that doesn’t try and clean everything up in the final act, which is why I liked the Season 2 finale — with a few exceptions Teen life is a dramatic clusterf—, and this season of Euphoria in particular has done such a great job at exploring the emotional mayhem without trying to make sense of it," says Lorraine Ali, adding that at age 17, "nothing made sense! The finale captures the confusing, ironic and dangerous undercurrents of their world so well. They’re hurtling, out of control, toward their future, asking, 'Am I pretty? Am I loved? Will I make it through high school alive?' Not to mention, 'Do I even want to, if adulthood is as awful as it looks?'"
Lexi's play ultimately undermined the whole series: "The theatrical conceit limited any amount of meaningful wrap-up the season could offer, reiterating previous scenes through new and unilluminating perspectives and hyper-focusing on Lexi’s and Rue’s former friendship while distracting from Rue’s more pressing issues," says Allegra Frank. "(Rue still owes a drug dealer who threatened to sell her to sex traffickers $10,000, but, uh, maybe Lexi took care of that so Rue could make it to her opening night … ?) The play gave Cassie yet another platform to scream about how much she loves being loved. It devoted an entire musical number to mocking Nate and his insecurities about his own sexuality. Worst of all, it led to the finale’s most frustrating wrap-up: Rue’s drug addiction, Euphoria’s most engaging and heartbreaking subplot, resolved itself in a voiceover at the end of the season finale, robbing the viewers—and Rue’s suffering family!—any sense of emotional closure. Instead, the implication is that Lexi’s navel-gazing play inspired Rue to be better to herself, awarding a secondary character the honor of facilitating our beloved lead’s big win. My own friend put it perfectly: Rue is now sober through the power of friendship."
Season 2 showed that Euphoria's female ensemble, working in different styles and across various plotlines, is as strong as any on TV: "Let’s begin with the season’s MVP, (Sydney) Sweeney — from whom I wanted more in the finale. Sweeney reacted to watching a play about her life at home and at school with a focused intensity reminiscent of Nicole Kidman processing her emotions at the opera in the film Birth," says Daniel D'Addario. "In both cases, the character’s care for wanting to maintain social position through composure is evident; Sweeney is an ace at showing what lies underneath the desire to keep it together. But the actor, later, allows herself to crack open, exposing Cassie’s depths of contempt for her peers, and for herself."
Season 2 showed the true ugliness of teen drug use: "As brutal as Rue’s descent has been to watch, her struggle to get clean is in some ways even more painful," says Rachel Simon. "Suffering from withdrawal, the teen has experienced physical pain unlike any Euphoria portrayed before. And in keeping with the style of this writer's room and Zendaya’s strengths as an actor, viewers weren’t spared a moment of the agony — from cramps and fevers to shakes so extreme she couldn’t open a Jolly Rancher. And just like with their physical toll, the emotional costs of Rue’s actions have been painstakingly detailed. In her worst moments, She has cruelly preyed on her loved ones’ insecurities and fears, blaming her mother (Nika King) for her addiction and telling Jules she regretted ever meeting her. Wisely, Euphoria hasn’t let Rue off the hook once sober, instead forcing both her and viewers to witness the consequences of her behavior head-on. Her apologies cannot, at least not yet, repair the devastating loss of trust that now undermines Rue’s relationship with her mother, sponsor and even her patient sister (Storm Reid). The heartbroken Jules, similarly hurt by Rue’s malice, may never be able to forgive her."
How Sam Levinson became a source of hatred among Euphoria fans: "The extraordinary discourse around Levinson results from several notable features of Euphoria," says Marc Tracy of Levinson's road to becoming polarizing. "It has no writers’ room, as most shows like it do, HBO confirmed, so fans might feel it fair to impute most creative decisions to Levinson. It has ballooned in popularity, drawing outsize attention. Perhaps most importantly, it tells complex stories about people whose stories are often not lent nuance in popular culture: people of color, drug addicts, queer and transgender people — and high-schoolers. Put it all together, and you get in Levinson an artist whom fans love to hate, who makes something they love to love."
Directing was Season 2's winner, auteurism was its loser: "Does anything that happens on Euphoria ever make a lick of sense? No," says Olivia Craighead. "But damn if it doesn’t look gorgeous. This season was shot entirely on film, which makes the show look so beautiful that you can occasionally forgive the fact that what is actually happening in front of you can fall apart if you ask the right question. A common refrain is that Sam Levinson, the creative force behind the show, should just direct music videos, but I will grant him more grace than that. He is a talented, if not showy, director who has enough caché to get any script he wants made. They shouldn’t be his scripts, but if Levinson pivoted to directing flashy adult dramas it wouldn’t be the worst move for him. The Scorsese influence is all over Euphoria, and I could see Levinson directing something with the energy of After Hours — he should just remember that Marty didn’t write that himself." But, adds Craighead, "Levinson’s insistence on writing and directing every episode of this season is to the show’s detriment. Levinson is a director who wants to write, not a writer who wants to direct (see: Aaron Sorkin). I cannot think of a show that needs a writers room (with a diverse group of voices) more than this one."
Fezco was Season 2's beating heart: "Euphoria season two attempted a quintuple axel, and there was no way it could ever completely stick the landing," says Grant Rindner. "There were some undeniable misfires this season—including, but not limited to, sidelining compelling characters like Kat Hernandez, or a love triangle subplot for Cassie that reduced her character to one-note hysterics —but if there’s one constant we can champion from January’s New Year’s Eve premiere to last night’s bullet-riddled finale, it’s Angus Cloud’s empathetic drug dealer Fezco. An important, but under-developed character in season 1, he grew to be the heart of the series this year. He opened the season delivering the show’s most cathartic comeuppance to date, and ended as the recipient of its most tragic."
Why Fezco emerged in Season 2: "Euphoria is as much about the fraught nature of young adulthood as it is about the perils of addiction, and the series has combined these themes in Fezco, portrayed by social-media trickster Angus Cloud," says Roxana Hadadi. "One of the breakout characters of the second season, Fezco is a spin on a particular Dylan McKay/Ryan Atwood/Angel archetype. He hasn’t always made the right choices, but he’s trying to now. As a viewer, to like Fezco isn’t to explicitly approve of the fact that he deals drugs, including to teens only a few years younger than he is; this isn’t a Walter White situation, in which rooting for the protagonist was a misunderstanding of how the series was presenting his megalomania and greed. But if the entire point of Euphoria is to probe at the limits of our empathy for characters whose actions are more often gray than black or white, then Fezco is more of a D’Angelo Barksdale or a Bodie Broadus than the Greek. Can you make bad choices and do bad things but be a good person? What is the balance, and what tips the scales? Trust is a tricky thing in Euphoria, since so many characters are either in a transformative period (Jules, Cassie, Kat) or caught in a cycle of self-deceit (Rue, Nate). The lies people tell and their far-reaching effects have been woven into Euphoria’s storytelling from the pilot; perhaps that’s why Fezco has emerged so appealing from these eight episodes — he’s the only person in the room willing to put the protection of other people over his own self-interest."
Angus Cloud on emotionally preparing to film the Season 2 finale: "It changes and it evolves," he says. "You gotta work with the mood and the gravity and the energy of the room, but I definitely needed the help of Sam to get to that point where I was actually crying. What he said to me, it just cut deep. It brought up a lot of everything I’ve been through. I don’t know how he knew how to touch my buttons like that. Without him, it would’ve been more difficult."
Chloe Cherry on the difference between shooting porn and shooting a mainstream TV show: "Porn is actually shot very professionally, with big cameras and marks," she says. "So there are a lot of things professionally and technically that are very similar. All of the technical things I already knew before going on the set, but the subject matter is very different. When the subject matter is raunchy, it’s always fun to portray because it’s the stuff you wouldn’t do in real life."
Jacob Elordi doesn't see Nate as an antagonist: "It’s funny, I don’t even really call him an antagonist, because I don’t see him as like the villain who comes in to ruin the hero’s day," he says. "Everything he does is kind of relative to his own situation. Even when it comes down to Jules — it’s because of his dad. If Rue is the protagonist, I don’t see Nate as the antagonist. I think everyone’s in their own trauma and fighting through something. And yeah, his means are f*cking awful and terrible to watch. And sometimes the score makes him sound like a bit of a villain."