This post contains spoilers for Euphoria season 2 episode 1.
Euphoria marks its highly-anticipated return with a jam-packed New Year’s Eve-set episode that instantly thrusts the audience back into the debauched antics of East Highland teens. A year has passed since Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Shafer) last graced our screens in two Euphoria specials that bridged the gap between seasons. While this choice was driven by pandemic-related delays, it allowed the two entwined characters a chance to step outside of their relationship before the inevitable reunion. Grab your glitter and eyeliner as we’re ready to dive back in (makeup department head Donni Davy is already reaching new heights).
It has been more than two years since Euphoria made its audacious debut but the opening sequence, narrated by Rue and focusing on her bestie Fez (Anglus Cloud), is a quick reminder of the glossy shock value that creator Levinson is so fond of. “Fezco’s grandmother was a motherf***ing G” explains Rue as we see a woman walking through a strip club brandishing a gun before shooting a man who is engaged in a sexual act — and the camera lingers on what is clearly a prosthetic. A locker scene in season 1 boasted “30 penises” and the premiere takes a different approach to its full-frontal nudity, which borders on becoming a parody of itself.
Previous episodes have shown how childhood trauma and difficult experiences have shaped these young adults and the second season sticks to this format with a sequence that once again highlights Martin Scorsese’s influence on the Euphoria creator. Previous Scorsese references have included Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street and Taxi Driver (see Maddy’s Halloween costume), now the show draws from Goodfellas when exploring Fez’s origin story.
Fez’s young entry into this illegal business came via his grandmother (played by the fantastic Kathrine Narducci) and this sequence also explains how Ashtray (Javon Walton) got his cigarette-based nickname. Ash isn’t his brother by blood, but Fez is nothing but loyal to those he views as family. It’s why the burst of extreme violence at the end of the hour shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Fez’s relationship with Rue is caring and thorny, which puts his genuine platonic affection at odds with his easy access to the drugs she is addicted to. It is indicative of the contradictions Euphoria is fond of depicting and Cloud’s performance stops Fez from turning into a kind-hearted dealer cliche. Their New Year’s Eve begins with a business meeting that escalates when they have to strip naked to reveal they aren’t wearing a wire. Rue is visibly terrified, however she cannot contain her glee in the car afterward. Adrenaline and the drugs she has already consumed contribute to her tone-deaf response, and Fez is furious she is acting like this encounter was fun.
Everything Rue is doing (and taking) dulls the pain of Jules leaving her at the train station in the season 1 finale. The episode cranks up a gear when they arrive at the party. Rue hides from Jules, and the fragmented overlapping stories reinforce the various conflicts occurring at once.
The entire run of Euphoria has only covered the end of the summer to New Year’s Eve, and the relationship roller coaster is in full effect when a drunk Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) hooks up with Nate (Jacob Elodie) in the bathroom at this raging bash. The problem? Nate is not only a terrible person who should be in jail but he is also her BFF Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) ex, and this betrayal will be hard to forgive. Tension escalates when Maddy needs to use the occupied bathroom and Cassie is forced to hide in the tub. The fraught experience involves a washcloth tossed on her face that was used as a toilet paper substitute and a random guy using the facilities. This whole sequence is intercut with other party interactions. The main nitpick is it is hard to believe more people wouldn’t be queuing up to use the bathroom.
Cassie’s entire self-worth (or lack of it) is tied to her sexuality and Sweeney captures the heartbreaking self-destructive spiral taking hold. “I don’t know if I’m a good person,” Cassie tearily tells ex McKay (Algee Smith), who is far from equipped to answer this plea for reassurance. Sex and booze is Cassie’s method for blocking out her pain (some of which is likely due to her recent abortion) and Rue’s old habits are a response to the overwhelming sadness she is experiencing.
“When did you relapse?” Jules asks Rue when they finally reunite. At first, Rue brushes off her drug use as smoking weed. Little does Jules know that a short while earlier Rue thought her heart might stop after she snorted more drugs with newcomer Elliot (Dominic Fike). Whether trying to mask how high she is, reveling in the danger or telling Jules the truth about when she relapsed, this episode is a solid reminder as to why Zendaya won an Emmy for the first season.
A beautifully framed Rue and Jules midnight kiss is interrupted by Fez making good on his promise to kill Nate if he continued to mess with his friends. A passive-aggressive conversation quickly escalates to ultra-violence when Fez breaks his bottle over Nate’s head before repeatedly pounding his fist into his bloody face. He might not have killed him but the message is loud and clear. Before this, Fez and Lexi (Maude Apatow) had been engaging in some light flirting, but this will impact his chances for romance.
On the whole, the premiere, written and directed by Levinson, includes many elements that made Euphoria’s first season so compelling. There are eye-roll-worthy moments but the stylized aesthetics, eclectic soundtrack and strong performances outweigh the flourishes that verge on self-indulgent. It is a confident return that moves the story forward while suggesting characters like Rue and Cassie are stuck in a toxic cycle — they will need more than a New Year’s resolution to break free from this pattern.