After two episodes heavy on subtext, this go-round of Euphoria has a lot more text (and texting). Rue’s narration is still omnipresent, but the other characters are starting to say more in their own words, both spoken and sent. We know officially now that Jules is trans, that Nate doesn’t identify as gay (despite meeting Jules on a gay dating app), that Fezco and Ashtray fund their teen drug empire through Bitcoin, and biggest of all, that Rue’s feelings for Jules are more than just friendly.
Because the show is filtered through Rue’s perspective, when she stops using and wakes up to the world, the narrative does too. The flip side of that awareness is that she has to face a growing attraction to Jules, one that’s all the more painful because Jules is head over heels for the guy who lives in her phone (who she still has no idea is Nate).
Rue is happy to play the supportive-best-friend role at first, indulging Jules’s fantasies about Shyguy118 and even offering a rare stamp of approval on his dick pics. But when Jules enlists her to help shoot some tasteful lingerie photos, Rue finds herself unexpectedly hot and bothered — and tempted by Jules’s dad’s prescription bottles. By the time she shows up to collect her (unwarranted) 60-day chip at NA, she’s high as hell.
One thing Euphoria really gets right about its teens is that they’re all mature in one way or another, just not in all of them. Jules is sensible about drugs but reckless with her heart and sexuality, while Rue is the opposite. So when Jules plots to meet Shyguy IRL under unsafe circumstances, Rue justly flips out, to the point of nearly having another panic attack. While demonstrating the depth of her concern, Rue ends up kissing a shocked Jules, who doesn’t reciprocate. Mortified, Rue makes a beeline to Fezco’s, but he denies her drugs, afraid she’ll kill herself.
It appears Euphoria is sticking with a one-backstory-per-cold-open model, and this time the featured player is Barbie Ferreira’s Kat, arguably the most together of the show’s major players. That gives Euphoria a chance to bend its clever visuals in the direction of some much-needed humor. Turns out Kat is a Tumblr fanfic queen with 100,000-plus followers, leading to hilarious sequences that render her NC-17 One Direction slash fiction in anime style (complete with awful British accents) and portray her as the confident Khaleesi of her own online army (way to hammer in the IP there, HBO).
Aside from Zendaya, Ferreira is the best performer on the show, and she confidently fields narrative digressions that range from a dressing-room sex fantasy to twerking in lingerie. In the episode’s most gasp-worthy scene — a masked Kat giving a private cam session to a kinky beardo as he beats off his micropenis — she elegantly delivers a complicated blend of curiosity, amusement, and horror. The scene itself is awe-inspiringly explicit, truly the stuff of parental nightmares. I thought I was hardened to pretty much anything pay cable can throw at me, but apparently not.
Kat’s character is also arguably the show’s best at bringing nuance to a complicated social issue. As we learn in the cold open, Kat has been struggling with her weight since a fateful family vacation on which she drank about 70 virgin piña coladas in a week. But instead of leaning hard on the clichéd school-bullying angle, Euphoria is crystal clear that the biggest source of Kat’s insecurity is media consumption, which fills her with unrealistic expectations for romance and for her body. She’s so blinded by them she can’t see the lab partner with a serious crush who’s standing right in front of her.
The show is realistic about Kat’s talent as a fantasist being both a gift and a liability. She’s a successful (if uncompensated) author and an adept (if accidental) financial domme, but she’s incapable of being who she really is in front of her peers, to the point that she decides to change her wardrobe and recast herself as a different character, too. Rue’s drug use, Nate’s violent rage, and Cassie’s sexual licentiousness are attention getting, but Kat’s yen for fantasy is a far more common vice — and one that’s hardly ever discussed, especially through a medium that’s often responsible for molding it.
The episode quickly dips into other narratives, from Cassie guiding McKay through a perilous frat hazing and getting her first “I love you” in return, to Nate trying to conceal Jules’s texts from an increasingly suspicious Maddy. But Kat’s makeover is at the heart of the ultimate narrative thrust here: These teens are starring in the movies they’re making in their own heads (and on social media) and making some very dangerous choices accordingly.
• Euphoria is not shy about name-checking its influences, and Rue’s sister Gia streaming My So-Called Life made me slap my forehead about how obvious a predecessor it is to this show, down to the moral panic it’s inspiring among parents.
• Jules wants to go to Parsons to study fashion design. I have no doubt Tim Gunn will be utterly delighted by her strong eyeliner game.
• Rue’s dick-pic instructional segment is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV this year, from the killer, Tarantino-esque editing and presentation design to Zendaya’s shockingly impressive comedic chops. I really hope this is an arbiter of Euphoria flexing its humor muscle more in upcoming episodes.
• I am deeply heartened by the fact that “X Gonna Give It to Ya” is a pump-up anthem that transcends generations.