Everyone told me not to do it. It would be too much, they said — too intense, too bleak, too many dicks. But I am a professional, and I needed to catch up with the conversation around Euphoria as we near the second-season finale on February 27. My ignorance was vast: Was there a specific episode that earned Zendaya her first Emmy? Why does everyone hate Nate Jacobs? And all the Alexa Demie memes — help me understand!
To be honest, watching 17 episodes of Euphoria over two days was probably not the best approach. So much drug use and overdose, sexual assault, violence, blackmail, emotional and physical abuse, death, grief, and regret — and that’s just season one! Then there’s season two with the agony of watching Rue tear into her family and friends after they learn she has relapsed and started doing heroin, the implied criminal investigation into Fezco and Ashtray, and whatever the hell is going on with Cassie. I needed some way to take all this in, so I offer you my simple but effective trick: Consider Euphoria a soap opera.
If you recoil at those two words, let me emphasize that soap operas — daytime classics like General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, prime-time classics like Dynasty and Grey’s Anatomy — are worthy of your respect. I grew up watching The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful with my mom, and some of my earliest TV memories involve the cliffhangers that ended various episodes. At their core, soaps are longform storytelling driven by characters with tumultuous and spontaneous emotions they just can’t control. The pacing is often slow because the casts are so expansive, and the tone is a mix of winking self-awareness and magnified melodrama. It’s all heightened feelings, impulsive decision-making, and vibes, and isn’t that also what Euphoria is doing?
Yes, Euphoria is a challenging story about addiction, forgiveness, empathy, and whether the worst thing you do defines you forever. Yet Euphoria has devoted a whole season to the roller-coaster ups and downs of two love triangles, and you could argue that one of them is actually a love rectangle that involves one of the people in the other love triangle. Consider, too, the grand declarations of affection, the shifting loyalties and alliances, and the enigmatic, mysterious characters. This is all soapy stuff, and placing these elements within that genre framework is the way to watch Euphoria without falling down a well of sadness. If you too are looking to catch up on the series before the second season wraps, keep these soapy clichés in mind to help counter all that trauma.
It’s a soap-opera truism that if a certain romantic pairing isn’t working narratively, well, just add someone new into the mix. The genre relies just as much on big romantic gestures as it does the idea that monogamy is an impossible task. That duality also exists on Euphoria, where these kids trade “I love you”s with astonishing swiftness and ease (Cassie and McKay; Nate and Maddy; Nate a.k.a. “ShyGuy118” a.k.a. “Tyler” and Jules; Rue and Jules), break romantic vows (Rue describing Maddy: “She did worry about the whole monogamy thing, though”), and betray friendships (Nate and Cassie; Jules and Elliot; Rue and Elliot). I guess whatever the hell Kat is doing counts too (fantasizing about a Dothraki warrior killing her boyfriend and then claiming her sexually in conquest).
Relationship overlaps drive Euphoria’s storytelling (too much of it, arguably), and the series’ continued use of Nate as the one guy so many women cannot stay away from has gotten exhausting. But at least Euphoria offers some dark humor along with all this passion and duplicity: Suze’s “Those aren’t the emotions of a single person” while watching Cassie have a breakdown on the phone; Maddy’s “Bitch, you better be joking” to Cassie in the Euphoria High bathroom; the bemused looks on Cal and Marsha’s faces as they hear Cassie and Nate’s exuberant sex. No romantic relationship in Euphoria is healthy, but hopefully, none of them is forever, either.
The Jacobs Family As the Big Bad
Soap operas are often focused on families because bonds between parents, siblings, cousins, and whoever else are a straightforward way to make characters immediately relevant to the story and to our interests. Because this is American TV, said characters are also usually wealthy. The Young and the Restless had the Newmans and the Abbotts; The Bold and the Beautiful had the Forresters; Dynasty had the Carringtons; Dallas had the Ewings; and even Twin Peaks, which was soapy in its own unique way, centered the Palmers and the Hornes. And so it goes that Euphoria has the Jacobs family, a clan that “fucking owns half this town,” as Rue explains to Jules, and is summarily awful.
Cal is an abusive father, absent husband, and sexual predator who videotapes his partners (most all of them far younger than he is!) without their consent. His son Nate, described as “literally the worst person in the world,” is cut from the same cloth. I don’t have time to list every awful thing Nate has ever done because I have a life to live, but suffice it to say that nothing on Euphoria has given me more joy than watching Fezco smash his face in. Older brother Aaron, per Cal’s description, watches some of the most degrading porn Cal has ever seen. Mommy Marsha admits that she knows Nate choked Maddy, but she doesn’t care. Her amused “Don’t get so upset that you end up choking me!” is a real triumph of awful parenting. I’m not sure how much the Jacobs family can continue to throw its weight around now that Cal has left town, but shout-out to Maddy for her astute analysis of the Jacobses: “Your whole family is so fucking weird.”
Crime Lords As Sensitive Guys
Stefano DiMera from Days of Our Lives, Sonny Corinthos from General Hospital: These men walked so Fezco could run! Okay, so Stefano wasn’t the nicest (he caused someone to be possessed by the devil, switched babies, and had a whole army of henchmen), but Sonny had a tortured Michael Corleone–Tony Soprano thing going.
I often thought of Sonny while watching Fezco try to protect Rue, both after his drug sales helped turn her into an addict and during the backstory sequence that explains Fez’s relationships with his grandmother and nonbiological brother, Ashtray. He calls Rue his “family,” he doesn’t understand why she’s not trying to stay clean after rehab, and he’s probably second after her mother and sister in unconditional love for her. He shows Lexi more kindness and interest than it seems anyone else ever has, and he takes attentive care of his grandmother. But Fez is also capable of astonishing violence (beating up both that drug-dealing doctor who worked with Mouse and, of course, Nate, though I care less about that) and has very bad judgment in taking Rue along to the drug deal that introduces her to Laurie. He’s a true tough-exterior, soft-interior archetype, one of the few characters on Euphoria who seem to fully understand the gravity of their own actions, and I will lose my mind if something happens to him and/or Lexi.
Where is the third Jacobs son? Why is he in the family portrait but never mentioned? Actors Eric Dane and Jacob Elordi have both said in interviews that they have no idea what’s up with the third child in the picture Cal takes off the wall before leaving his family, while series creator Sam Levinson doesn’t seem ever to have spoken about it. Is this a production error or an abandoned plot that turned into an elaborate troll, like how Roman Roy is married in the Succession pilot, then single afterward? If this were a character who was written in as dead, why not have Cal bring him up as he tears into Nate and Aaron?
The missing character and the series’ refusal to acknowledge him is very soap opera–y. So in that spirit, let me make a suggestion: Can the third Jacobs son be Ashtray?
If we ignore that the timing doesn’t work (though soap operas do often mess with characters’ ages), Ashtray’s first choice of using violence to get what he wants is very much in line with the behavior of the Jacobs men. This kid is the real spiritual heir apparent to Cal’s ruthlessness! Consider his murder of Mouse and his attack on Custer and then how he holds a shotgun to Cal’s head, coolly hits him with it numerous times, and correctly deduces that Cal is afraid of going to the police. “What kind of weird-ass father-son shit is going on around here, bro?” Fezco asks Cal, and I can’t disagree.
The introduction of a new character to add tension or danger to an already established, potentially staid plot is a soap-opera go-to, and Euphoria’s second season broadly applies this principle. After a first season in which nearly every character gets a biography narrated by Rue, the second season adds fresh, chaotic faces without much context at all.
What’s Elliot’s deal? He’s new to town, he gets between Rules by doing drugs with Rue and hooking up with Jules, and the two are constantly over at his house, but his backstory isn’t really explained. Then there are Curtis and Faye: The former gets an expanded role as Fez and Ashtray’s frenemy and business partner after Mouse’s death, and the latter forms a bond with Fez that is tested by Curtis’s alliance with the police. A lot sure is riding on these characters we don’t know much about, aside from the fact that Faye is pretty good at ironing! And while Maddy’s conversations with Minka Kelly’s babysitting client Samantha have helped add some interiority and dimensionality to the high-schooler, I wonder about that guy Travis, who certainly seemed like a promising not-Nate love interest for her and then just … never materialized again.
These new characters surrounded by question marks are a very soapy trope, and Euphoria really leans into that approach with Laurie, who steps into Mouse’s shoes as Fezco’s supplier and Rue’s manipulator. She spins a sympathetic story about getting addicted to painkillers after aggravating an old sports injury, but there’s a huge gap in her biography, isn’t there? How did she go from schoolteacher, wife, and mother to formidable drug dealer obsessed with tropical birds and protected by dudes who look like extras from Spring Breakers? Most adults in Euphoria Land (Florida?) are bad news, but Laurie pushes to the front of the pack by seeing in Rue a potential business opportunity — just not the one Rue thinks when Laurie fronts her a $10,000 suitcase full of drugs. Every time Laurie has a conversation with Rue, she basically says straight to the teen’s face that she would sell her into sex trafficking to pay her debt. So, uh, is that a person behind the locked door in her apartment? What other elements of Laurie’s shadowy past could she be hiding from Fez and Rue?
Also, is that Oscar nominee Jesse Plemons in that photograph with Laurie? Martha Kelly, who plays Laurie, is 20 years older than Plemons, so maybe he’s supposed to be her grown-up son? If this is Euphoria giving us a Breaking Bad crossover, that’s fine — because there’s a ton of soap-opera precedent for this! Characters from General Hospital and All My Children showed up on soaps Loving and The City. There was a baby switch between All My Children and One Life to Live. And The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful traded characters often; most impactful was the murderous nurse Sheila Carter, who knew her way around a needle and terrorized families on both CBS soaps. Honestly? Sheila and Laurie would probably get along.
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