Now that we’re halfway through this season, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I keep coming back to Euphoria. Despite feeling underwhelmed every week, I still look forward to what’s coming next. And sure, my anticipation is filled with a healthy dose of trepidation, but I’m still excited nonetheless. But why? It’s not because of Sam Levinson’s writing or his provocations, which are not only a frequent target of criticism but a bona fide meme at this point. It’s not because of its drama or beauty either. The reason is Zendaya. Nothing has capitalized on her star power quite like Euphoria, and even when the show’s worst tendencies threaten to eclipse her, she still confidently carries every episode. “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” sees Rue destroy the last relationships she had, culminating in a contrived hallucination with Labrinth in a church. (Sure …) But the real defining moment of this episode is Rue swaying by herself in her bedroom, her arms reaching out to embrace no one. That’s a testament to the power of Zendaya.
Since it’s an unspoken rule at this point that a Euphoria episode can’t start without a naked body or a sex scene, “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” begins with Rue and Jules under the sheets. As Jules goes down on her, Rue imagines the pair of them as works of art. They’re as beautiful as a Frida Kahlo painting and bound together for life like Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar. “This may be the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” Rue thinks. If she’s emotionally stimulated, the same can’t be said on a physical level — she’s too high to feel anything. (“Don’t tell anyone, but she might as well be going down on my ankle.”) To Jules’s embarrassment, the best she can do is perform an unconvincing fake orgasm.
It’s here that the dreaded love triangle between Rue, Jules, and Elliot becomes a reality — though who knows why because Elliot is such a nothing character. Woefully underwritten and lacking any interiority whatsoever, it feels like he exists just to inject some more chaos into Rue’s life. But he’s also quietly one of the most corrupt characters of the series. He’s seen Rue’s vulnerability and love for Jules firsthand, and yet he doesn’t hesitate to ruin that the moment Jules thinks being called a whore is endearing. It’s only until he witnesses Rue and Jules arguing — and the insidious damage he’s caused — that he decides to confess about Rue’s relapse to Jules.
As the three hang out at Elliot’s place, a fluid continuous shot illustrates the intricate high-wire act needed to pull it off: Jules and Elliot jumping away from each other just before getting caught; Elliot heading to the bathroom to check the line left by Rue. But you can only keep an act like that up for so long. A late-night trip to steal some alcohol turns sour when Rue starts drinking to Jules’s horror. I think it’s here where we see Rue’s pent-up anger from the train station finally emerge. She resents that she has to sit in the back seat while Elliot and Jules have fun. She resents that when she does partake in their drunken hedonism, she’s chastised for it. When she’s with Jules, she’s the sober third wheel (or is forced to act like it, at least).
From one love triangle to another, the Nate/Cassie/Maddy situation comes to a head at Maddy’s birthday party from hell. I do think Maddy’s babysitting job was just an elaborate justification for her and Nate doing Malcolm and Marie 2.0 at a SoCal mansion. Euphoria has never really elaborated on Maddy’s complicated affection for Nate since the breakup, but here, she resigns herself to the fact that she can’t get away from him, even with the awareness of his pernicious effect on her. “I feel like you ruined me forever,” she admits, but he jokingly dismisses her: “How does it sound romantic when you say it like that?”
Of course, unbeknownst to her, her maybe ex-boyfriend is cheating on her with Cassie. Far from the angelic vision he had initially, Cassie is just as ferociously combative as Maddy. There’s also a lot you can read from the way she argues that she’s “crazier” than Maddy. Is this her last-ditch attempt at scaring Nate into stopping his psychological torment? Or is this a tactic to make her more attractive to him? (After all, he tells Maddy that he loves her because she’s not as cruel as she appears to be.) Maybe it’s a bit of both. Her cold, hubristic “bye” plants a victory, but Sydney Sweeney’s wide eyes suggest this is a game she can’t win.
Nate practically delights in exacerbating Cassie’s insatiable desire and debilitating guilt. And her feelings are only made worse by his presence at Maddy’s birthday party, where she can only sit and idly watch on as Maddy insists on getting back together with Nate. And so, an inconsolable Cassie drinks straight from the bottle, sings mournfully to Sinead O’Connor, and vomits all that alcohol back up again, solidifying hot tubs as the unsexiest place on the planet.
In an episode that sees several characters reach their breaking point, Cal Jacobs faces his in a seven-minute scene of destructive catharsis. With the disc still missing, he’s descended into full fuck it mode, driving intoxicated to the same gay bar where he kissed Derek. (Jacobs men just love to drive recklessly, apparently.) But even his own utopia, preserved in the same state as he last saw it, won’t welcome him — all he can do is escape. Cal has his Logan Roy moment and pisses in the foyer to the disgust of his family. Their vantage point from upstairs suggests Cal’s fall from grace, but everyone in the Jacobs family harbors a dark secret that’s rotting them from the inside out. Cal is just the first to confront it — he leaves with a cordial good-bye and the lingering smell of urine.
Nate and Cal’s relationship is a muddle. There’s a symbiotic quality to them, the way they resent and punish and protect each other as a mutually beneficial transaction. Explaining his character’s motivations, Eric Dane has said that Cal picks his moments to be a good parent and ease his own guilt (like stalking Fez), but that self-reflection doesn’t necessarily translate to the scene in the Jacobs’ foyer. Sure, he apologizes for messing up Nate, but he also lashes out and doles out the blame. “The reason I have a problem is this family,” he says, but his repression existed long before his kids arrived. What Cal’s backstory makes clear is that his son is nothing like the excitable and curious kid Cal once was. And if Cal was perpetuating the cycle of cold, loveless parenting enacted by his own father, something has gone drastically wrong for Nate to turn out like this. He claims Nate was his biggest regret, but in truth, he regrets passing his bitterness on to him.
Euphoria’s characters have been stuck in cycles of abuse, addiction, and bad habits throughout this season. It has its narrative purpose, but it’s also lent a feeling of repetitiveness — this isn’t a show that benefits from a slow burn. “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” presents itself as a turning point of sorts, but in reality, progression has been incremental. It’s why the montage toward the end comes across as a desperate grasp for profundity with its expressive lighting and contemplative fourth-wall breaks. (The only exception might be that gorgeous shot of Cassie surrounded by cascading flowers, only for the camera to pull back and reveal Nate’s love-bombing.) The result is disappointingly anticlimatic. It’s been a season of all setup and little payoff so far. We can only hope that Euphoria will fulfill its promises.
• There’s a hint of tragedy to the Rue and Jules montage: The lovers in the Magritte painting are forever separated by cloth, Patrick Swayze is a ghost, Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t fit on the door. Perhaps this was only alluding to their fight, but it could be hinting at something more. Is it just coincidental that almost all of the characters Rue portrays die at the end?
• Cassie’s present for Maddy is a scrapbook album of the two of them — a preservation of their idyllic past, rather than a reflection of what their friendship has become now.
• It’s taken half a season for Kat to finally admit out loud that she doesn’t love Ethan.
• Trouble could be heading Fez’s way with the news that Mouse’s partner has been looking for him. I fear he and Lexi won’t be as chill and wholesome as I hoped.
• During the group photo at Maddy’s birthday, Lexi hides her face, cowering behind Kat. And just before that, the camera pointedly captures her watching Cassie and Maddy’s tearful hug as she realizes something is off. Still, Lexi is the perennial observer, never the active agent.
• Speaking of, Lexi’s argument with Cassie highlights the limits of her observant nature. In her play, Lexi paints her sister as irrational and melodramatic, but she hasn’t even scratched the surface of what Cassie is enduring inside.