Up until now, Euphoria has stayed faithful to its structure, beginning with a cold open that establishes why each major character is, to put it lightly, such a mess. “Out of Touch” marks the first departure from the formula, but to the dismay of probably everyone, including me, the focus is back on Nate. The episode picks up right where we left off, on Nate’s bloody face after a brutal pummeling from Fez. He’s quickly taken to the hospital, the sound of a stretcher wheeling across the floor accompanied by a pair of clicking heels on either side. Nate is torn between his new, undeveloped relationship with Cassie — supposedly “in love,” he fantasizes about a white-picket-fence future with her — and Maddy, who just can’t escape from him.
This is when Euphoria’s maximalist style actually comes in handy for telegraphing Nate’s overabundant stress. Jacob Elordi has so far been required to exhibit the emotional range of a race car, so in his place, past, present, sex, rage, and fear are entangled in a cacophonous montage. It culminates in a baby wailing over his blissed-out smile, suggesting birth and (near) death going hand in hand. Or rebirth. Or something similar that looks profound on paper. It’s not like this will mean anything anyway. Despite the consequences of his actions literally smacking him in the face, he reverts back to his manipulative ways before his wounds have even healed. When Cal asks why Fez beat him up, Nate fabricates a lie about him, Rue, Jules to keep his father in the dark about his own involvement. Only now, Cal knows that his son is aware of the missing disk.
Cassie’s allure is explained in Rue’s perennial voiceover. “With Maddy, it was always a game,” she says. “Cassie was the opposite.” But it is all still a game to Nate. His ex-girlfriend is a fierce opponent, while Cassie is a pliable target. He constantly dangles the threat of Maddy finding out, sending Cassie into such a guilt-ridden spiral that she forgets to clean Nate’s blood from her legs, like an untouched crime scene. But the only thing that can take her mind off of Maddy is sneaking out to see Nate — she’s stuck in a neverending ouroboros of lust and loathing. He lies and manipulates her with such ease. “You don’t know how much power you have,” he reassures her, but the imbalance will always be in his favor.
As for Rue and Jules, I’m really unsure of where they stand right now. Not that long ago, the latter was confessing that she was in love with another girl. Now, the two are happy(ish) and officially dating. The only problem is Elliot. Since Rue’s death scare at New Year’s, she’s been taking drugs with him regularly, and an uncomfortable introduction with Jules leaves her jealous and heartbroken. The dramatic turnaround in how Rue and Jules feel about each other is abrupt, but their inability to address the train station goes in tandem with Rue’s secrecy, perhaps fueled by her resentment for what Jules did. So in Rue’s ignorance, she keeps hanging out with Elliot, and their mellow dynamic stands in such contrast to the charged connection between her and Jules. In his bedroom, she opens up to him about her dad’s death, but he won’t entertain the idea that her grief is inextricably tied with her addiction. (“I feel like everyone’s looking for a cause and effect,” he says. “Sometimes shit just is what it is.”) He’s her enabler, essentially. And though they’re both mildly aware that this strange little friendship they have isn’t healthy, they’re just in too deep to put a stop to it. “I just feel like we might not bring out the best in each other,” Elliot tells Rue. “I feel like I’m okay with that,” she concedes. At first, I was cautious of a potential love triangle with Elliot, but perhaps he’s just the catalyst needed to expose Jules and Rue’s rocky foundations.
Then there’s Kat, whose relationship is enviably perfect in the eyes of everyone except her — she just can’t understand why she isn’t head over heels for Ethan. Her confusion manifests in two dream sequences, the first involving a Dothraki-esque warrior violently murdering Ethan in one of the absolute worst cases of Euphoria’s obsession with excess. Sure, the show’s dalliances with fantasy do well to communicate the melodramatic, life or death stakes of being a teenager. Still, I also just think something like Sydney Sweeney’s evocative (and heavily memed) performance in the last episode resonates more than Kat having sex over her boyfriend’s rotting corpse.
The real problem, she decides, is herself. The Kat she was last year — the one who said that “there’s nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a fuck” — was only an act to hide the real girl who hates herself. Wallowing in her bedroom, she’s ambushed by an army of influencers hurling empty affirmations like, “every day you get out of bed is an act of courage.” Kat isn’t suffering in isolation but with access to the pernicious internet-famous preaching self-love. (Barbie Ferreira has criticized positive body activism, saying that what makes her “feel more empowered is quietly doing it.”) This season, Kat’s arc will likely be more complicated than simply learning to love herself and Ethan, but consider this: Does he actually have anything going for him? I adore him as much as the next Euphoria stan, but the only effusive adjectives Kat can muster for her pros and cons list are “cute,” “handsome,” and “funny.” Kat … this is the bare minimum for men!!!
After teasing us with a bigger role for Lexi last episode, “Out of Touch” follows through on that promise with her backstory. Reaffirming that she is the most well-adjusted character here, her major worry is lacking main character energy. She’s shy and quiet, willing to stand in the background while her sister steals the spotlight, but her passivity, in her mind, has also made her complicit in her father and Rue’s addictions. (Sam Levinson loves the word “passive” so much he wrote it twice into her segment.) So after Cassie rats out Fez, Lexi decides to finally take some agency by visiting him at the store — but when Cal waltzes in to intimidate the man who attacked Nate, she steps back to the sidelines once again. Baby steps. Things have moved slowly in “Out of Touch,” but for Lexi, the story is only just getting started.
• It’s great to see Colman Domingo’s Ali return. Despite the charismatic, nonchalant air he emanates, his struggle to hide the truth about Rue from her mother is always present.
• It’s rare for any pairing (platonic, romantic, or familial) in this show to be uncomplicated, so the brief conversations between Jules and Maddy were a welcome change. For a minute, these teenagers are just teenagers supporting each other, as Jules tries to steer her friend away from Nate: “I wish you could see yourself the way the rest of the world does.”
• Speaking of, what a relief to see that the most scandalous thing Maddy is up to right now is a surreptitious fashion show at her babysitting gig. I’m assuming Faye made a more significant offense than pushing a motel manager off a balcony if the entire police force is looking for her.
• If you haven’t seen Labrinth play his transcendental score to his child … you’re welcome.