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‘Euphoria’ Finale Ends Exhausting Season 2 with Hurt and Hope in Equal Measure — Spoilers

Perhaps the best part of Sam Levinson's Season 2 finale: It sets up Season 3 to start fresh.

Euphoria Season 2 Episode 8 Zendaya Rue HBO

Zendaya in “Euphoria”

Eddy Chen / HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Euphoria” Season 2, Episode 8, “All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name.”]

Season 2 of “Euphoria” is at odds with itself. Few sections work together. Fewer still stand up on their own. Sam Levinson’s follow-up to his Emmy-winning HBO series can be not-so-cleanly broken down into three components: There’s the harrowing parts, which cover pretty much everything with Rue (Zendaya), from bone-chilling peril (like narrowly escaping a life in the sex trade) to soul-shattering despair (her relapse). Then there’s the soapy stuff, including Nate (Jacob Elordi) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Maddie (Alexa Demie), who are stuck in a “love” triangle, as well as Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Elliot (Dominic Fike), who are new friends holding damning secrets.

Both the harrowing side of “Euphoria” and its soapy secondary plots create an odd dichotomy Season 2 doesn’t really know what to do with. Are audiences meant to equate Rue’s life-threatening substance abuse with your standard high school sneaking around? Is it meant to underline that, for teens, sleeping with your best friend’s ex-boyfriend is on the same extreme emotional frequency as shooting heroin in a drug dealer’s bathtub? Perhaps, but the idea that “Euphoria” is simply embodying its teenage subjects’ lack of perspective by portraying every event in the same drastic light kind of goes out the window when Lexi’s school play has the emotional maturity of a theater kid and the budget, choreography, and production design of a Broadway show. The reality brought in by viewers can’t be ignored.

And that’s when “Euphoria’s” third component butts in: the chaos. Be it absent characters like McKay (Algee Smith), confounding arcs like Kat’s (Barbie Ferreira), or dialogue so transparent you hear Levinson’s voice instead of the speaker’s (for me, it was Lexi being reassured her “disaster” of a play would still be worse if it was boring) — Season 2 constantly draws attention to its construction. Other shows may brush mistakes under the rug, but “Euphoria” bends over backwards reassuring itself that what it’s doing is good, actually. How else do you explain the admitted disaster getting a standing ovation anyway?

OK, OK. The applause may have only existed in Lexi’s mind, given the end of the play begins with Rue calling Lexi to say how much… she liked… the play? But whether that’s meant to be Lexi’s dream scenario or some temporal pincer move, it’s the only ending of “Our Life” we get, and since Lexi is the creator/writer/director of a story about all the “Euphoria” characters, that makes her a painfully obvious surrogate for the creator/writer/director of “Euphoria,” Sam Levinson (an artist with a history of employing characters this way). There’s no need to rehash how the play recycled plots from the season, effectively making “Euphoria’s” audience sit through the drama twice, while watching the characters spot themselves on stage and react accordingly. (With all due respect to Zendaya, Alanna Ubach earns MVP honors for Suze’s magnificent responses to her daughters’ escalating drama.) But it is worth noting that Levinson, the sole credited writer, effectively staged a version of what he’d already wrote and then made people stand up and cheer for it.

To be fair, there are moments worth acknowledging. Cassie’s rampage lives up to last episode’s cliffhanger staredown, all but assuring Sydney Sweeney some much-deserved awards attention. Maddy’s slap + face smash also exceeds expectations, in terms of the violence she promised to inflict on her former best friend. (“This is just the beginning,” also makes for a lingering goodbye more ominous for its opacity.) The riot is well-staged, featuring many moving pieces and maintaining a clear sense of everyone’s whereabouts. (Plus, there are a number of great lines you may have missed, including Suze chastising her daughters for using foul language as their respective worlds burn.)

But while the extra sudsy soap certainly helps clean up the chaos (not to mention that song — a kind of lovely little number written by the series’ composer Labrinth and Zendaya  — that nonetheless goes on forever), “Euphoria’s” harrowing side still washes over the finale. First, the drawn-out death of Ash (Javon Walton) leaves its mark. Heading into the episode, many were worried about Fez (Angus Cloud) and his unofficial little brother. His empty seat at Lexi’s play could only mean something major kept him away, and Ashtray’s impulsive act of protection (aka stabbing Custer in the neck) started a chain of events that ended with the police storming the apartment, shooting up the place, and killing the scared kid after he offed one of theirs. What happens to Fez will be debated until Season 3 arrives — will he still take the blame for killing Custer (Tyler Chase), or will Faye (Chloe Cherry) convince him to tell the truth? — but since the season opens with he and Ashtray’s origin story, a tragic end to their partnership is only fitting.

Euphoria Season 2 Episode 8 HBO

“Euphoria”

Eddy Chen / HBO

Rue’s outro is more surprising, at least to this viewer. While it was clear she bottomed out in Episode 5, tearing through town like a one-woman tornado, a ray of sunshine didn’t seem to be in the cards. She makes amends with her sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo), and Episode 7 sees her cleaned up, sitting in the crowd with clear eyes and Zendaya’s ebullient expressions, but it wasn’t until Rue’s voiceover says she stays clean the rest of the school year that I started to believe a dark twist wasn’t waiting around the next corner. After all, Laurie (Martha Kelly) still needs to make her money back. There’s no debt forgiveness program that doesn’t involve Rue handing over an exorbitant amount of money or suffering a far worse fate, teased back in Laurie’s guest room. When will she come calling? Are we meant to believe she’s gone? That she’s satisfied without receiving any satisfaction?

“I don’t know if this feeling will last forever,” Rue says in her closing remarks. “But I am trying.” “Euphoria” is, too. The finale does its damnedest to finesse its disparate parts, stitching plots together to create formal cohesion and support. When Nate shuts the door on his father, the police break through Fez’s entrance. When Fez lies frozen in his hallway as Ashtray gets shot, Rue’s eulogy for her father starts with the words, “I was in the hall when you died.” Levinson patches together a finale that collects serious heartache, hysterical melodrama, and maddening chaos under one roof — for now. Who knows what Season 3 brings, but with Nate/Cassie/Maddie out in the open, Kat still kicking, Jules open to more, and Rue clean, there’s a chance to start fresh. Hoping for any kind of stability might be a long shot. But this is Rue’s story, and her odds are exactly that.

Grade: B-

“Euphoria” Seasons 1-2 are available to stream via HBO Max. Season 3 has been renewed at HBO.

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