In Its Finale, Euphoria Graduates From Good To Great

Spoilers for season 1 of Euphoria.

Two weeks ago I wrote about Euphoria and dove into the pros and cons of the show. In short, abstract character studies: good. Linear plot mechanics: bad.

Since then, in its final two episodes, Euphoria solved that problem.

In the penultimate installment “The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed,” — which I especially appreciated for its dedication to kidney infection realism — the show leans heavily into style over plot mechanics. The result is a four-and-a-half-minute sequence that would make Rust Cohle feel right at home, that neatly catches Rue up to speed on Jules’s long standing battle with Nate Jacobs while showing Rue’s deteriorating mental state economically and entertainingly.

This scene is an automatic contender for best surreal aside in a show full of surreal asides, but more than that it stands out against the series that comes before it by pivoting away from the facts of the plot (that Nate is blackmailing Jules) and reframes the show around the moods of its characters.

From that point on, the logistics of who has what on who fall to the wayside. In fact, over the last two episodes, there’s little development in the plot the show spent six hours building. Nate doesn’t blackmail any more or less and the domestic violence that got him suspended is firmly in the past. The one exception is in the Fezco plot, where Fez threatens Nate and gets raided as a result, which is, at most, is a tertiary plot.

We’re instead treated to stylized sequences that put us in the minds of our characters. Jules has a crazy experience at a club downtown and Rue closes the series with an epic lip syncing music video (more on that in a bit). In the finale “And Salt the Earth Behind You,” Euphoria ditches a linear timeline completely, and instead tells its story through a series of emotional beats, hanging out at the dance and diving into the backstories of the characters when relevant.

In fact, not much actually happens during the first 50 minutes of the finale. All of the action of the story comes in flashbacks, that paint vivid emotional pictures of our characters and bring the show into full focus around a central idea: pain.

Euphoria is an exploration of the pain and trauma we inherit, either from genetics or circumstance, and the “euphoria” we seek to escape it. For Rue, that was obvious from the beginning. Way back in the pilot, she described her first encounter with liquid valium: “This is the feeling I have been searching for my entire life, for as long as I could remember. Because suddenly, the world went quiet. And I felt safe, in my own head.”

But anything that solves pain is addictive, whether it’s drugs, getting sexual attention, or romance. And boy, is growing up painful. 

Life comes at these kids very fast, and while people chided the unrealistic depravity they would sink to, that was only ever meant to show that their innocence had completely eroded. Each profile that started an episode gave us a million little data points that nudged these characters further and further away from youth.

One thing leads to another and quickly they’re in abusive relationships, have drug dependencies, need to get abortions, and are struggling with who they are versus who they want to be. That stuff sneaks up on you. It’s not something you know is coming in 11th grade like calculus or US History. All of a sudden, that pain and trauma is there.

In the finale, every character is confronted with their pain, and we are confronted with their lack of tools to deal with that pain. Nate’s pain over his and his father’s identity manifests in a horrific rage where he screams and bangs his head against the ground. Maddy is brought to tears by the pain she feels because she is trapped in an abusive relationship with a man she loves. Even Kat’s desire to project strength comes from a place of deep insecurity.

Which brings us to Rue and Jules. The focus for much of the season has been on Rue, and the way that she has tried to replace drugs with Jules. After all, without dealing with the underlying pain, she needs a different escape. But we never really consider — until the finale — that Jules has been using Rue in exactly the same way. Between the way Hunter Schafer plays the character and the way every other character holds her in such reverence, it’s easy to forget the pain she’s gone through, or to view partying as her crutch.

But it’s Rue.

Jules chases romantic and sexual highs just like Rue chases drugs, and has since the moment we met her, hooking up with older men in motels. When Rue asks her to run away at the end of the season, Jules agrees because of the thrill that makes her forget the pain of her mother, of being used, of growing up.

Rue turns her down at the last minute and even though it’s the “right” decision, it leaves Rue in agony. Everything comes rushing back to her — her father dying, her frayed relationship with her mother, and her mental health struggles — and the scene explodes into a musical rich with overwhelming pain.

This scene is so much more visceral than the pain inflicted by plot mechanics, where we see a situation deteriorate around our characters, and matches the vibe of Euphoria. And by leaning into those raw, unfiltered feelings, rather than stories, Euphoria became a great show.

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