Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers about the “Euphoria” second-season finale.
“Euphoria” is the beneficiary of an avid fan base that ensures the show trends each week on social media, the modern prescription for a disproportionate dose of coverage.
The HBO series left those fans with plenty to absorb in the second-season finale, which mixed moments that showcased the cast – foremost among them Emmy winner Zendaya – with a level of overwrought melodrama that has been characteristic of writer-director Sam Levinson’s creation throughout its run.
In addition to continuing with the high-school play that seemingly wouldn’t end, the episode opened with a murder, found time for a discussion of “Little House on the Prairie” and segued to Nate (Jacob Elordi) turning in his father (Eric Dane) to the police.
But that was nothing compared to the “Scarface”-like shootout involving the teenage Ash (Javon Walton), whose awful backstory was among the revelations that unfolded earlier in the season.
It was, as usual, a lot, though the episode did close on a quieter note, with Zendaya’s Rue exchanging an embrace with Jules (Hunter Schafer), before seemingly leaving that relationship behind. At least for now.
HBO (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia) has already renewed the series for a third season, which means these twentysomethings playing teens will move further along the ladder toward “Grease” territory in terms of the gap between their screen and actual ages, but chalk that up as a high-class problem. The show experienced a more than two-year gap between seasons due in part to Covid, without exhibiting any ill effects on that score.
Yet it’s possible to admire the artistry at work here – from how the program is shot to the quality of the performances – and still come away feeling unmoved by it, mostly because Levinson’s vision is so bleak and nihilistic, so provocative, often, seemingly for its own sake.
Edgy teen-based shows have proliferated along with every other genre, and this series has distinguished itself in part by being edgier than most, principally in terms of sexuality and nudity, but as the finale demonstrated, violence as well.
The tendency, or at least the temptation, with a show like “Euphoria” is to accentuate the positive, to heap praise on it to justify the attention, especially because you’re likely writing for people who are passionate about it.
“I think I’ve been through a lot, and I don’t know what to do with it,” Rue said near the end of the finale.
Everyone in “Euphoria” has been through a lot, which is surely part of its strange appeal. But as a critic, frankly, “I don’t know what to do with it” pretty well sums things up.