On Sun., Jan. 9, 2022, the second season of “Euphoria,” the well-known and well-loved artistic drama, was released on the streaming service HBO Max. The season premiere proved to be massively popular, drawing a substantial 2.4 million viewers. After the episode’s social media explosion, HBO described it as the “most social premium cable series episode” since the “Game of Thrones” finale in 2019.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows a highly interconnected high school friend group through the challenges life brings them. It highlights many of the struggles teenagers and young adults face today, touching on issues such as sexuality, gender identity, emotional and physical abuse, drug addiction and social media pressures.
Viewers would expect a show that highlights those issues in such a brutally graphic and raw manner to have some sort of moral high point, resolution or positive outcome. “Euphoria,” arguably, does not. If anything, the show is a blatant depiction of these issues rather than a call to action. It shows the human tendency to act in response to temporary, rather than permanent, emotions, along with our inclination to numb pain rather than to cope with it in healthy ways.
The mild warnings posted by Zendaya on Twitter and Instagram as well as the brief mental health resources and content warnings at the beginning of the episodes are as far as the show goes to acknowledging its own abusive, unhealthy and troubling nature.
Despite these warnings, the series has yet to show signs of a silver lining to contrast the disheartening plot. Time and time again, Rue relapses, Jules continues to struggle with finding her place at a new school and Nate proceeds to be violent and abusive; these are only a few examples of the lack of progress each character makes over an entire season.
By the nature of the series, it is plausible to think it may be more about the struggle than the solution. The silver lining may end up being hidden beneath layers of pain and sadness, as those emotions are arguably more impactful for viewers than the emotions which would come with a happy ending. However, this sounds bleak for the mental health of the viewers who are possibly struggling enough on their own and are unable to reconcile with the themes in the show. Through its gaudy displays and modern suburban setting, the show is packaged to appeal to a certain audience — teenagers.
To present its dark themes, “Euphoria” focuses on artistic filming techniques as well as elaborate outfits and makeup. To draw in its target group, the series pairs overwhelming visuals with an underwhelming script. The images shown on screen are edgy, and our generation likes edgy.
The camera spins around the characters, following them strategically through the carnival while flashing between dark and light sets, all to help the watcher experience the same highs and lows that the characters do. This style of filming aims to create an intoxicating atmosphere, similar to the feelings the characters experience when they are happily drowning in their unhealthy addictions.
Maddy’s addiction to Nate feels exhilarating before she crashes down in the next moment — when his hands are wrapped around her neck. Rue’s drugs take her to an unreal dimension until her younger sister finds her choking on her own vomit in her bedroom, leaving her family in pieces. Jules temporarily fills her void of self-harm by hooking up with Nate’s father in a motel, although she is ultimately left reeling with violation and loneliness. Along with the characters, the watchers intimately feel every high and low — all because of the artistic filming style.
“Euphoria’s” ability to immerse its watchers deserves great applause. However, the visuals take the watcher so far into the raw emotion that the weight of the story gets lost. The message itself is devastating, but as I watched the show I never once felt that I was going to cry. This was because the complex message was unfortunately muddled by the artistic displays. Such deep issues simply cannot be accurately portrayed using art film.
I joined a sorority here at the University of Michigan last year (which I am no longer a member of), but I remember the Bid Day theme was “Euphoria.” While I doubt this was meant to be insensitive, it only goes to prove that the deeper message of the show is lost. “Euphoria” themed parties, outfits and makeup have become popular ever since the show’s release as well.
“Euphoria” is a volatile depiction of a partier’s nightmare; at every party something seems to go wrong, whether it is an assault, drug abuse or other altercation. Even though the series attempted to raise awareness for these issues, in reality it did quite the opposite. Teenagers and young adults did not heed to the warnings but rather got sucked into the glamour of the show, manifesting these newfound ideas into “Euphoria”-themed party inspiration.
Despite my speculation regarding the show’s misunderstood message, Donniella Davy, head of “Euphoria’s” makeup department, expressed that the makeup in the new season will be much more subtle than before. She says watchers will begin to understand that the makeup is part of the storytelling; it reflects what each character is going through. Perhaps the flashiness of the show is not meant to take away from the show’s message, but rather deepen it. However, the fact that “Euphoria”’s creators had to explicitly state the relevance of characters’ makeup only goes to show that they themselves even recognize how distracting the makeup and other special effects are.
“Euphoria” is ultimately a tragic story about love and loss, involving themes that reflect the modern world. It is a romanticization of the darkest parts of society — the slow deterioration of our minds and bodies due to drugs, self harm, abuse, sexual endeavors and social media — mixed with unforgiving yet beautiful designs. The fact that society has overlooked the intention of the series shows how powerful the art of cinema can be. Even we ourselves got so lost in the mock-euphoric feelings that the camera conveyed that we barely even noticed the crash.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.