Euphoria S2E1: “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”

Rue stares forward, sitting in the backseat of a car in Euphoria S2E1
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

The following contains spoilers for Euphoria S2E1, “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” (written and directed by Sam Levinson)

If you recall, the end of Season 1 of Euphoria left our friend Fezco in something of a difficult spot. Nate had called the cops on him, causing him to flush all of the drugs in his place, and that was actually more drugs than he was used to having on hand, or even wanted to have on hand. Mouse had basically forced him to up the amount he was on the hook to sell. So, in order to pay back this scary man who had previously made Rue take fentanyl against her will (basically), Fezco broke into a doctor’s house and robbed him at gunpoint in front of his kid.

He’s a fascinating character, Fezco, and I’m happy to see Euphoria Season 2 not only pick up that plot thread right away, but deepen Fezco’s backstory by finally giving him an opening episode segment of his own. (It remains a question how these segments work, of course, as they are narrated by Rue but surely provide information she would not know, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment.)

Fezco stands leaning against a wall in the Season 2 premiere of Euphoria
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

Fezco was raised by his grandmother after she shot his dad in the legs in the back room of a strip club. She brought him into the game of dealing drugs but treated him as her partner more than her child. Ashtray, it turns out, was collateral from a woman (his mother) who never came back to retrieve him, which is very sad but also probably shows the risks of taking a baby as collateral—you’re kind of depending on the mother being a halfway decent person. Or, who knows if that’s unfair. Maybe she died or something.

Regardless, it’s touching to think about all of this history in terms of the bond between Fezco and Ashtray we’ve seen throughout the course of Euphoria so far. These two characters, who could almost seem unrealistic if they weren’t so sympathetically portrayed, give a poignant entry into a certain way of being that is at once harsh and kind.

Fezco’s interactions with Lexi at the New Year’s Eve party are paradigmatic of this. It is completely true that he finds her to be the most interesting person he’s talked to in quite some time, and finds their conversation to be the highlight of his year. But that doesn’t stop him from proceeding to beat the snot out of Nate right in front of her and everyone else at the party.

You might be tempted to think that Fezco is a sociopath in light of this, except that he so clearly does care about others. He’s just applying the lessons he learned from his grandmother, however infelicitously—because it’s not clear that Nate is a problem you solve with violence.

Nate looks at Fezco as they stand near glasses on a shelf
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

Nate is conniving, and if anyone in Euphoria is a sociopath it’s him (yes, I’m aware the language of sociopathy is potentially outdated per the DSM and perhaps problematically pejorative, and I’m sure Nate would be the first to point that out). He’s compelling precisely insofar as he knows exactly what he is doing and how to push the buttons and play the game of the world he’s living in.

Think about what he did to Jules in Season 1. It’s terrifying not only because of the level of detachment from self it implies but because he’s able to play within the rules of society and turn them to his advantage. In some ways, I’m tempted to say that, of all the characters in Euphoria, Nate is the one who is best adapted to the world we live in, but that doesn’t excuse him so much as it condemns our social reality itself as psychopathic. It’s all the letter of the law and nothing of the spirit.

In S2E1, this is almost less evident in his interactions with Cassie than in those he has with McKay about her. There is no “real” Nate—he’s masks all the way down. But isn’t that just appropriate to a world where everything is fractured and we operate as divided versions of ourselves? What is the difference between the self and one’s avatar? Nate recognizes that there isn’t one, not really. One is how one is perceived to be. Simulacra and Simulation, indeed.

So it’s nice to see him take a beating in Euphoria S2E1, but by no means could we expect him to learn from it. Instead, we should expect him to become all the more vicious. Honestly, I’m scared of Nate now more than ever.

Maddy stands by a bathroom door, with Travis behind her in line
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

Cassie is flailing, thinking that she should focus on herself but with no idea how to do that, or even how to define herself except through the gaze of another. So she ends up hooking up with Nate in the bathroom until Maddy starts banging on the door, and she cries because that’s her best friend, before Nate tells her exactly what to do and she listens.

How should we define ourselves though, if not in relation to others? The relationship between Rue and Jules, which is central to Euphoria, is also clearly unhealthy. It’s not fair to Jules for Rue’s sobriety to hang on her, but as much as Ali explained that at the diner, Rue’s position is more nihilistic than anything. There is no bottom. She’s not planning to be around much longer.

Rue in an entryway, framed by darkness, in the Euphoria Season 2 premiere
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

And yet one can’t help but root for Rue and Jules, as the love between them is clear. Their reconciliation is a bright spot of Euphoria S2E1, but can it last without problematic codependency, or does it have to be problematic for two broken people to depend on each other in a broken world?

Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door

When Lexi asks Fezco how he can reconcile his belief in God with being a drug dealer, he responds by starting in on his grandmother’s story about Uncle Carl who ate too much McDonald’s, but then recognizes that this doesn’t quite fly as Lexi suggests she wouldn’t let the CEO of McDonald’s into heaven either.

The point of the Uncle Carl story is supposed to be that it isn’t the drug dealer’s fault that people wreck their lives with drugs, but we know—and Fezco knows—that it isn’t really the addicts’ either. There’s a reason he refused to sell drugs to Rue at one point, even if he’s apparently gone back on that now.

Fezco sits on a couch, talking with Lexi
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

The cycle of addiction is existential in its scope, or related to the lack of some substantial meaning found in being. We might well remind ourselves of Ali’s insistence to Rue that she has to create her own God. She has to learn to appreciate the poetry.

In a way, I think Fezco does, but it doesn’t change anything. He’s doing what he has to in order to survive and trying to look out for those he loves. He’s unfazed—or only somewhat fazed in the moment—when Ashtray attacks Mouse and Custer with a hammer toward the beginning of S2E1, and approaches the beating he lays on Nate with all of the enthusiasm of a man reluctantly going to work a shift.

Jules sits on a chair at the party, wearing dark eyeliner
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

The poetry of Euphoria is as strong as ever in the Season 2 premiere. One of the things that continues to impress me about the show is its flow, both visually and sonically. S2E1 unfurls like a long music video as much as an episode of television, and its visual language is as innovative as ever.

As the episode approaches its climax, Sam Levinson gives us shots in slow motion, framing each of our primary characters like a moving painting, and while this all brings forth the anxiety that something bad is about to happen (and it does), the rhythm doesn’t break as you might expect it to, but rather segues into a quiet moment of dialogue between Nate and Fezco before the latter breaks a bottle over the former’s head and punches him forever. It’s beautiful.

Cassie and McKay’s relationship is over. Nate and Maddy are broken up again (for the moment at least). Ethan and Kat are cute and in love. Their moments play out over the course of the party, bringing us back into this world. And of course Jules and Rue are apart, until the end of the hour, because they’ve been separated for eons even if it’s only been days or however many weeks.

We can’t help but celebrate their connection, and it’s too easy to simply decide their relationship is unhealthy and call it a day. That supposes the existence of healthy relationships with others, which is something Euphoria very much calls into question.

If there are none, what then?

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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