The following contains spoilers for Euphoria S2E7, “The Theater and Its Double” (written and directed by Sam Levinson)
As I watched Euphoria S2E7, the title on my screen read “The Theater and It’s Double” and I found myself wondering whether I was going to have to put [sic] in my article title, as I got to thinking that perhaps the mistake was intentional, left as a subtle indication to those of us paying close enough attention that the episode was so poorly done on purpose, as if to invite us in on the joke. And I suppose it remains possible that this is the case, but before sitting down to write I went to the official HBO show page for Euphoria and there the apostrophe is not present, making it far more likely in my mind that this was a typo, or rather clerical error, made by whoever happened to be doing the data entry for S2E7. It’s a pretty common mistake.
Nevertheless, it seems fitting to me that this episode was the one that fell prey to a little grammatical sloppiness on the backend because it is so incredibly sloppy itself. It’s forgivable, of course, that Lexi’s play is godawful, and one could even take that as intentional in terms of what Euphoria is trying to do in this episode, contrasting the stilted performance on the school stage with the stylized beauty of the show more generally. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Instead, that stiltedness infects even those scenes that should land with more dramatic weight.
I was tense during the scenes at Fezco’s, for example, but not nearly as tense as I should have been because the overall tone of S2E7 is so incoherent. And none of the moments of sentimental memory that come out through Lexi’s play landed for me at all. Instead, her moments with her father struck me as just as cheesy as the overblown characterization of her mother in the work of fiction she’d created.
Overall, “The Theater and Its Double” fails terribly to do what it wants to do, and I can really only laud it for its daring. I’d rather have a beautiful failure than a boring success. At least the beautiful failure is memorable and seems worth thinking about.
You can see the idea—to parallel the action in Lexi’s play about the characters we’ve come to know with events occurring to those same characters—but one can’t help but feel like this structural conceit gets in the way of what’s good about the episode, and that this particular story would have been better told if Euphoria wasn’t trying to get so damn cute with the telling.
Lexi’s play is very bad by any measure of art criticism, which is, again, forgivable if we’re thinking about the character of Lexi Howard, but the problem for Euphoria is that it would have had to be a good play in some regard for the doubling structure of S2E7 to feel like it was effective. Instead, the rambling and incoherent nature of the performance on stage—which lacks both plot and thematic consistency—is paralleled in an episode of television that equally lacks in any cogency.
If I were very charitable, I would suggest that the “To Be Continued…” with which “The Theater and Its Double” ends is a wink in the direction of self-consciousness about this. And maybe it is, but this too feels out of sync with the rest of the hour, which is less like a corny ‘80s drama and more like an overwrought and self-indulgent art film made by a student without an editor.
If the point of the play was to mock Nate to the point where he broke up with Cassie, Lexi succeeded brilliantly, and indeed the closing scene set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” was glorious in its homoeroticism. Is Nate right that it was homophobic? Maybe, but I am not sure I care, or maybe he is the one who is homophobic for being so embarrassed and angry at the suggestion that he is gay. Either way, it was the most satisfying moment of Euphoria since Fezco beat Nate’s face bloody in the season premiere.
I am worried about Fezco, and the tension created by his absence at Lexi’s play intercut with Custer at his house was the only part of “The Theater and Its Double” I found truly compelling. I expected it to culminate, but instead we end with Cassie upset, her face framed by the window of a door.
Even the “To Be Continued…” feels misplaced, and the whole episode more a collection of things that happen than a standout episode of TV with an innovative form, which it feels like “The Theater and Its Double” wants to be.