Opinion: Euphoria's season two finale and a gut punch of emotional abuse

Euphoria | Soho House

The shock teen show came to a dramatic close last night. Here, Olivia Petter analyses one of its most prominent themes

Monday 28 February 2022 By Olivia Petter

Has there been a more traumatising TV drama about teenagers than Euphoria? Drug use. Self-harm. Groin-bursting violence (yes, really). It’s all there. Created by ex-addict Sam Levinson, the hit HBO series follows the travails of a group of 17-year-olds living in southern California. In the eye of this hyper-stylised storm is Rue (played by Zendaya), a high-schooler mourning the loss of her father and doing whatever drugs she can get her hands on.  
Opprobrium has rained down on this second series, which concluded last night. Gripes include its dreamy aesthetic (‘style over substance’), unrealistic portrait of kidulthood (‘highly unrelatable’), and questionable, if sometimes sensationalised, depiction of drug use. 

But for all the column inches Euphoria has generated, there have been surprisingly few about its exploration of emotional abuse – despite this leading to some of the most important scenes we’ve seen on screen this year.
Euphoria | Soho House
Euphoria | Soho House
In the first episode of this season, Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) sleeps with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) is bad news: a 21st-century Machiavelli concealed in the body of an Abercrombie model. 

In season one, among his many egregious crimes were manipulation, blackmail, gaslighting, and the physical assault of his girlfriend, Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie). But things escalate even further when he gets involved with Cassie. Through a series of shrewd power games and put-downs, Nate has her completely in his grip. 
So desperate is Cassie to impress him, in fact, she spends four hours getting ready for school each morning. Soon, the high-school corridors have become her catwalk as she struts and strives for Nate’s attention when she feels him pulling away.
Euphoria | Soho House
Euphoria | Soho House
All the while, Nate is secretly telling Maddy that he’s still in love with her, leaving Cassie very much in the lurch. It’s ironic, then, that at one point we see Nate telling Cassie how much power she has, when we know she has none at all. And so we start to see her unravel as she becomes more obsessive and desperate for his affection. 
The drama takes a turn in episode five when Nate and Cassie’s secret hook-ups are revealed to Maddy and co by a drug-addled Rue: ‘How long have you been f**king Nate Jacobs?’ she asks, all twitchiness and dilated pupils. From this moment, Cassie is brutally cut off from the group, prompting her to lean deeper into her infatuation with Nate while her mental state bears the consequences. There are screaming matches with her family. Calls for an exorcism. Suicidal thoughts. 
As she points out to Nate herself in episode four, Cassie has become ‘crazier’ than Maddy ever was. But this, the show suggests, is entirely because of Nate. Even in that specific scene, we see him goading Cassie, both shaming her for betraying Maddy and then seconds later asking her to get back into bed with him.
Euphoria | Soho House
Not since Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass has there been a TV character so beautiful yet so coercive. What comes next is a masterful dismantling of the ‘crazy woman’ trope that has plagued popular culture for millennia. After Cassie calls Nate out for playing her and Maddy off against one another, he claps back, ‘What the f**k is wrong with you?’ while repeatedly gesturing towards his head and rolling his fingers, implying madness. Cassie doesn’t bite, simply replying ‘OK, bye’ and leaving while Nate chases after her. 
Of course, the two later reconcile, only for Nate to then cruelly dump Cassie after watching her sister Lexi’s play, which depicts him in the throes of a homoerotic dance sequence. The result is a character who has become completely undone and, in the process, earnt herself a label all women fear.
Euphoria | Soho House
Euphoria | Soho House

The viewer, however, can hardly blame her, having witnessed the toll of Nate’s emotional abuse first-hand. It’s the kind of narrative we could do with much more of on TV; one that strives to undo decades of misogyny by showing us that yes, maybe some women are ‘crazy’. It’s time to talk about the men who made them that way.



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