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Euphoria’s game-changing play was messier than we could have dreamed – but sparks fears for fan fave

Gary Grimes February 22, 2022
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Lexi sat on a play set, holding a book

Lexi in Our LIfe. (HBO)

“Lexi, we’re ready,” a voice announces in the opening scene of the penultimate episode of Euphoria season two. But were we?

Truth be told, even after an entire season of build-up and anticipation, we’re not sure anything could have prepared us for Lexi Howard’s autobiographical play. After weeks of rehearsals, the students of Euphoria High and viewers at home were finally able to enjoy the fruits of the wallflower Howard sister’s labour. Thankfully, the finished product was more transparently about Lexi’s peers than we could have ever hoped for.

As well as being a ludicrously high budget High School Musical-esque romp, the play, aptly titled Our Life, also served a very important function of fleshing out the origin stories of many of our main characters to help us better understand how many of them got to where they found themselves when we first met the group in season one.

At Our Life‘s beginning, we are reintroduced to all of our main characters, reimagined by Lexi and played by their classmates. While she gets the privilege of not just controlling the entire narrative but also playing herself (renamed Grace here), Cassie, Maddy, Rue, Kat and Nate must watch themselves be mimicked by a cast of students actors they probably sit next to in algebra.

Lexi/Grace starts by explaining that the most significant moment in her life to date was her sister going through puberty. What follows are some very gratuitous descriptions of Cassie’s 14-year-old pubescent body, including a quip from their parodied mother in the play commenting on the size of her “knockers”. Luckily the sisters’ actual mother is lapping it up from the audience, doing her best Amy Poehler in Mean Girls impression as she cheers and throws her head back laughing with knee-slapping reverie.

When the play’s playwright is not reducing Cassie to her most shallow and unflattering qualities, she manages to paint a clearer picture of her complicated family life than we’ve ever seen before – an alcoholic father who eventually walks out on them, a mother who is similarly fond of a drink, and a sister whose shadow she feels destined to always live in.

In one particularly poignant scene, Lexi remembers finding her parents and young teenage sister dancing jovially around their living room, beckoning her to join them. It would be typically sweet family moment if everyone involved weren’t clutching bottles of beer.

We also learn that at some point since beginning high school, Maddy all but moved in with the Howards due to her own parents’ constant fighting. Despite being one of the show’s best known and most-frequently memed characters, we rarely get much time quality time with Maddy – it’s never really explained why she is the way she is, so this morsel of character development helps us see where she may have learned to fight so ferociously, and also highlights how Cassie’s betrayal would have cut even deeper than we previously realised.

Through masterful set design and camera work the episode traverses from Our Life to flashback scenes set in the same locations. In one instance, the camera pans back on a shot of Grace and Hallie’s bedroom to show us what happened next after we saw Maddy chase Cassie up the stairs post Rue-veal of her secret dalliance with Nate.

She locks herself into her en-suite bathroom as an enraged Maddy furiously bangs on the door, demanding she show her face. Watching Cassie with her back against the door, tears slowly trickling down her face in terror is the perfect mirror image to the now-iconic season opener when Maddy almost catches her and Nate in the act. How differently things might have turned out for both girls had Maddy thought to peek into the bathtub that fateful night.

Maddy’s fury quickly turns to sorrow as she continues to bang on the door, telling her supposed best friend: “This isn’t about Nate. It’s about you and me and our friendship.” The exchange is a lot more heartfelt and emotional than the catfight we might have expected from Maddy’s primal reaction a couple of episodes ago. It does a great job at softening this character and making you realise that although she wears a tough exterior and can look after herself, Maddy really is the victim in Nate and Cassie’s game.

Eventually the mortification of her entire school watching her own sister depict her as a vapid, self-absorbed airhead whose only concern is validation from men reduces Cassie to tears. Lexi watches from the stage as her sister scurries out of the auditorium to compose herself.

Sydney Sweeney delivers another killer performance as we watch Cassie examine her tear-stricken face in the mirror before plastering a million dollar smile over it, ready to once again face the music like a pro. (Sidebar – Cassie’s styling was really off in this episode. We assume she’s now supposed to be looking the part of some sort of sexed-up Barbie doll who only exists for Nate’s pleasure, but this Anna Nicole Smith meets the Cock Destroyers look was quite distracting).

Upon her return, she finds the play’s focus has shifted away from her, onto her boyfriend Nate. In the show’s climax, fake Nate, played here by Kat’s recent ex-boyfriend Ethan, stars in a spectacular Broadway-style musical number set in the football team’s locker room. It’s a huge, bombastic showstopper, punctuated with notes of homo-erotica as the Nate character simulates gay sex with his teammates, the inference being that the fatal flaw in his relationships with both Maddy and Cassie may lie in the possibility he is struggling with his sexuality.

Sexuality, as we know, is a particularly sore spot for Nate due to his complicated relationship with his father who, from childhood, he knew to be secretly sleeping with men behind his family’s back. At one point in the episode, we move away from Our Life to a nightmare sequence recently experienced by Nate: an elaborate sex scene which begins with him and Maddy who then morphs into Jules. Jules is then thrown onto the bed by Cal, echoing the real life sexual encounter Cal captured on camera between he and Jules. We watch with horror as Cal slowly mounts Jules but as the camera pans down, we see it is his son, Nate, beneath him.

It’s a stark but necessary reminder of how dark the subject matter of the Jules/Nate/Cal plotline really is – too often the Pretty Little Liars-esque mystery and will-they-won’t-they build up surrounding the sex tape of Cal and Jules distracts from the grim reality that it is not just a matter of potential revenge porn at risk here. That tape ultimately depicts the statutory rape of Jules.

As to what else this scene implies, it’s hard to say. Some fans were quick to jump to the conclusion that Nate was sexually abused by his father as a child (which could answer his mother’s questions last week about why he suddenly became dark and cold around the age of 9). At present, we’re more inclined to suspect it was more so a statement on how Nate’s extreme toxic masculinity and messed up relationships with women can ultimately be traced back to this traumatic relationship with his father.

Now it’s Nate’s turn to storm out, with Cassie trailing him closely behind. “That s**t was so homophobic!” he exclaims, though we’re not sure gay rights are what’s causing him such distress at this moment. In a shocking turn, he promptly dumps Cassie on the spot on the suspicion she had to have known of the play’s contents in advance, given it was written by her sister. Cassie is left once again momentarily bereft before she wipes her tears and heads back to the auditorium. Judging by the look of rage and fierce determination on her face however, we don’t think she’ll be taking her seat in the stalls again this time.

The play served as a crucial plot device this season, and honestly there’s so much more we could comment on from this episode, such as Rue’s touching conversation with her mother in which she learns of the extent to which her drug issues have impacted her little sister’s life. Or the fact that Fezco never made it to his new BFF’s play, presumably having ended up in a particularly tricky situation thanks, in some part, to Faye.

But for now, with next week’s season finale looming, we’ll end things with one final plea to give Barbie Ferreira and Euphoria fans an ending we, and Kat, deserve. Or least let her partake in another full conversation before the season wraps. Sam Levinson, if you’re reading this, don’t cry. Just remember the words of Lexi Howard: “It’s a directorial note, you just take it and move on!”

 

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