“Euphoria” Wants To Hurt You | The Triangle

“Euphoria” Wants To Hurt You

Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO | HBO Press Kit

“The hit HBO Max series “Euphoria” has done a lot for its stars. Jacob Elordi has had a banner year, doing a killer job portraying Elvis in Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” (2023) and also starring in Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn(2023) with Barry Keoghan. Alexie Demie had a phenomenal turn back in 2019 starring in Trey Edward Shults’ “Waves,” with Kelvin Harrison Jr. and another recent breakout, Taylor Russell. Hunter Schafer has modeled for various prominent fashion brands as well as being the highlight of the new Hunger Games movie, “The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (2023). Zendaya is, well, Zendaya. She is soon to be featured in Luca Guadagnino’s (Director of Call Me By Your Name,” “Bones and All”) “Challengers,” a love triangle film set against the world of pro-tennis, co-starring Mike Faist and former Prince Charles actor Josh O’Connor. Other than that, she’s rumored to be the star of a Cleopatra Film directed by Denis Villeneuve (Director of “Dune” (2021)) that may also feature Timothee Chalamet and Daniel Craig.  

That being said, I think it’s a pretty terrible, offensive and not terribly complex show.

Greg Arraki, a filmmaker that was big with the indie wave of LGBTQ films, spoke of “Euphoria” in a recent interview with Richard Linklater. Compared to his earlier works, he said “It’s a fun time as opposed to something like ‘Euphoria,’ which is the sex and the drugs and the nihilism and all that, but it’s miserable. There’s no joy.” Arraki’s comment makes me think of the oft-used term “misery porn” or “trauma porn,” which I see as a story that starts and ends tragically, and often exists seemingly just to provoke a reaction among its audience. There’s often not any sort of closure, catharsis, or even lesson. To me, that’s Sam Levinson’s specialty. Euphoria” doesn’t seem to follow any consistent plot, which I think may be due to the fact that it was one of the only shows on television that didn’t have a writer’s room. Sam Levinson was the sole creative authority, could change plot lines or scripts up until the last minute (which he, reportedly, often did), and even ended up cutting characters if he didn’t get along with the actors (see: Barbie Ferrera). You would get a phenomenal episode like “Stand Still Like The Hummingbird” in season 2 episode 5 – essentially an adrenaline-filled long take with Rue on the run from her friends and family – that would seemingly have major implications for the plot, and yet the next episode would focus on a different character and act like the previous episode didn’t happen. There are all these consequential events that Levinson doesn’t have time to wrap up in the finale, yet he does somehow have time to let Dominic Fike sing for a three-and-a-half minutes and show a premiere of Lexi’s play that nobody had heard about until an episode or two prior.

My biggest problem with the show – other than the fact that it manages to be a cautionary tale about drug use while, at the same time, glorifying drugs –  is that it’s misery for misery’s sake.  

I find that with shows and films that deal with tragedy, the difference between great and derivative often comes down to whether the good times are at all highlighted. If you dedicate time to a character’s rise, or spend time establishing their joys, things they hold dear, the loss of those things hits harder. If you show a character starting out in a state of misery and then just keep punishing them, as is the case with “Euphoria”, it numbs you out more than anything else. I’ve been sober for a good amount of time now, but the state of my life in active addiction was nothing short of miserable. I wouldn’t leave my apartment for weeks at a time, the symptoms of my mental illness were heightened because of the substances I was using, I had problems with basic hygiene, and I was completely disconnected from my entire support system. It’s a state of being that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, no matter how bad they may have wronged me.  

That being said, the thing that “Euphoria” misses is that during any time in many an addict’s life, there was a time where they were having fun. I know that must sound pretty wild to say, me trying to distinguish that there was a part of active addiction that was enjoyable, but it’s the truth. There is a period, before substances stop doing the trick and the use gets out of control, where you have the illusion that your problem is being solved, that substances are alleviating the problem and not making it worse. My active addiction wasn’t all misery, if it was it probably wouldn’t have taken me nearly as long to quit using drugs and alcohol. There were times where I was still tolerable around some of my closest friends, where I was fun, funny, and not as ill-tempered, and those are memories that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.  

I imagine I’m starting to sound outlandish, but my point with this is you never really get to see Rue having any fun. You’re inundated with knowledge about her tragedies – often the same information repeatedly – like the loss of her father. You watch her break her relationships with her closest friends and her family much more often than you get a chance to see her build them back up. You watch her relapse, over and over and over. You never really get to relish in Rue having something, or taking in any sort of victory. One doesn’t know much about what Rue may have enjoyed in the time before she lost herself to addiction. For example, it seems she has known Lexi for many years. If they have stayed friends to this day in spite of Rue’s problems with addiction, I assume there must have been a period where that relationship was pretty great. What of that? What about the early years of her relationship with her sister, not to speak of the great years she must have shared with her father in the years before his death? When all you see is Rue losing without a resolute picture of what she had, it’s hard to feel much of anything at all.