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I Re-Watched HBO's Euphoria: Here's What I Learned

By Melissa Lipari

Like many of us, I have revisited a few shows that I watched in the past during quarantine and social-distancing measures. I watched Gossip Girl for probably the hundredth time and most likely went through Timothee Chalamet’s entire filmography. One show that I thoroughly enjoyed last year and recently binge-watched in less than 48 hours is HBO’s Euphoria. The first time I watched Euphoria, I won’t lie, I wasn’t obsessed. I loved the show, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t extremely blown away for some reason. I just thought it was a good show. I thought the fashion and makeup was immaculate, the acting was very good, and the cinematography was out of this world. Yet, I didn’t find myself falling down the rabbit hole of full on Euphoria obsession, until recently.

TikTok has consumed many of our lives, and somehow on my “For You Page” I started getting Euphoria inspired videos on my feed. I hadn’t watched Euphoria since Fall of 2019, so I wanted to give the show another shot. I remembered how much I loved the visuals and had a crush on virtually every single character - could they have picked a more attractive looking cast? So, I opened my laptop late one Tuesday night and I officially went down the rabbit hole. 

First, let’s talk about the characters. Rue, played by Zendaya, is a teenage girl with substance abuse issues and crippling mental health problems - that much is obvious. But, what I didn’t gather from the first run, is how much Rue desperately just wants to be loved. She lost her dad at a young age which simultaneously caused her drug use. I have never lost a parent, but I can imagine that I would not be in good shape, especially losing a parent in my teens. This is one of the many things that I love about Euphoria’s authenticity. In coming-of-age films, the main character loses a parent and they have a breakdown and eventually move on with their lives. Not all healing is so linear though, which I learned from Rue, as you can see how much she has not processed the loss of her father by what she wears in the show. She constantly sports his maroon hoodie and wears his oversized clothing in every episode. There are people out there who have lost someone very important to them and turn to a negative side of coping, something that a lot of TV shows and films just don’t bring to light.

Next, let’s talk about Jules. Jules is one of my favorite characters because not only is Hunter Schafer insanely beautiful, but she is one of the few trans characters that I have seen on a mainstream TV show and network. Trans representation is severely lacking in mainstream media and what lacks even more is their story. A story that a lot of teenagers and even adults need to hear. Jules realized that she was battling with depression from a young age, stemming from her gender dysphoria. The show capsulizes her transition and demonstrates that while it is such a beautiful thing for a human to realize that they were born in the wrong body and have the will to change it - the process is not easy. Jules spent some of her childhood in a mental hospital and had a mother that couldn’t handle her transition - so she left. Jules is not my favorite character just because she’s trans though, she’s my favorite character because she is so aware of herself at a young age. All of the other characters are still struggling to figure out who they are, what they want, who they choose to love, but Jules has it figured out. She doesn have her fair share of drama (as with every young-adult show) but from the beginning, she has been very self confident, which I believe we can all learn from.

Now, let’s talk about Nate Jacobs. Nate is played by Jacob Elordi, who I think is arguably one of the best actors on the show. I say this because Nate is an absolute sociopath. Yet, I’ve seen Jacob in other films and a few interviews and he is nothing short of a sweetheart. You would never guess that someone as friendly, shy, and personable could play a role that is as dark and damaged as Nate. Nate is another one of my favorite characters, (truthfully, I’m starting to think I don’t have just one favorite) because he is so complex. He’s actually the opposite of Jules in a lot of ways, as she is self-assuring and has a go-getter attitude. Nate is insecure, he’s violent, and he can be downright malicious. Yet, I think he is just severely damaged from his circumstances. Coming from a family that has this squeaky clean image - that he later finds out is completely untrue - when he realizes his father has been exploring his sexuality with men for years (and keeps them on tape). Nate wants so hard to not be like his father that he actually turns into Cal Jacobs right in front of our eyes. There are so many parallels that draw the characters together, but the most obvious one is that they both fall for Jules. I could spend years unpacking Nate, but I will say that I have never seen a show that portrayed the understanding of coming to terms with one’s sexuality in a more raw and honest way. Sometimes realizing your sexuality is painful and causes you to be irrational. I’m not saying it’s okay to act like Nate Jacobs, but I’m not saying it’s wrong to feel confused and scared.

The character that I found myself gravitating towards from the beginning is Maddy Perez, played by Alexa Demie. She is damaged, beautiful, sometimes a “bitch”, but overall she’s fiercely loyal and strong. Maddy had a less than perfect childhood and like Cassie, portrayed by Syndey Sweeney, she was often sexualized at a young age. Unlike Cassie however, Maddy took that sexualization as a way of asserting herself over men. She pictured her life as one big movie, where she was the star, like Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, and life would just fall in place around her - even though she had no real aspirations or career goals. Unfortunately for Maddy, her power over men turns to putty in the hands of her on again and off again boyfriend, Nate Jacobs. I watched in pain as Nate choked Maddy during the carnival scene, it was extremely heartbreaking. Yet, once again it was very real. A lot of times, physical violence is present in young relationships - especially if one partner has been through trauma, has an unsteady home-life, or is realizing their sexuality for the first time - in the case of Nate. I learned from Maddy’s character that you could think you are the baddest bitch on the planet, but you could be completely helpless when it comes to someone you love. Maddy is so strong, but in the hands of Nate she is constantly forgiving him and excusing his actions for reasons that are often hard to decipher. Until in one episode, she has an argument with her mom and explains that she would rather fight with Nate than be in a marriage that mirrors her parents, one where they don’t even talk to each other. It all suddenly made perfect sense, Maddy would rather feel pain than feel nothing.

There are so many characters that I could dive into deeper with what I have learned from the actors’ portrayal like Cassie, Kat, Lexie, Mckay, Fezco, and more, but I’ll keep it to the key four that I really felt attached to during the series. As a whole, one thing I can say that I noticed that many shows don’t often have is the absence of cliques. If you notice, there are no cliques within any of the friend groups. I feel as though every coming-of-age type of story has the jocks, the nerds, the popular kids, and all of those played-out character types in every show. Yet, everyone hangs out with one another in Euphoria. Sure, they have their spats, but “popular” girls like Maddy and Cassie hangout with “nerdy” Kat and “stoner” BB. Rue and Jules are outcasts, since they’re not like many of the other girls in what they enjoy or have in common, yet during the winter dance it’s like none of that matters. Every character, especially the female ones, realize that though we all have different stories and backgrounds - we are going through the same trials and tribulations of high school.

That’s what I think I love the most about Euphoria. They are not a show that sugar-coats things. They show you what it’s actually like to be a teenager with trauma, drugs, sex, partying, confusing first relationships, body confidence issues, the harms of social media, familial problems, and all of the other central issues within the show (with some added drama). The first time I watched the show, I never really dove deep into the characters and the way that each one is just as damaged yet strong as the next. I saw it as another wildly popular YA drama success. Then, I realized how many adults love the show too: like Leonardo Dicaprio. I loved the show for its external value, but it took me a second watch to really grasp how much this show has changed mainstream media. It’s shows like these that are going to shape our culture and allow for more topics of conversation that were once shunned in the media.

Check out HBO’s Euphoria on HBO Max


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