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Euphoria's season finale is structural chaos

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Those big school dances that are supposed to be a night to remember and the height of teenage fun and fantasy, in actuality, are pretty terrible. Euphoria doesn’t let its characters have very much fun at the dance that anchors its season finale at all (maybe Cassie and Lexi are the only ones genuinely enjoying themselves, and that probably has to do with the fact that they’re just sitting and watching everyone else). But the show almost leans too hard into its teen angst and turmoil here. In fact, it’s downright solipsistic. And much like the start of the series, this finale is just trying so hard to be dark and disturbing that it often does so at the expense of character development and telling a compelling story.

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Euphoria’s season finale has the least amount of narration of any other episode of the show. Rue’s omniscient observations still come up from time to time, but for the most part, this finale doesn’t lean as much on the device, which helps make the story feel more present and alive. But Euphoria is still more obsessed with its own bells and whistles than it is with the actual storytelling. Even the montage of everyone getting ready for the dance is lengthy and pretty but not necessarily satisfying. And the voiceover of Rue’s mom’s letter on top doesn’t fit...at all.

Disconnect is a recurring problem in the season finale, which is the most disjointed the series has felt. I have my qualms with Rue’s voiceover, but at least it provides a clear throughline. The finale is a jumbled mess. It weaves between the dance in the present and flashbacks to the character’s weeks leading up to it. Nate and Maddy have another fight, break up, and Nate wins a football game. Cassie gets an abortion. Jules tells Rue about hooking up with Anna. These are all fine snapshots that bring the characters’ arcs to a head, but the episode jumps between present and past indiscriminately and without any sense of rhythm.

It’s especially confusing that a show so concerned with aesthetics and art housey direction can’t seem to find its rhythm or make sense of its own structure. Euphoria experiments with form, seen especially in the final sequence—a gorgeous but ultimately hollow choreographed number that turns Rue’s relapse into a twisted ballet—but sometimes that experimentation is erratic and indulgent. Sam Levinson’s direction has an eye, but it lacks skin. There’s no connective tissue outside of the stylization itself. And it isn’t enough to really hold a story together and make it feel lived in. The finale is visually immersive but too chaotic in its narrative for anything to stick.

And the finale tries so hard to wrap up so many storylines that it never really reaches a satisfying conclusion for any of them. Sure, not everything comes to a conclusion, but the finale does split time between pretty much every character so that it’s hard to really settle into any one of their arcs. Cassie’s abortion is almost like an afterthought, another instance of Euphoria merely trying to be provocative instead of actually saying anything. The figure skating sequence is another gorgeous but empty thing, and the way it’s spliced between other scenes that, again, don’t really thematically connect to it detracts from the impact.

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Euphoria hasn’t been a complete misfire, and the finale, while structurally perplexing and leaving a lot to be desired, does include some of the show’s strengths. For starters, the performances—especially from the younger cast members—are superb. There’s some seriously impressive young talent at the heart of this show. In particular, Zendaya and Hunter Schafer so powerfully capture all the pinpricks and punches of Rue and Jules complicated romance and friendship. They’re soft and sweet with each other, but there’s also an underlying sadness.

The finale does touch on some of the more compelling recurring themes of the series, too. Teen love is one hell of a drug, and Euphoria is a razor’s edge in the way it explores that. Jules admits to Rue that she loves Anna but loves her, too, and it’s easy to believe both are true because Jules does feel so much all the time. Kat decides to plunge into love, too, although Kat’s presence in the finale feels a bit like an afterthought, too, and I don’t totally buy her sudden change of character, even if it does thankfully bring a dose of sweetness to the dance.

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Maddy and Nate are still wrapped up in their toxic relationship, although the note they end on in this finale is hard to interpret, because it doesn’t really commit to one outcome or the other for them. Nate’s function in the episode in general is one of the hardest things to pin down. Nate has been one of the show’s Big Bads all season, but he’s often presented as a victim in the finale. Of course, complicating bad characters by showing the reasons why they’re bad can make for compelling storytelling, but here it’s not like Nate is suddenly becoming a more nuanced and interesting character. It feels too forced and underdeveloped. The finale drops a lot of the plot and character work it has been doing in favor of this experimental, fragmented form.

Just like much of this series has felt like a bunch of adults asking “did you KNOW that Gen Z teens do SO MUCH WILD STUFF?,” the finale often screams its themes. Being a teenager sucks. Love hurts. The theatrics and emotions of Euphoria are supersized. But the show simultaneously takes itself so seriously and sometimes gets lost in its own grandeur.

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Stray observations

  • I hope to see Hunter Schafer in a million more things. I find this cast incredible across the board, but she’s such a standout.
  • Parents really do a number on their kids in this show, causing intentional and unintentional harm that really shapes them. That’s been another one of the series’ compelling themes, but the finale doesn’t deliver as hard there.
  • I have a feeling that final sequence is going to be a polarizing love/hate situation for folks, and I just don’t think it worked! A lot of this show is pretty to look at, but at the end of the day what it is it actually doing?
  • With a few exceptions—like Jules and Rue’s relationship—the characters on this show often just can’t seem to see beyond themselves, and maybe that’s slightly believable teen behavior, but it seems so extreme here and makes it hard to get invested in their stories.
  • I love Fez, but his storyline here also feels like its wedged into an already overcrowded episode.
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