14 January 2022
The Euphoria Effect: what we learned from the characters
To celebrate the second season of everyone’s favorite HBO show Euphoria, we decided it’s time for a deep dive into the psyche of the characters. It’s a show about deeply traumatized, complex teenagers – but what appeals to me personally is not the purple lighting, outfits, and not even the sensationalized storytelling. It’s the mere fact that each one of us can find a few - or many - of our own flaws, traits, and past mistakes in these characters. That, in turn, makes us understand and sympathize with them beyond the surface level. I believe that is precisely the reason the show resonates with so many people of different backgrounds, age groups, and identities – we’ve all been there, at one point or another. We’ve felt the feelings, we’ve broken the hearts, we’ve cried the tears. So, what have we learned from every character on Euphoria?
Rue: Love is not always the answer
Despite the main character’s countless attempts to get better, Rue keeps relapsing. Not out of the desire to have fun, not because she finds her lifestyle fun, but out of lack of healthy coping skills. Due to her challenging and traumatic family past, Rue simply didn’t get the nourishment and support she desperately needed growing up. So, she deals with her pain the only way she knows how – through substance abuse. Watching her complex plotline unfold we quickly realize that not even things deemed as The Most Important, like love and family, can cure addiction. Because the weight of Rue’s pain is heavier than the good things life has to offer. And that is something most people who struggle with their mental health can deeply, wholeheartedly relate to. Getting better is a great concept. But not always achievable.
“I just showed up one day without a map or a compass.”
Jules: Self-search with no destination
Jules is one of my personal favorites on the show. She’s bright, she’s intelligent, a little naïve, warm-hearted, and still has that spark-from-within, despite going through such difficult and painful adolescence. Jules once mentions that her goal as a transgender woman has always been to conquer femininity. And now that that’s done, she realizes that it was never about femininity in the first place. Nor was it about men or validation. She had to fight for the right to be herself her entire life - but it turns out, it doesn’t end there. The self-search has only begun. And all the dangerous encounters she put herself in, all the wrong people she got involved with only made it harder to look within and ask herself what it is she really needs. That’s where the confusion with her feelings and herself stems from. I think she’s a brilliant character with outstanding potential. And can we talk about that special episode therapy scene? It broke my heart.
- I fall in love so easily. I really do. It’s, like, almost embarrassing.
- Why do you think that is?
- Because half of every relationship is in my head.
Nate: Toxic masculinity gone too far
Probably the most complex character on the show. I’m kind of side-eyeing everyone that likes him (thankfully, the show isn’t trying to make him likable), but I also understand where his inexcusable behavior comes from. He experienced irreversible trauma as a child, and his perception of himself and the world got permanently warped in an instance. Nate is a completely closed-off, disconnected from his emotions and feelings person with not an ounce of empathy or love in his body. Understandably so – he doesn’t know how to experience those, let alone process them. His relationship with Maddy is worth mentioning too: he doesn’t want a girlfriend, he wants a possession. Something he can own and “protect” from the world. Because the world is dark, unsafe, and dangerous - and all the other things he perceives to be true. I would just like to take a moment and applaud Jacob Elordi for personifying every woman’s fear in a single character so eloquently and almost effortlessly – that is some brilliant acting there. Will the writers take his obsession with violence too far? Almost certainly.
Maddy: No, you can’t “fix” him
We’ve all seen Maddy and Nate’s abusive relationship cycle where they make each other’s lives a living hell (well, Nate acting on that primarily) and then switch right back to the honeymoon phase. At one point, Maddy even mentions being disgusted by the fact that no matter what Nate does to her, she will always love him. Textbook trauma bonding and abuse. I like how the show went about portraying their dynamic – it’s not glamorized or shown as something ordinary or along the lines of “just teenagers being teenagers!”, it’s perhaps even exaggerated for the purpose of showing us that no matter how much we want to believe in fairytales – we can’t fix someone who’s broken. It’s not a woman’s job to fix a broken man or try and heal him out of his wounds. In fact, it’s a dangerous venture that is never worth the pain. I know Maddy isn’t ready to let Nate go just yet, but I’m hoping she sees her worth in season 2 and has enough courage to cut ties for good.
Cassie: Filling the void through romance
Cassie is a character a lot of women can relate to. Remember that line about her falling for every guy she’s been with? Yeah, that one hit home. Growing up in a completely broken and dysfunctional home environment (an absent dad and an alcoholic mom, to be precise) Cassie didn’t get the protection she needed, so naturally, as she stepped into young adulthood, she reached for what was easily available to her – attention from men. She gets safety, validation, affection, and more of what was never given at home through fleeting romance and intimacy – though more often than not, she ends up in very bitter and heartbreaking situations because the men she chooses can’t provide her with the love she craves and needs. Unfortunately, as teens we don’t really know where our deepest urges come from – we simply act upon them subconsciously. Cassie’s story is something we can all learn from: it’s impossible to fill the deep void of loneliness through romance or intimacy.
Fez: Taking independence to an extreme
Not going to spoil too much, but from the first episode of the new season, we can clearly see why Fez is the way he is. The poor kid had to fend for himself and was responsible for his and his brother’s safety way earlier than any person should. This led to an extreme feeling of independence and overprotection. He’s always on the lookout for danger, emotionally closed off – you can practically feel that glass wall between him and every other character on the show. Not surprising at all. This is what having to take on more than one can handle at an early age does to a person. Luckily, he still kept some of that sensitivity and vulnerability, and he’s a really good person. I sympathize with Fez, his storyline, and his layered persona. Dangerous job, good heart. Poor actions, good intentions. Let’s see how this one is going to unfold.
Kat: The “Not Good Enough” syndrome
Kat is one of the least problematic characters on Euphoria. She’s smart, articulate, has a strong character, and her moral compass isn’t too off. But after a traumatic incident of rejection in adolescence, she’s forever convinced (similar to Cassie, by the way, but that stems from a different kind of trauma) that the only way she can get love and attention is through one-time encounters. She doesn’t trust men and their intentions. So, she steps into adulthood with a strong belief that she can’t be liked for who she is - there must be an underlying motive. When she meets a guy that genuinely sees her for her, it takes a lot of time (and a lot of turmoil for us, empathetic viewers) for her to realize that she deserves connection, attention, and love. Not in exchange for something, but just like that - unconditionally. Thankfully, Ethan is patient enough to help her combat the insecurities as she discovers the good things in life.
I love Euphoria for how complex every storyline is. The depth of every character’s pain. The very real fears, inner battles, and baggage that reflects in most of us, regardless of who we are and what we do. The show doesn’t glamorize reality or romanticize trauma. Rather, it’s trying to tell us: “these kids need some serious intervention and therapy. And if you recognize yourself in them... Perhaps you have things to unpack, too?”