Euphoria Season 2 Yearbook: New Year, Dirty Work

(This article includes in-depth spoilers from the "Euphoria" season 2 premiere)

Does anyone else feel like they just ran a marathon? Sam Levinson's teen drama powerhouse "Euphoria" returned tonight with its long-anticipated second season premiere, and it may have been the most "Euphoria" episode to ever "Euphoria." The hour followed the students of East Highland High School as they rang in the new year at a massive, chaotic party that ended in bloodshed. The episode started with bloodshed, too; its signature backstory-heavy cold open finally revealed the mysteries of drug dealer Fezco's (Angus Cloud) upbringing, before catching up to the present day, in which he, Ashtray (Javon Walton), and Rue (Zendaya) found themselves in the center of a dangerous situation.

This is a lot of ground for a high school drama to cover in a single episode, but we would expect nothing less from the most provocative show on HBO (and, let's be honest, probably all of television). Each week, I'll be unpacking the episode here by taking on the role of yearbook editor for East Highland High. Who is Best Dressed? Who is Least Likely To Succeed? What moment was the most Egregious Headline Bait, a la last season's record-breaking amount of male nudity? Join me for these weekly deep dives, as I crown the series' standouts and dissect each episode's most shocking moments.

Backstory Of The Week: Fezco

"Fezco's grandma was a motherf***ing G," Rue says in voiceover, introducing one of the best cold opens the show has ever delivered. Within seconds, we see just how true her words are. Fezco's grandma (Kathrine Narducci) steps out of a glossy, golden vehicle carrying a pistol. We see her heeled boots first, then her bright blue suit, complete with a jacket that says "GODS WORD GODS WILL." We see her walk into a sex club, past oiled up dancers who eye her warily. She crosses through the dressing room and seedy back rooms and into the office of the establishment's apparent proprietor — a man whom she promptly shoots, mid-fellatio. Fezco's grandma hits him once in each leg before he even has the chance to zip up, then returns to her car, where a young Fez is waiting. Fez has a fresh black eye, and she strokes his face with a perfectly golden-manicured hand. "I just spoke to your daddy," she says, in a hilarious understatement. "You're gonna come live with grandma now."

Fez might have escaped from an abusive situation, but it's clear the one he ended up in wasn't much better. The very next shot we see shows Fez, still very young, cutting piles of coke with a Blockbuster card. The next few moments cover his upbringing in quick vignettes, and it's like something straight out of "Goodfellas." His grandma takes him on as a drug dealing partner, and the family gains a new member when a baby left as collateral is never picked up. That kid becomes Ashtray — the tattooed, baby-faced kid we've seen by Fez's side in the present day. When his grandma accidentally clips him with a tire iron while beating someone who owes her money, he loses two months of memory. Soon after, his grandma gets sick, and Fez has to take over the business completely, raising Ashtray in the process.

Finally, ten minutes into the episode, we catch up with Fezco and Ashtray in the present day. Last season, Fez lost some valuable inventory after Nate (Jacob Elordi) called the cops on him, forcing him to flush some of the drugs he was supposed to be selling for a guy named Mouse (Meeko Gattuso). When Mouse and one of his goons come for Fezco, Ashtray grabs a hammer and delivers some well-placed blows to the pair, critically injuring (or likely killing) one and leaving the other screaming over a badly broken nose. Cue the opening credits. Everybody at home, take a breath while you can.

Moment That'll Come Up In Therapy Later: Rue's Wire Check

On New Year's Eve, Rue rides along with Fezco and Ashtray as they head to a deal. It's not an ordinary pick-up. Fez is there to explain what just happened to Laurie (Martha Kelly), who is apparently higher up the food chain than Mouse. Unfortunately, everything spirals out of control the second they get there. Mouse's goon is there with a girl named Faye (Chloe Cherry), who waits in the backseat with Rue. Faye's not doing well; she's high as hell, and doesn't even realize it's New Year's Eve. She does heroin in front of Rue, who recently relapsed herself, but before the two can get too far into their mutually strung out exchange, they're grabbed out of the car.

The culprit is a guy named Bruce (Melvin "Bonez" Estes), who brings them into Laurie's house. Bruce is terrifying. He demands everyone get naked to prove they're not wearing a wire, then alternates between dancing around the kitchen and smashing peoples' heads into walls. The worst part comes when Rue hesitates to strip. He drags her into the bathroom, where he turns the shower on her and makes her undress anyway. Rue is shaking and breathing hard. This show is full of traumatic moments, but the new episode ups the ante for future therapy fuel considerably.

In the end, Fezco's introduction to Laurie goes well enough. The monotone, pet-obsessed woman asks questions about Rue, before giving Fezco a suitcase of pills. In the car afterwards, still-high Rue chatters on about the incident, smiling. Fez — no stranger to trauma himself, as we've just seen — yells at her for not taking the whole thing seriously. Rue heads to the party like nothing has happened, but we're definitely worried about her, even if she isn't.

Most Egregious Headline Bait: Nate and Cassie's Wild Ride

The "Euphoria" season premiere unfolds in a panoramic way, veering back and forth in time as everyone makes their way to the party. When Rue gets there, we only linger long enough for Lexi (Maude Apatow) to tell Maddy (Alexa Demie) she's worried about Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), who drunkenly got out of her car on the way to the party after an argument. Let's not forget that Cassie recently had an abortion and broke up with her college boyfriend, McKay.

Bad news for anyone who likes Cassie: she ends up on the curb outside a convenience store, where none other than local budding psychopath Nate Jacobs finds her. When Nate turns away from the cash register and spots Cassie, his character's musical theme comes in (the first Labrinth of the season!), and it may as well be the theme song from "Jaws." After minimal flattery, Cassie joins Nate in his car, where the new season of "Euphoria" finally crosses into the over-the-top territory it can't seem to resist.

After being labeled as a bad influence for the past two years, it was inevitable that series creator Sam Levinson would have an answer to pearl-clutching criticisms of "Euphoria." That answer comes here, in a scene that seems perfectly designed to make parents of teen fans' heads explode. 

Cassie and Nate wind their way along an empty road, popping the caps on some alcoholic beverages as they do. Nate, terror to mankind that he is, starts driving recklessly, with the speedometer soon going up to 105MPH. He's not looking at the road so much as Cassie, though, and she's transformed by his attention and edginess. She's scared at first, but when she spills the beer clenched between her knees, she unclicks her seatbelt like it's nothing. Soon, she's taking off her panties and arching her back out the window. This scene is, frankly, hilarious. It's also totally nerve-wracking, but every time one of the pair does another ridiculously dangerous thing in the name of looking sexy, the ludicrousness breaks the tension. Luckily, Cassie does not get decapitated on the way to the party.

Least Likely To Succeed: Cassie

Things do not get better for Cassie from there. Once we're caught up to the present again, we see that Cassie and Nate are going at it in the bathroom at the party. Unfortunately, Maddy — who is Nate's ex and Cassie's best friend — chooses this exact moment to knock. Nate covers Cassie's squeal of shock, and the two try to wait Maddy out, but it doesn't work. Eventually, Nate leaves Cassie hiding in the shower, where she's forced to listen as Maddy flirts with some guy named Travis (Demetrius "Lil Meech" Flenory Jr.), who is possibly a DJ or music producer but who definitely has some corny pickup lines. She finally breaks free after witnessing another partygoer taking a dump, only to be pulled aside by McKay (Algee Smith) for a frank conversation about what went wrong between them.

Cassie has a miserable and ill-advised night, to be sure, but I'm more worried about her than anyone else because she seems so instantly hypnotized by Nate. Nate, whom we know has sadistic impulses, deeply repressed feelings, and a history of intimate partner violence. Cassie trembles beneath him, and not in a good way. She's scared almost every moment she's with Nate in this episode — scared of the car crashing, and scared of Maddy finding out about them. Sweeney plays Cassie's deer in the headlights look perfectly, but it's painful to watch her get so emotionally entangled with the show's worst character over the span of a single night.

Best Gut Punch: "There's My Heart"

Meanwhile, Rue is having a hard time handling the party. She's disconnected and off-kilter, hiding from Jules (Hunter Schafer) when she arrives and quickly retreating back to Fez's car. Unfortunately, she finds Faye's tin of heroin there, and soon re-enters the party with a new slouch in her step. She stumbles into a room where a cute, tattooed boy named Elliott (Dominic Fike) is doing even more drugs, and joins him. Rue does a line of something, then hits the ground. "I'm gonna need you to check my pulse," she tells Elliott, before instructing him to give her Adderall to prevent her from going into cardiac arrest.

This is a surprisingly intimate moment, one that conveys an instant bond between Rue and Elliott. It also turns into the episode's most quietly emotional scene thanks to some clever editing. We see Jules framed from behind as she walks through the house, checking her phone. She's been worried about Rue, so she's either texting her former lover, or checking to see if she texted back. Immediately after this shot, Rue's heartbeat kicks back into gear. "There it is," Rue says softly, as if talking to some small, fragile thing. "There's my heart. Hello heart. Thought I lost ya." Zendaya plays this scene with understated ease, but the edit draws a profound association. Rue long ago made Jules into a lifeline, for better or worse. She's the reason Rue's heart is still beating. When she says "There's my heart," she may as well be talking about Jules.

Best Filmmaking Flourish: Jules By Firelight

Levinson's phenomenal direction often gets lost in the shuffle during discussions of the many shocking elements of "Euphoria," but it shouldn't be. The show's creator uses bold, impressionistic camerawork, including at the end of this episode. As the countdown to New Year's begins, each character is bathed in a bright, nearly blinding light. This comes soon after Lexi and Fez (more on them soon) talk about God, so it's easy to imagine it's a celestial glow shining down on our chosen protagonists.

The episode's best shot also works with light, but in a subtler way. It's a few minutes earlier, as Jules approaches Rue at the fire pit. We see Jules' angelic face framed in red light that contrasts her thick, strikingly designed eyeliner. Two thin strands of blonde hair fall down in front of her face like daggers. The effect is borderline sinister, the opposite of those halos of light that fall on each character a few moments later. The source of the red, flickering light is the fire, but as with the heartbeat earlier, it may as well be Rue: flickering in and out, indifferent to the immense damage it can cause. Seconds after this shot, Jules realizes Rue relapsed, and is profoundly hurt to find out it happened the night they split.

Biggest Surprise: Rue and Jules Get Back Together!

Fortunately, no matter how heartbreaking it gets, this is a teen show, and teenagers are prone to kiss and make up. Rue and Jules do just this during a dazzling moment as the clock strikes twelve at midnight. Rue shyly apologizes for hurting Jules, and says she's missed her. "I know that I never really said it before, but I wanna be with you," Rue manages to get out. The lights go out, and when they come back up, the pair's faces are close together, golden rays shining behind them as vocals from Labrinth highlight the moment.

This is a shock, mostly because the season 2 trailer showed very little evidence that Rue and Jules would get back together. Pretty much the only hopeful shots we see in it seem to be from this exact moment, but they look more like a dream than reality. But no, we realize, as the episode draws to a close: this is real. They're back together. Sam Levinson is giving the fans what they wanted. Except he's also clearly not, because Rue is more broken than ever.

Most Conflicting Moment: Fez Meets Lexi

Speaking of broken, the episode ends with Fez breaking Nate's face. After the deal at Laurie's, the soulful drug dealer pops a squat on a couch at the party, where he doesn't move again until the show's final moment. This is where he meets Lexi, Cassie's younger sister and the only seemingly well-adjusted character on this show. In fact, Lexi and Fezco are two fan favorites. Despite their totally different backgrounds, they're both averse to drama, and both seem to be good people. So it's honestly wonderful to see the two quickly bond, despite the little voice in the back of our heads telling us that he's obviously too old for her and also definitely too dangerous for her. The pair are mellow, though, and keep things on a platonic level. Fez is sweet to Lexi, telling her she's fearless and praising her booksmarts. In an episode that's overstuffed with drama and danger, these brief conversations are an adorable breath of fresh air.

Least Conflicting Moment: Fez Beats Up Nate

Unfortunately, these sweet conversations are not the reason Fez is here. He watches Nate wait for Cassie to come out of the bathroom, then down some shots, then antagonize McKay. Then he gets up, tells Ashtray to keep the car running, and proceeds to beat Nate to a bloody pulp. This is Fez fulfilling a promise he made to Nate last season: that he'd come for Nate if he continued to mess with Rue and Jules. I don't condone violence, but in this one totally fictional case, I must say it is downright delightful to see Fez ask Nate what his New Year's resolutions are and then unceremoniously smash a bottle over his head. The episode ends with Rue looking over at the fight and whispering, hilariously, "damn." And that's basically our reaction to this premiere in a nutshell. Damn. Daaaamn.

Even More Superlatives

Most Underutilized Character: Kat. Barbie Ferreira's fanfic writer turned camgirl shows up for the New Year's Eve party with Jules, who she's apparently been hanging out with a lot since Jules and Rue split. She tells her normie boyfriend Ethan (Austin Abrams) she loves him and dances with Jules, but that's about it for her–for now.

Best Dressed: Although every fiber of my being wants to give Maddy an award for her slinky black cutout number and accompanying elbow-length gloves, this award has to go to Lexi for characterization points alone. She's a character who hasn't had ample screen time yet, and her makeup and styling at the party does a lot to endear her to anyone who may not have paid attention to her before–including Fez. She usually dresses like a normal teen (a rarity in this show), and this episode she's dressed like a normal teen at a party, with a golden, puffy-sleeved blouse and maroon high-waisted pants. Except, there's a bit of unexpected romance to Lexi's look when she meets Fez. She's rosy-cheeked, with a redder lip than usual, and wears her hair in a crown of braids that pulls the entire look together. She's also sporting delicately glittering gold eyeshadow. And are those tiny roses on her shirt?

Best Musical Moment: This episode features a whole jukebox worth of needle drops. The expertly placed use of Nate's theme ("Nate Growing Up" by Labrinth) is a standout, as is Steely Dan's "Dirty Work," which underscores how surreal the meetup at Laurie's house has gotten as the group gets dressed after the wire check. There's also "Dead of Night," a dreamy, slow-moving song by Orville Peck that gives Nate and Cassie's hypnotic car ride an almost Lynchian feeling. But it's Billy Swan's cover of "Don't Be Cruel" that takes the cake. The steadily building yet sonically drifting take on the Elvis tune plays almost in full during the episode's opening sequence, its first beats coming in when Fezco's grandma steps out of the car, and its last fading out as she strokes his bruised face and drives off.

Surprisingly Practical Teen Of The Week: When Travis offers her a hit moments after meeting her, Maddy says she doesn't smoke random people's weed. Good on you, girl!

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).