This post contains spoilers for Season 2, episode 4 of Euphoria.
Euphoria is a state of mind. More often than not, that mind is on drugs, and those drugs have been taken by Rue. She dips in and out of consciousness, plunging the show into her vivid hallucinations. In season 2, no trip has been more affecting than her downward spiral at the end of episode 4, in which Rue imagines herself in the arms of a church singer (played by Labrinth), and then her late father. The episode culminates in a stunning montage that bounces from character to character, observing their respective crises through Rue’s euphoric, druggy lens.
It’s a dazzling sequence that marks a high point for the season, allowing the show to flex its fantastical dream logic and deliver a series of indelible images: Jules guiltily swathed in golden sunlight, Lexi worrying in an empty theater, Kat cruising down a black street. None, however, are more indelible than one particular image: Cassie, the heartbroken heartbreaker, trapped in her vanity and surrounded by garlands of flowers.
The latter image is a redemptive spectacle, the key takeaway from an episode stuffed with narrative bombs. (Jules and Elliott! Cal Jacobs’s family shitshow!) All season long, Cassie has been one of the show’s most catastrophic figures. She kicks things off by hooking up with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, Nate, becoming more feckless and delusional with each passing episode. When he starts ignoring her, she begins primping and preening at 4 a.m. every day, replicating Maddy’s aesthetic in order to get a millisecond of Nate’s attention. Cassie radiates desperation and, on paper, runs the risk of being offensively one-dimensional. But the character is rescued by a forceful, layered performance by Sydney Sweeney, who is quickly becoming the season’s acting MVP.
Sweeney handles Cassie’s numerous breakdowns with aplomb, offering variations on emotional ruin. She’s sensitive and volatile, radiant and miserable. Episode 4 is particularly unflattering for Cassie. She gets into a screaming match with Nate, essentially blackmailing him into staying with her and bragging about how crazy she can be. At Maddy’s birthday party later in the episode, which Nate attends, she’s glum and self-loathing. She gets wasted and throws up in the hot tub, blubbering a vague apology to Maddy to assuage some of her guilt. It’s at once tragic and funny, with Sweeney fully leaning in to the moment of gross-out humor. Nate eventually sees her, crying and caked in vomit. It’s a mortifying fall from—well, not grace, exactly, but an already graceless state. Her humiliation knows no bounds.
That’s what makes the montage scene so exquisite and redemptive. It’s kicked off when Rue starts to trip, cutting to each of the characters sitting with the mistakes they’ve made—Jules sitting in bed after hooking up with Elliott; Kat sitting next to her boyfriend, whom she resents; Lexi sitting in the theater where she’s working on a not-so-fictional play about her sister. All the while, an electrifying score by Labrinth sculpts the montage’s soundscape, imbuing it with energy and anxiety.
Then the scene arrives at Cassie, sitting inside a mirror, surrounded by all the flowers Nate gives her in private. Her hair is delicately styled, her lips are glossy, and her eyes are red and brimming with tears. The score goes quiet, then explodes, a burst of organs showering the wrongheaded beauty queen. It’s the image of a girl in a gilded cage of her own making—bright and distressing, in the key of Midsommar’s sunny floral horror. In an interview that aired at the end of the episode, creator Sam Levinson said the imagery was inspired by “Mexican murals from the turn of the century.” That single moment offers the biggest burst of sympathy Cassie has been given all season long, nestled in a montage that assesses all of Euphoria’s key characters, putting a dreamlike lens on portraits of self-destruction.
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