Spoilers through Episode 4 of HBO’s “Euphoria” follow.
It’s a messy, provocative, gossamer world for the teens of “Euphoria.” Led by Oakland’s Zendaya as recovering opioid drug addict Rue and Hunter Schafer as Jules, a trans woman and Rue’s best friend, the HBO drama hasn’t shied away from the stickier parts of growing up in Gen Z.
On Monday night in San Francisco, a large crowd gathered at the Swedish American Hall on Market Street. Before taking their seats, most in attendance opted to emulate the show’s characters by embellishing their cheekbones and foreheads with sticker rhinestones staff passed out earlier.
Everyone is here, in sparkles, to see Schafer and Barbie Ferreira, who plays Kat, a character coming into her own sexuality and unexpected illicit online fame, as they break down the series’ heaviest episode yet, “Shook Ones, Pt. II.”
As viewers have seen thus far, Jules has been falling fast for “Tyler,” a person she meets on a dating app, while Rue comes to terms with the fact that she is similarly developing strong feelings for Jules. Despite the gut-punching awkwardness Rue feels after misreading a moment and kissing Jules, her friend greets her like nothing happened at the town’s carnival. After a night of sober socializing — including a run-in with Cal (Eric Dane), a man with whom Jules had a violent one-night stand in Episode 1 — Jules runs off to find Tyler near a lake under cover of darkness.
But it’s not Tyler she meets; Jules finds out the person with whom she’s been conversing (and sending explicit pictures) the whole time is actually Nate (Jacob Elordi), the high school’s alpha male and Jules’ first adversary upon arriving in town. Tangling things even more, Nate is Cal’s son.
“Nate is so complicated and such a mess,” Schafer tells moderator Preston Souza, a friend of the show and product curator for gender-neutral clothing company The Phluid Project. Nate’s aware of his father’s affairs, due to Cal’s habit of recording his hook-ups with non-cis women and not hiding the tapes well. He struggles in grappling with what that means for his own identity.
“That’s created some issues (for Nate) and anger that’s been building up all these years,” Schafer continues. “I think there’s a part of him that admires his dad and wants to be his dad … (Nate) also feels repressed in his masculinity and Jules is the opposite of that. She represents a lot of what he’ll never be or thinks he’ll ever be. That’s intoxicating and also repulsive to him.”
Nate leaves Jules with a serious threat, promising to report her for child pornography should she tell anyone about her interactions with Nate and his family. Jules — truly a “shook one” — runs home, but not to her physical one; she goes to Rue.
“Since Episode 3, (Jules) has been stewing on the fact that Rue kissed her and has strong feelings for her,” Schafer explains. “After being screwed over by a dude she really took her walls down for … she goes to Rue. When they’re in each other’s arms and in bed together, nothing else matters. They’re home for each other. That moment just elevates (it) and is beautiful.”
Schafer believes this is where Jules changes course, away from the “toxic relationships” she’s built with men in favor of “turning to her best friend to find an intimacy that’s more wholesome.”
“Euphoria” is, at its core, about these Generation Z characters and their upending of their own narratives. Ferreira’s Kat, too, has been negotiating her identity between her real life in high school, where she’s “embarrassed by her interests,” and her online persona in adult videos. In Episode 4, Kat debuts a new wardrobe in an attempt to project a newfound confidence.
“When you’re a big girl, growing up you want to blend in so people don’t look at you,” Ferreira told the audience. “She has a moment where she says, ‘I can succumb into feeling like it’s the end of the world,’ or …(she) can control her boundaries. Dressing up in a way that is her way of being like you can’t f— with me now.”
Maintaining those two personalities, Ferreira says, is “what keeps her afloat.”
Attempts at controlling their own lives and stories, as both Kat and Jules do in both digital and physical capacities, is an inherently Generation Z effort to which Schafer and Ferreira can relate.
“We can attribute that to social media, speeding that process up and leaving that (gender) binary behind because we’re able to world build outside of what’s in our direct vicinities wherever we are,” Schafer adds. “That’s really exciting. But the internet’s a bubble, and it would be great to see it externalize out here.”