Essays · TV

The ‘Euphoria’ Season 2 Finale Presents a Tangled Web of Abuse

In our last recap of the season, we break down what the show is really about.
Euphoria Season 2 Finale Zendaya
By  · Published on March 1st, 2022

The Euphoria Season 2 finale (“All My Life, My Heart Has Yearned for a Thing I Cannot Name”) sees one of the most chilling moments of the show so far. In the aftermath of a violent, long-awaited confrontation between Maddy (Alexa Demie) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), the latter, face caked in blood at the vengeful hands of her ex-best friend, muses that Nate (Jacob Elordi) had broken up with her earlier that night. Maddy then looks at Cassie and assures her: “Don’t worry. This is just the beginning.” Then she leaves the scene of the crime and permanently washes her hands of Cassie, Nate, and the pair’s doomed love affair. 

The conflict between Maddy and Cassie has remained at the epicenter of Euphoria for all of Season 2. The way that it finally plays out is expectedly satisfying: the two interrupt Lexi’s play to air out their grievances on stage for their entire high school to see. But this rivalry doesn’t just exist for entertainment’s sake. When the altercation moves behind closed doors, it confirms that this is a show that is, at its core, about the consequences of generational abuse.

The culmination of Euphoria’s themes of abuse takes root in a single utterance: “This is just the beginning.” Indeed, Maddy’s parting statement to Cassie is the consummation of the girls’ drawn-out conflict. While the former undoubtedly finds great pleasure in smashing the latter’s face into the bathroom wall, Maddy ultimately realizes that there is no greater punishment for Cassie than simply allowing her to be with the erratic, abusive Nate.

Nate is at the core of Euphoria’s complicated roadmap of relentless cycles of abuse. A large part of what makes him tick is his complex and destructive relationship with his father, Cal (Eric Dane). As Nate entered teendom, Cal began to project a standard of heightened hypermasculinity onto his son in order to further conceal the fact that he was actually interested in men. This manifested in him both exhibiting abusive tendencies (getting physical with Nate when he wasn’t being enough of a “man”) and egging on his son’s budding abusive tendencies (Nate’s physical and emotional mistreatment of Maddy), which he believed epitomized manhood.

Nate’s abuse of Maddy doesn’t end when the two split up. In Season 2, Episode 6 (“A Thousand Little Trees of Blood”), Nate threatens Maddy with a gun to make her hand over an incriminating tape of Cal. And Nate’s abusive behavior doesn’t end with Maddy. If it’s not Maddy, then it’s someone else. And in this case, it is Cassie who draws the unlucky straw. Early on in their affair, Nate withholds any kind of attention from Cassie, grooming her to rejoice at a single glance in her direction. In private, things aren’t much better: Nate threatens Cassie and yells at her when they’re alone.

Similar to how Cal’s abuse of Nate breeds Nate’s abuse of others, Maddy and Cassie’s familial abuses allow for them to be the brunt of his mistreatment. In the first act of her play, Lexi (Maude Apatow) reveals that Maddy lived with her and Cassie for a couple of months while her parents were fighting. Presumably, Maddy learned from her parents that domestic violence was to be expected in a relationship. But at the end of the Season 2 finale, after seeing the despondent state that Cassie’s recent scuffle with Nate put her in, Maddy finally has the cognizance and strength to break the generational cycle of abuse she has been trapped in for most of her life.

Cassie, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky. Her father struggled with an opioid addiction throughout her childhood and abandoned her and Lexi when they were teens. And while Lexi is able to take the trauma of that loss and create art from it, Cassie looks elsewhere, reeling from the withdrawal of paternal love and seeking out male affection elsewhere. So when Nate approaches Cassie in Season 2, Episode 1 (“Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”), she is powerless to him, despite knowing that their relationship will inevitably hurt Maddy.

What is it, exactly, that keeps Euphoria’s characters trapped in these vicious cycles? For a lot of them, it is the sheer familiarity of it. Recall the eulogy that Rue (Zendaya) delivers at her dad’s funeral. She explains that the only thing that keeps her going in the wake of his death is the notion that, when she closes her eyes, she can be with him again. But with this remembrance inevitably comes a recollection of his death, and with that comes immense pain.

Regardless of the discomfort that these memories conjure for Rue, they still play an integral part in keeping her father’s memory alive. And so, for Rue, part of the reason that she inflicts pain on herself and others is that she associates pain with her dad. Similarly, Nate associates the tumult of a derisive relationship with Cal, whom he wants love from. And just as Maddy and Cassie associate Nate’s mistreatment with their own absent father.

Season 2 of Euphoria ends on a somewhat hopeful note. After Lexi’s play, Rue remarks that the depiction of her on stage was the first time she’d been forced to reflect on her actions and not hated herself as a result. Perhaps she was finally able to look at her traumatic history with compassion, realizing that the pain she has been subjected to — and the way she reacted to it — was never her fault. In voiceover, she explains that she managed to stay sober after watching the play. For a while, at least.

It is the perspective, too, of seeing Nate with someone else that allows Maddy to distance herself from him. Let’s just hope that, in Season 3, Cassie and Nate are also able to make sense of their own actions in a broader, more forgiving context.

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Aurora Amidon spends her days running the Great Expectations column and trying to convince people that Hostel II is one of the best movies of all time. Read her mostly embarrassing tweets here: @aurora_amidon.