The season finale of Euphoria didn’t really tie up the show’s loose ends so much as it picked them up in one tangled handful and shoved them into the back of a closet like a pile of Christmas lights — and I don’t mean that critically.
The HBO series, which premiered in June, has always focused on its characters’ early childhood traumas over their day-to-day problems, exploring how a person’s past experiences might affect how they handle their circumstances in the present, and it does this successfully, sidestepping the issue of the week format that has hampered the teen genre since its inception. It would have been satisfying to see the show fully resolve itself by the end of season one, but it also would have been out of character. I haven’t fully resolved any of my deep-seated issues after dozens of hours of therapy. Why would I expect such a Freudian show to have done all that work in eight?
Sunday night’s finale, titled “And Salt the Earth Behind You,” found Jules (Hunter Schafer) telling Rue (Zendaya) that she loves her, and that she also loves Anna (Quintessa Swindell). Rue suggests they ditch the school dance and hop a literal midnight train going anywhere (Seriously, where is this show set??), but Rue bails at the last second, spiraling home in a panic attack-induced fugue as the pain of addiction, the thought of hurting her mother and sister, and the memory of her father’s death overtake her. In the episode’s final minutes, she relapses and then launches into a musical number — truly one of the most unexpected moments that Euphoria has given us so far, and that’s saying something.
Speaking of Rue’s dad, the finale also revealed that all those oversized hoodies and stuff that Rue’s been wearing all season actually belonged to her dad, which adds a complicated, Freudian twist to the character’s masc-of-center style. (Not to mention that recent interview with Euphoria costume designer Heidi Bivens, in which she suggested that Rue might be nonbinary.) Jules commented on Rue’s gender expression in the finale, apologizing for not respecting it while giving her a sparkly femme makeover. Rue laughed it off as casually as the episode showed Jules wearing a see-through, sea green coat with a gigantic trans symbol embroidered on the back — as casually as Maddy (Alexa Demie) told Nate (Jacob Elordi) that “Sexuality is a spectrum!” during their dick pic argument later on.
Queerness isn’t a plot point on Euphoria, at least not in and of itself, because it’s not the defining characteristic or driving motivation of any one character. It adds context to what’s happening, not a core. Euphoria’s writing staff has been wise to do this.
Elsewhere in the finale, Maddy tells Nate that he’s “psychotic” and “abusive” and that their relationship isn’t good for either of them. But she does this while they’re slow-dancing, so it’s unclear if this signals an end to anything for them. Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) gets an abortion and goes to the dance, where she spends the night advising her drunk little sister, Lexi (Maude Apatow), on how to sleep with boys, unaware that her advice (“Be me,” essentially) won’t help Lexi very much. Cal (Eric Dane) confronts Nate when his son gets home (in a scene that uncomfortably mirrors the father’s motel sex scenes), sending Nate into a rage blackout. Kat (Barbie Ferreira) is blessed with the most uncomplicated ending (she tells the closest thing Euphoria has to a positive male character that she likes him, and they kiss), or is she? Those of us who lived for Kat’s misandrous turn mid-season will probably feel at least a little complicated about her happy ending happening all thanks to a man.
What will this mean for Kat — for any of the characters on Euphoria? We’ll just have to wait until HBO digs these tangled Christmas lights out of the closet for season two to find out.