What the Thunderstorm in Episode Two of HBO's "Euphoria" Really Symbolized
I should start by saying that not only is Sam Levinson (the writer and creator of Euphoria) a GENIUS, but that the second episode of the HBO teen-oriented drama is an absolute masterpiece. From the writing, to the cinematography, to the acting… this is an effortless 10 out of 10. Levinson and Zendaya together are a powerful force of nature and creative expression evident throughout various moments this season but especially during the "Fly Me to the Moon" sequence in this episode. This scene delivers a masterful juxtaposition that relays the tribulations of a loved one struggling with bipolar disorder and a severe drug addiction. The pair simultaneously show us the good moments inter-spliced with the bad and we see firsthand what those around Rue have been subject to throughout her struggle with addiction. We see that even in the brightest and loveliest of moments, the darkness in Rue is impatiently waiting for its turn to show itself.
Each episode centres around a new character in the ensemble that drives the plot forward, a la Norwegian show SKAM. This episode revolves around Nate Jacobs, the series antagonist, and is entitled “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy” after the Birdman and Lil Wayne song, to symbolize that although Nate’s biggest fear in life is becoming his father... he is actually just like him. A thunderstorm rages through town and the audience watches as each character is presented with a critical crossroad at throughout the episode. The thunderstorm represents the temptation each of them feel that pulls them down a darker path; one of self destruction, as opposed to one of self discovery and reinvention. The rain is meant to symbolize a metamorphosis or coming clean (thank you Hilary Duff!) and each teenager faces the opportunity to change into the person they ache to be, but instead continue down a same treacherous path that will eventually lead them to their individual downfalls.
Rue, played by rising star Zendaya, is fresh out of rehab after overdosing a few months prior to the start of the events we see in the pilot. At the beginning of this episode, Rue mentions that when she gets really high, she becomes psychic. During the storm, she shows up to Fez's house unannounced and because of her undying loyalty to and lust for drugs, comes face to face with her biggest temptation: fentanyl. Mouse, Fez's supplier, persuades her to ingest the dangerous drug, which will likely kill her, but would also gift her the euphoria she seeks through drugs. Higher than she's ever been, she tells Fez that she's never been happier. In her eyes, we can see fireworks: the same fireworks she watches at the carnival with Jules in "Shook Ones Pt. II". This foreshadows how Jules will become her newest source of euphoria and the sustenance Rue needs and that a withdrawal from her would lead to Rue’s biggest spiral yet, which we witness in the finale after Jules pulls off on the train without her.
Fez, her tortured drug dealer who constantly battles with the morality of his business with Rue, sits with her in his living room after Mouse leaves. Here, the series delivers a powerful camera shot of him from behind as he looks on over his living room, which we understand is his miniature kingdom. Rain patters against the windowpane, showing us that he has the choice to stop dealing to people like Rue, whose lives are falling apart due to addiction, but continues to.The next character who faces an opportunity to evolve is Kat, whose sex tape is leaked to the student body after she finally gives up her virginity to take control of her own body and narrative… and now she’d lost it all over again. Instead of understanding that any true freedom would come from relinquishing this control, she chooses to capitalize off of it by creating a Pornhub account to start camming for rich men who make her feel powerful. This is what leads her to a terrifying encounter with a mysterious payer on webcam that will most likely endanger her in the upcoming season.Cassie is a beautiful young girl with a salacious reputation who lays in bed at night while texting her new boyfriend Mackay, who’d previously scolded her for being too sexual but is now begging her for naked photos. Already having a reputation for participating in videos and photos of this sexual nature in the past, she’s hesitant and clearly unwilling. But Mackay pressures her to, like many of the guys she’d been with before, and because she wants nothing more than to just be truly desired and wanted by somebody, she complies. She poses naked and thunder rumbles as the camera flashes go off.
Finally... Nate Jacobs, this episode’s subject, breaks into Tyler’s apartment to beat him in order to somehow express years of bottled anger and ferocity. In this episode, we witness Nate's first real misuse of his privilege and power that he will soon use to torment the other characters in the series, specifically Jules. But before Nate's altercation with Tyler, he has countless opportunities to walk away. But, like his father, the feeling of dominance fuels and excites him, which is what makes this scene so uncomfortable to watch. Nate enjoys the feeling of hurting Tyler, of taking out the anger he feels towards himself on somebody else. As he beats Tyler, the thunder rumbles relentlessly. Nate looks at himself in Tyler's mirror as he mounts him, somehow pleased but also disappointed. This foreshadows the explosive scene in the season finale where his father mounts Nate similarly during their fight and Nate looks at himself in the mirror... crying, helpless and afraid, the roles reversed. It’s clear that his father’s influence over him, alluded to in another episode, is too powerful. Nate will always choose to avoid the confusion revolving around his sexuality, his feelings for Jules and his relationship with his father when presented the opportunity to project it instead. In this case, he uses protecting Maddy as an excuse to hurt Tyler, while the person Nate is truly angry at is himself.In an interview with Men's Health, actor Jacob Elordi had this to say about the scene:"It’s one of the main parts where you get to see his psychopathic nature without him actually beingdeeply upset, I suppose," he said. "He’s relishing in the moment and the success of what he’s doneso it was actually, surprisingly, one of the easiest scenes to fall into. With Tyler, I think it was the kindof thing where he isn’t intimidated or frightened by him, he’s just like a chess piece that has to be moved," (Jacob Elordi via Evan Romano, Men's Health, 2019).
The episode ends with each character falling into their same old ways even when given the chance to change. These decisions lead to the events that play out through the rest of the season and their interweaving arcs. This form of exposition was masterfully written, including elements of foreboding and symbolism that Sam Levinson and HBO wield like an unforgiving sword that cuts through the facades and dreams of each character ruefully and exposes them for who they really are, as opposed to the people they like to think they could be.