Last week’s episode was a refreshing diversion from Euphoria’s typical structure, beginning in the present as opposed to a cold open depicting someone’s terrible upbringing. But Levinson is as committed to the dubious “trauma plot” as he is to filming male crotches. And there’s hardly a person within this ensemble of thoroughly fucked-up characters more suited for this device than Eric Dane’s Cal Jacobs.
Cal’s deeply cliched backstory pretty much writes itself thanks to years of teen programming featuring “the closeted jock” and the wrongheaded societal notion that the worst men are secretly gay. Accordingly, we’re introduced to a teenage Cal competing in a high school wrestling match. We also meet his teammate and best friend Derrick, whose role in Cal’s sexual awakening becomes obvious pretty quickly when he stares directly at his penis in a locker room.
Despite the romantic undercurrents in their friendship, they each pursue relationships with girls. Cal starts dating a classmate named Marsha, who turns out to be Nate’s mom, and convinces himself that he enjoys having sex with her. At this point in the sequence, the amount of bare boobs, butts and genitals we’ve seen is pretty jarring, even by HBO standards. If viewers were taken aback by last week’s sex scenes, this episode is sure to spark more discussions about Levinson’s treatment of female nudity and what seems like a tactic to defend himself from criticism by inundating us with closeups of penises.
But back to Cal and Derrick. Their feelings for one another finally come to a head when they go to a bar after their graduation, start lip-syncing to INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” in the most stereotypical fashion, and share a kiss. The next morning, Cal receives news from Marsha that she’s pregnant in a very “Timothee Chalamet at the end of Call Me by Your Name” moment that makes Cal’s contempt for Nate a lot less complicated. This backstory is technically sad but not necessarily sympathy-evoking, considering what we know takes place in the future.
Speaking of which, we jump forward to the present where Rue is singing and dancing around to Frank Sinatra's “Call Me Irresponsible,” as if the list of pre-millennium songs this kid knows by heart couldn’t get anymore absurd. Gia catches her and asks if she’s high, which leads Rue into a fourth-wall presentation on “How To Get Away With Being A Drug Addict.” Basically, Rue tricks Gia into thinking that she’s suicidal and, therefore, needs to smoke weed, which she uses as a “cover drug” for the harder stuff. This zany segment serves as a reminder that no matter how “adult” this program is, much of the acting required of Zendaya is still very Disney Channel.
After interrogating Elliott about his sexual proclivities, Jules is finally convinced that he’s not just trying to sleep with Rue, and the three of them become their own little oddball clique. They play Truth or Dare and, later on, Elliot gets Jules to admit that Rue isn’t a sexual person. In a not-so-shocking turn of events, it seems like Rue should be concerned about Elliot wanting to get with Jules.
In a more wholesome part of the episode, Lexi gets a self-authored play greenlit at school, replacing the usual production of Oklahoma. Rue states via voiceover that Lexi has always lived her life as an “observer,” compared to Cassie and her bolder peers. So far, we don’t know exactly why Lexi suffers from supporting character syndrome—other than that’s how she’s been written—or her point of view on what she observes, aside from bewilderment. But it seems an appropriate tactic for an introvert to gain control of their life by narrativizing it and forcing other people to watch. Anyone with a social media account can sort of relate.
Likewise, Lexi has always “imagined her life as a movie,” so, of course, we transition into a segment of her literally producing a film of her own life, making Cassie put on hideous costumes and giving us a behind-the-scenes tour. She tells us from a director’s chair that “sidekicks are usually the smarter, more sensitive, more compelling characters, but for some reason, they just get overlooked.” Such an overt acknowledgement makes me wonder whether Levinson will actually explore why this notion is true with Lexi’s character or just paying lip service.
Meanwhile, we find Cassie in what we can only hope is the height of her neurosis. Her obsession with Nate has now manifested in a three-hour-long beauty routine before school and Fashion Nova ensembles to prove her devotion to him. One of the most amusing aspects of this show is its presentation of Gen Z fashion and makeup trends that seems borderline parodic. Likewise, it’s hilarious to watch Cassie transform herself into the current hyper-feminine ideal to the point where she, a blonde, white woman, is laying her non-existent baby hairs and unknowingly looks exactly like Maddy.
Cassie’s best moment this episode, however, is when she shows up to school with bouffant hair and a puffed-sleeved plaid top that makes the other girls think she’s auditioning for Oklahoma. Likewise, Cassie, deeply insulted, launches into her much-anticipated “And I have never been happier!” monologue, revealing her affair with Nate to Maddy. But thankfully, this rant is only imagined.
The crime-related portions of this episode prove that the show really thrives when focused on relationships and lower-stakes drama. I would’ve much rather watched Fez and Lexi go on an awkward ice cream date. Instead, we watch Fez and Ashtray interrogate Cal after catching him lurking outside of their house. Cal accidentally mentions recording himself having sex with Jules, assuming Fez knew about it. Realizing he’s dug himself into an even bigger hole, he promises to leave them alone. But I doubt this will be the last we see of Cal’s serial killer-like tendencies.
Finally, Rue decides to get into drug dealing so she can “do drugs for free.” She comes up with a plan that involves blackmailing student sellers with data from their phones so they won’t snitch. It’s hard to believe that even the dumbest teenagers would sign up for this as opposed to working at the mall, but the stoic drug lord from the season premiere, Laura, thinks it’s brilliant and gives her $10K worth of drugs to sell. It’s unclear whether Rue will follow through with this plan, but if she doesn’t Laura tells her she’ll be “kidnapped and sold to some really sick people.”
Rue boldly goes straight from Laura’s house to an AA meeting, drugs in tow. Ali questions her afterwards with his usual wisecracking, but Rue isn’t amused. She gets him upset by cursing at him and walks off with her suitcase.
“Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” concludes with Cassie getting stood up by Nate, who shows up to Maddy’s work with flowers instead. So far, it seems like Levinson doesn’t know what to do with Kat, whose storyline this episode consists of going to dinner with Ethan’s family and stuttering over a question in a brief scene. However, it isn’t shocking that the writer of this show is disinterested in the only character with a healthy relationship.