Few shows seem better primed for controversy than HBO’s Euphoria. Earlier this week, the new series created waves for an upcoming scene including 30 penises, all of which belong to teen boys. Former HBO chairman Richard Plepler has been inadvisably boasting the Zendaya-led drama would make 13 Reasons Why — a show that deals with serious topics like teen suicide, sexual assault, and gun violence — “look like an after-school special.”
When you finally watch Sunday night’s Euphoria series premiere and you get what everyone was so worked up about. Euphoria is intense. Young Rue Bennett (McKenna Roberts), years before the events of the pilot, receives a DM reading, “Imma gonna rape u cunt.” Sydney Sweeney’s Cassie Howard is choked during a hookup because a group of boys screened her sex tape without permission. It’s a video Cassie doesn’t know exists, and no one helps change that — not even her alleged good guy crush Chris McKay (Algee Smith), who did the choking.
All of these terrible moments unfold without the smile, wink, and joy of prior teens-behaving-badly series. Instead, it feels as though the world of Euphoria is only going to get bleaker as it goes on. For someone who graduated high school almost a full decade ago, the darkness of the ultra Gen-Z Euphoria is jarring. One can only imagine how parents are going to feel. However, we may all sound like elderly fuddy duddies, totally disconnected from the pressures and pains actual teens are dealing with.
That’s why we’re going to talk through the Euphoria premiere’s three most upsetting moments. It’s time to figure out if all this pointed anxiety is unfounded knee-jerk apprehension or just a good point.
Jules & The Jacobs Family
Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) is a character bound for instant social media standom. She’s a sweetheart with the style of Sailor Moon, as drug dealer Fezco (Angus Cloud), says. As a trans girl, she is also a fan of Gindr, and plans a date with a man with the username DominantDaddy. When Jules shows up to Daddy’s motel room, he’s actually a middle-aged silver fox and actual father. By the end of the pilot, we learn Daddy is Cal Jacobs (Eric “McSteamy” Dane), dad of big man on campus Nate Jacobs (The Kissing Booth’s Jacob Elordi).
Jules doesn’t know any of that., though. All she knows is that she showed up to DominantDaddy’s room, he stuffed his hands in her mouth twice, ripped her tights, and had very aggressive anal sex with her. During all of that, we also saw his erect penis while he put on a condom. One may pearl-clutch at a young teen like Jules entering the motel room of a much older man she met off of a hookup app. But, they shouldn’t. TV teens have been sharing rendezvous with mysterious adult men to much fanfare since Buffy fell in love with a 200-year-old vampire.
That is a ship that has inspired thousands of fan-fiction tales and Tumblr GIFs.
However, it’s okay to feel really cringey about Jules and Cal’s actual sex scene. There’s an exploitative and suffocating power imbalance at play because Cal doesn’t treat Jules like a person he is sharing an experience with. Instead, he acts like she is a sentient sex doll he can force into his nearly ritualized bedroom play. When he pushes Jules’ face further into the bed with every thrust, you don’t feel like she’s empowered and exploring her sexuality. You feel scared.
Cal whispering, “You’re so clean. You have no idea how rare that is,” makes everything even more haunting.
Jules’ run-in with Nate at McKay’s party is equally scary. Nate, coming off of a bad night, turns all of his anger on Jules, cornering her in a kitchen and threatening to “fuck her up.” At a time when violence against trans women — albeit usually of colour — is making headlines daily, this is a disturbing scene. It isn’t improved when Jules slices herself on the arm with a kitchen knife while yelling, “I’m fucking invincible.” It's a moment made for screengrabbing, but, Jules is ultimately the hurt one here. Nate might be freaked out, but Jules is bleeding. She’s the one who needs a bandage. Nate just keeps living his hostile, weird life.
Jules deserves better.
Kat Hernandez’s First Time
If there’s one scene in the Euphoria pilot that makes me squirm the most, it’s Kat Hernandez’s (Barbie Ferreira) unsettling sexual manipulation at the hands of the McKay twins (Tyler and Tristan Timmons) and a boy named Wes (Nolan Bateman). Kat’s desire to enter her junior year as a woman who has had sex is normal. Blockers made a whole movie about that single-minded horny interest.
However, there’s something genuinely creepy about three boys staring at Kat in a dark room as she desperately tries to prove she isn’t a “prude.” The twins tell her, “Fat girls give the best head,” and Wes dares her to take her top off to prove she’s a “slut.” This kind of behaviour is probably happening the world over right now, but Euphoria doesn’t need to reward it. Hypothetically, if this scene really was about empowerment, she could leave these three boys in the dust to seduce a better prospect. Instead, Kat disrobes to prove she's as sexually adventures as Wes wants her to be — looking quite uncomfortable in the process — and has sex with Wes.
We don’t even know if Kat let the twins watch her first time just to show she’s up for anything. If voyeurism was Kat’s thing, that would be something to celebrate. But everything about the situation suggests the opposite.
Maddy’s Pool Sex
Nate’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Maddy (Mid90s'Alexa Demie) has sex in a pool. Again, if being watched was Maddy’s kink, this would be great. But, this sex scene isn’t actually about Maddy getting off. It’s about getting back at Nate. We know as much because Maddy says, “I’m just trying to get back at my really shitty ex-boyfriend,” before asking her random hookup Tyler (Lukas Gage) to “fuck me right here, right now.” It’s an unhinged plan even the wildest of young probably won’t recognize.
The next time we see Maddy and Tyler, they’re going at it in the pool as a group of people watch and record their session. At least three people are recording a teen girl have sex without her consent and blasting that video out into the internet. And then her ex-boyfriend yells at her that she’s a “whore.”
Yeah, there’s nothing redeeming to be found here.