As usual, I approached this week’s Euphoria episode, “‘03 Bonnie and Clyde,” with trepidation. The series may generally try to go bleaker than the pitch-black Handmaid's Tale, but I had an extra reason to feel anxiety this time around. HBO didn’t send a preview screener of the installment to critics, and I was left wondering if there was something so terrible ahead that the network simply didn’t want to give us forewarning.
I was wrong. Yes, “Bonnie and Clyde,” directed by Once Upon A Time's Jennifer Morrison, may be the most intense episode of Euphoria yet. After all, the installment centers around Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) and her abusive relationship with Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), the hulking Big Man on Campus with a three-mile-long rage streak. However, what you find in the hour is some of Euphoria’s most thoughtful and understandably painful work.
It’s the kind of work that deserves to be talked about, so let’s dive in.
The Maddy Show
This is, without a question, Maddy’s episode. Yes, Kat Hernandez may be living her Hot Girl Summer dreams and two relationships may flail in their own youthful ways, but Maddy, along with her portrayer Alexa Demie, absolutely runs away with “Bonnie and Clyde.” Maddy ended last week’s “Shook Ones Pt. II,” crying over the bruises Nate left on her neck following a chili-related argument. It’s clear Maddy has, at last, realized Nate isn’t simply some hot-headed jock. He’s a monster with the face of a teen heartthrob.
As Rue Bennett (Zendaya) explains in the cold open’s voiceover, that dangerous detail isn’t Maddy’s greatest problem with her relationship. Instead, it’s the fact that no matter what Nate does, she’ll continue to love him.
That undeniable truth colors every single scene that follows. Maddy may be a spitfire, but she tries to hide the proof of Nate’s violence. She wakes up three hours early to apply concealer to her bruises, which now fully cover her neck. She wears a turtleneck and hoodie to class and refuses to take either layer off. When police attempt to photograph the marks, she fights and sobs so hard, officers eventually handcuff her to a desk to capture the evidence. “If you literally step any closer, I will fight you,” Maddy yells at a detective before she’s cuffed to the desk.
It’s a traumatizing and visceral representation of abuse and the closest connective tissues we’ve seen all year between Euphoria and its lead-in Big Little Lies. Maddy and Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) both desperately love the men who hurt them. Celeste was an expert at hiding the signs of her husband Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgård) abuse. Even in Lies season 2, Celeste is still grappling with her devotion to the dead man who beat her. When you understand the complicated feelings of abuse survivors, you can empathize with Maddy's fight to keep Nate in her life, despite all the people telling her he’s poison.
Especially since “Bonnie and Clyde” sets up Maddy’s fears and goals so perfectly.
As we learn in the all-important cold open, Maddy’s mother is an aesthetician. Mrs. Perez may be making good money, but she’s still the person kneeling in front of far richer women. Maddy’s dad is battling alcoholism and hasn’t kept a steady job in years. “You live in the same house and don’t even say one word to each other,” Maddy yells at her mom about the Perez's marriage. Maddy doesn’t want that. She wants intense love and fur coats like the one from Casino. Nate gives her that.
So of course she frantically drives to his motel room when he calls. She believes they are the 2003 Bonnie and Clyde of the episode's title. Maddy doesn't realize this scenario is much more Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf than Bey and Jay. It hurts to see, but, finally, Euphoria put in the work to make this difficult choice a comprehensible one.
Nate, a show of privilege
In the first half of the episode, East Highland holds a mini investigation into the alleged violence of Nate Jacobs. The circumstances around him choking Maddy are uncovered, as are his terrifying actions at Chris McKay’s (Algee Smith) party in the premiere (his near-death beating of Tyler is still a secret). Once police are ready to take Nate in for questioning, his parents are called. Cal (Eric Dane) is allowed to speak to his son alone for a lengthy amount of time. He is then walked out of school sans handcuffs with his parents behind him, the police officers behind the Jacobs family.
It is impossible to believe someone from an underrepresented community, or a lesser socioeconomic background, would have so many allowances thrown their way amid such damning allegation. You can already hear a judge calling Nate “a nice boy with a promising future ahead” before ever using the words “alleged abuser.”
Nate already starts crafting the narrative of the former description in the police station. He tells detectives he “doesn’t want to get Maddy in trouble” but she does do drugs, including on the night she was choked. In fact, he explains, it’s possible the MDMA she took at the carnival wasn’t pure — but Nate wouldn’t know. He doesn’t do drugs like Maddy. Maddy, he adds to feigned embarrassed effect, is the person who cheats on him during their rough patches; patches like the night of the carnival. Maybe she saw one of those guys that night?
Maddy has no idea, but Nate is trying to turn her into a drugged-up cheater in the eyes of the law.
This is what makes Maddy running to Nate at the end of the episode — and the trailer sneak peek of her telling him, “You need a plan” — so heartbreaking. At least there are still three episodes left this season for Maddy to realize she’s conspiring with the enemy. As Rue says in the opening, “The cool thing about Sharon Stone in Casino is she ran the fuck over [Robert] De Niro.” Maddy loves Sharon Stone in Casino.
Jules & Rue, growing pains
Unbeknownst to Rue, her best friend Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) has learned her new crush Tyler is actually Nate. And Nate did not stop at catfishing Jules. He also created a massive child porn blackmailing scheme against her to ensure she would never reveal their romantic relationship or the sexual one she shared with his father. This is harrowing and, hypothetically, Jules would like to be taken care of in this difficult time.
Unfortunately, as Jules learns throughout “Bonnie and Clyde,” that is not her place in life right now. Instead, she is apparently meant to care for Rue. Jules’ father (John Ales) tells her she’s a “good influence” on Rue. Rue looks at Jules with moon eyes and constantly wants to sleep next to her (she also secretly masturbates to the idea of Jules). Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) tells Jules that Rue is sober and happy “because of her.” It’s all too much responsibility.
The last time we see Jules and Rue, their emotional distance is obvious. Rue sleeps peacefully, wrapped around her BFF. Jules, on the other hand, is wide awake in the dark. With three episodes left, someone’s heart is about to get broken.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.