The first few episodes of Euphoria will go down as some of the most painful hours of television this year. From the jump, creator/director Sam Levinson was trying to jolt viewers awake about the very real and excruciating plight facing teens today. Although Levinson got his point across, it was unclear if his HBO hit could be honest without also being traumatizing (or, possibly retraumatizing for certain audience members).
Euphoria initially felt so suffocating because it lacked any real teenage joy in the face of its very appropriate bleakness. As the Irish Troubles-set Derry Girls proves, youth will still find a way to thrive in even the gloomiest circumstances.
Eventually, Euphoria came to the same conclusion. The drama proves as much with season 1 finale, “And Salt the Earth Behind You.” The 2019 closer is a dark tale that traffics in the heartbreak, rage, and addiction that has become the series’ signature interests. However, “Salt” can also be beautiful and hopeful where it counts.
Let’s figure out how Euphoria managed such an impossible tight rope — and what it all means for an already promised season 2.
There are a few times over “Salt the Earth” that Euphoria tries to convince us heroine Rue Bennet (Zendaya) may be dead. In the first instance, we see a tween girl standing in the Bennet home as a corpse is wheeled out of the last bedroom in the house. This season has repeatedly reminded us Rue sleeps at the end of the hall. For a moment, we’re left wondering if Rue overdosed off-screen and now her little sister Gia Bennett (Storm Reid) has to deal with the tragic aftermath again.
But, we’re not seeing Rue’s second overdose. Instead, this is the moment Rue’s dad Robert (Bruce Wexler) died. Rue zombie walks into her parents’ room to find her mom Leslie ((Nika King) in shock on the bed. Since Rue can’t take any of Robert’s pills — a habit “Stuntin' Like My Daddy” and this finale montage illustrate — with her mom right there, she takes his hoodie instead.
This is the hoodie we’ve seen Rue wear all season, and never questioned. It’s the hoodie Rue’s best friend/crush Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) lovingly ribbed at the beginning of the episode. At last we understand why it's so important.
Rue & her two addictions
One of the happiest moments of “Salt the Earth” comes when Rue and Jules decide to leave the East Highland winter formal and run away together to the city. After all, Jules seems to be glowing after her visit to the unnamed bustling metropolis, where parties and unmitigated queer energy abound. Rue yearns to be the kind of person who can enjoy that city life with Jules, especially as the romantic threat of uber-cool sex-biter Anna (Quintessa Swindell) lingers above them.
Finally, Rue passionately kisses Jules without asking, It's the exact way she asked to be kissed.
Off the spark of that smooch, they steal some bikes and race home to pack their belongings and run. You can’t help but feel excited as these two girls laugh in the night air, speeding towards their future.
But, this little plan is also doomed. You know as much from the second Rue’s panicky eyes start darting around Jules’ room. “Is this a bad idea?” Rue asks. “No,” Jules says. That’s because, for Jules, this is a good idea. Since she came to town, her life has become increasingly fraught. A big chunk of that tension comes from Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), the boy who catfished, threatened, and blackmailed her. A reinvigorating trip to the city may be what’s best for Jules.
On the other hand, no matter how much Rue wants to be a pack-up-and-go person for Jules, she’s not. She needs medication and stability every single day to keep her fragile mental health in tact, as Leslie’s opening voiceover says. So Rue starts dropping hints to Jules that her own idea may not be what's healthiest for her. As Rue’s tears over this fact near sobs, Jules realizes she’s going to the city alone.
“Please,” Jules begs Rue from inside of their runaway train. “I love you.”
Still, Rue refuses and watches Jules leave from the platform. It’s heartbreaking, but necessary. All the way back in “Shook Ones Pt. II,” Rue’s sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) told her she was treating Jules like a drug in place of prescription pills. Rue and Jules two were destined to break each other’s hearts and now they have. Unfortunately that means Rue returns to abusing painkillers in Jules’ absence. To close the season, she snorts a line and stumbles into a marching band-heavy dream sequence about her family tragedy. At the end of the performance, Rue jumps off of a pile of chorus members, suggesting a possible death.
Considering all the awards adoration Rue’s portrayer Zendaya is set to receive in the coming year, it’s unlikely Euphoria’s favorite girl is truly gone.
In season 1’s penultimate episode, “The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed,” Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) comes to terms with her accidental pregnancy. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend Chris McKay (Algee Smith) couldn’t be less sympathetic. But, at least Cassie’s mom Suze (Alanna Ubach) steps up immediately. In “Salt,” Suze continues her good parenting streak and takes Cassie to get an abortion. It’s a kind moment lacking any judgment from Suze or Cassie’s little sister Lexi (Maude Apatow), who also goes to the clinic to show her support.
The finale takes us through the many medical steps of an abortion, from Cassie’s pre-operation interview to the procedure itself. After the premieres of Sex Education and Shrill earlier this year, “Salt” is the third 2019 TV episode to walk viewers through an abortion in such necessary clinic terms. This isn’t a morality play — it’s a medical procedure. Still, this is the only installment of its kind that also gives us a fantasy sequence mid-abortion. In Cassie's happy place, away from needles and stirrups, she’s the ice dancer of her dreams.
But reality takes Cassie to the dance, where she swears she won’t fall in love for the next three years. We all know that promise will likely be impossible to keep, but who doesn’t want what’s best for Cassie at this point?
At least all of this turmoil has brought the Howard sisters closer together. As Cassie makes her anti-love pledge, Lexi asks her big sister how one decides whom they want to hook up with. Formerly always in love Cassie says the person will usually approach you. “But what if they don’t?” a buzzed Lexi shoots back… seconds after Rue has left the formal table on a Jules-related mission.
Kat & Ethan
As Cassie attempts to cancel love, Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira) finally chases it. After her disturbing encounter with a cam client last week, she appears to be done with the internet dominatrix life. But Kat still rocks her S&M-friendly clothing to formal, embracing her sexuality for herself instead of some adult man on Skype. This decision leads Kat to sweet Ethan (Austin Abrams).
In the nicest moment of the entire finale, Kat explains to Ethan she started icing him out after spotting him “flirting” with a random girl in “Shook Ones” (Ethan was actually doing his sister a favor). Now she sees how wrong that was and apologizes. Ethan understands and says if anyone is getting hurt in this relationship, he’ll make sure it’s him. Ethan is the one good boy in East Highland and Kat kisses him for it. In their last scene of the finale, they jet out of formal together, backed by applause from Lexi.
These two forever. Or as long as they mutually agree works for them.
The downfall of Nate
Viewers have always known Nate is a danger. Nate’s two greatest champions — his dad and Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) — also come to fully realize the truth in “Salt.”
For Cal, the revelation comes in a screaming match that turns violent. As Cal tries to hold his son down, Nate starts yelling slurs. Eventually the two men end up tussling on the ground. Cal rears back when Nate starts banging his head on the hardwood floor in a rage. Nate keeps thrashing long after Cal leaves, forcing Mr. Jacobs to come to terms with the fact he helped create a monster he can no longer control.
Maddy is also startled by Nate’s brutality over the episode. Following the abuse allegations of the season, Nate hurts Maddy again when he fails to perform during sex. This is how Maddy learns Nate is never going to change. Upon fleeing Nate's room, Maddy finds the sex tape he has of Cal and Jules’ motel room encounter. She breaks up with Nate at the end of the finale. Now, Maddy, Jules, and Rue all know what happened with Cal and lack loyalty to Nate. Someone is going to spill come season 2.
Fez's terrible night
Euphoria wanted us to believe beloved Fez was going to die in the finale. He (hopefully) doesn’t, but he does terrify a young boy during a robbery gone sideways. Meet the new generation, just as traumatized as the last one.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
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.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.