Cal’s (Eric Dane) backstory guides us into “Ruminations: Big And Little Bullys.” Teenage Cal is a competitive wrestler, who hangs out with his best friend Derek before catching the eye of his future wife, Marsha. Along with Derek and his girlfriend, Cal and Marsha become inseparable. After graduating high school, Cal and Derek are at a bar, where they eventually dance and kiss. The next morning, Cal receives a call from Marsha, who says she is pregnant, and he weeps afterward.
Although the sequence is well shot and helps flesh out Cal, his backstory feels less urgent than that of Rue, Jules, or Kat. Cal’s struggle with internalized homophobia and biphobia—in which he feels imprisoned by societal standards that he simultaneously benefits from, and enacts harm because of his frustration—is one that is already well documented. Whenever queer-coded characters are three-dimensional or have meaningful plotlines, they are typically the most privileged—white men. White male queer-coded characters and their struggles have always taken first priority over other members of the LGBTQ community or other marganlized people. Western culture has not only long been fascinated by these men, but also asks that we take a closer look and empathize with them in some way, whereas young Black queer women or trans women are rarely extended this same generosity.
In a scene that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the season two trailer, Rue enthusiastically dances around her bedroom to Frank Santra before making her way to the kitchen, where she finds Gia, who interrupts her musical number. Gia witnessed Rue at her lowest point, after she overdosed. From what we’ve seen, Rue and Gia spend a lot of time at home alone. Rue lets her guard down and confides in Gia, in ways that she does not with her mother, because there is no fear of repercussions. Over time, Gia has found herself closer to Rue’s journey toward relapse than anyone (other than Jules). That’s why Gia is always able to see beyond Rue’s false front of sobriety, a fact that’s underscored in this scene. Each time Gia glares at Rue, we are reminded of all that she has been put through.
Rue then breaks the fourth wall and we find her back teaching a crash course in deviation from sobriety. Gia pushes back against Rue smoking weed to ease her panic attacks, which leads to a screaming match. Rue continues to deliver her crash course in covering up drug addiction. She proceeds to gaslight Gia into forgiving her by weaponizing her own deteriorating mental health. This sequence highlights the complexity of addiction and mental health issues. Rue is aware of how her actions are affecting others and can be leveraged to her advantage, enabling herself to do more destruction. Rue is even smart enough to see that she is fictional and make meta-commentary. But she is not able to look objectively at her own situation to take the necessary steps for positive change.
Later, Rue and Jules sit outside. Jules protests becoming friends with Elliot because she still believes that he is attracted to Rue. Jules questions Elliot’s attraction to Rue, which becomes a literal interrogation scene set in a classroom. There is a fun rapport between the three characters. That is until Elliot retorts that Jules is a “nut” for being a trans girl wearing a binder. Jules starts to explain her experience with gender as a trans girl living in the world. But Elliot cuts her off by saying “she sounds like she’s navigating a Twitter thread.” Elliot’s retort interrupts Jules’ reflections on gender, which is frustrating because this is the only time that has been dedicated to Jules outside of her service of Rue. It is a split second and she’s cut off by another character. Jules’ evolving relationship with femininity, the male gaze, and gender was explored beautifully in the Christmas special co-written by Hunter Schafer. All that was unpacked there has gone by the wayside this season, so to see it only momentarily referenced here is deeply disheartening.
Lexi’s expanded role, which has been teased steadily, is finally taking shape. She decides to put on a school play based upon her life as someone often pushed to the background, as well as her relationship with Cassie. This is accompanied by a fun fantasy sequence to explain Lexi’s disassociation. Speaking of Cassie, she has been waking up constantly at four o’clock in the morning to do a three-hour morning routine to look pretty for Nate, which he ignores on a daily basis. This culminates in everyone dissecting Cassie’s outfit choice in the bathroom. Sydney Sweeney continues to deliver a perfectly tempered performance week after week, but her work here stands out for the fantasized monologue divulging Cassie and Nate’s relationship. The writing isn’t particularly inventive, but Sweeney is able to elevate it and embody Cassie’s manic episode, which is captured in her morning routine. The chaos subtly subsides as she arrives at school, but seems to reach its pitch as she encounters the other characters.
Kat is finally back. She goes on a date with her boyfriend Ethan, where she’s visibly uncomfortable after being asked about herself by Ethan’s mother. She giggles nervously. This is a callback to the previous episode but with little to no context or expansion. There was a great deal of potential in Kat’s argument with social media influencers in her bedroom, and how reading and writing smut fanfiction on the internet can affect one’s actual romantic relationships later in life. But, like Jules, all of that is mostly ignored and brushed aside.
Meanwhile, Cal visits Fezco, Ashtray, and Faye. Cal believes that Fezco knows where the recording of his sexual encounter with Jules is. The whereabouts of the tape are not discovered because Fezco was previously unaware of it. I appreciate the reactions of utter confusion and disgust from Fezco and Ashtray. I was afraid that the show would veer into the territory of making Cal sympathetic or redeemable, but so far that is not the case.
Rue makes her way to the home of Laurie (the wife of the drug dealer that we met in episode one of season two, “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”). Rue proposes that she and some classmates could easily sell the drugs. Laurie agrees and gives her a suitcase of drugs. Rue makes her way to an AA meeting where she crosses paths with Ali on her way out. Ali jokes with Rue about the exasperation on her face before she throws his domestic violence past back in the face and walks away. Rue’s actions here really put on full display the lie that she tried to pass off in front of Gia. She has made a deliberate choice to enable her addiction. The effort that was put into making a presentation to sell drugs could be put towards getting clean. Rue’s argument with Ali shows the lines she is willing to cross, and how she’ll use the shortcomings of others against them, behavior that is the opposite of the care shown to her.
The prominence of Lexi, and exploration of Rue’s less desirable qualities were welcome. However, there was no connective tissue or structure between the various plot lines. Euphoria’s famous quick cuts did not help, as the audience was not allowed to sit with any character. I worry about where the chaos will lead us.