Euphoria has always felt like two shows in one. On one side, there are the characters who aroutcasts for various reasons, their world revolving around or closely mingled with addiction. On the other, you have everyone else dealing with more straightforward high school and relationship drama. Lexi has rarely picked a side to engage with; instead, she’s straddled the fence or observed from a corner. But in “The Theater And It’s Double,” Lexi bridges the gap between these two worlds.
We were first given a glimpse into Lexi’s mind early in season two; now that’s expanded into a much more complete picture. This week, Lexi puts on a school play about the students, and everyone is in attendance. We begin in the middle of the repast after the funeral of Rue’s father. Lexi makes her way to Rue’s room to check on her, passing Maddy, Cassie, and Kat look-a-likes who are standing in the hallway. Following cutaways between Rue, a lookalike, and a pan to the audience, we realize we are watching Lexi’s play.
Lexi directs the play in between scenes, making demands, and snapping at everyone working with her, behaving more confidently than we’ve ever seen her. She delivers a monologue in between scenes to tell us how she’s feeling at that stage in the play. It’s a clever device, as it allows us to hear first-hand accounts from a character who is often sidelined, and fill in what is missing from Rue’s narration. One of the highlights of this format is that it gives us a more holistic view of Lexi. Before this, Lexi had only been cast as Rue’s friend or Cassie’s sister, someone who was easily forgotten or used by others. The play allows us to see what kind of toll this can have on someone during their formative years. We’re able to see how Lexi, who may be labeled a nerd or a bookworm, would fit into the dynamic with Cassie and Kat, who are more vocal about their lives and have different interests, leaving no room for Lexi. There are numerous scenes where Lexi watches as Cassie and Maddy have the romantic relationship that she wants, or Cassie just writes her off.
Lexi’s point of view also makes room for a new side of Maddy. Whereas Cassie is often short-tempered, irritable, and dismissive of Lexi, Maddy seemed to be the opposite—a sister to Lexi as well as Cassie. She gave Lexi the love and advice that was lacking from all other areas of her life. Rue also seemed to be a genuine sister figure in Lexi’s life, particularly before high school. The two had a real love for one another, based upon the glimpses that are shown in the play. This better explains why Lexi is so reluctant to give up on Rue and answers whenever she calls.
While it is fun to see things from Lexi’s perspective and the reactions of other characters to all of this information, it did sometimes feel like “The Theater And It’s Double” was simply rehashing earlier moments while throwing Lexi in the mix. The show doesn’t fully commit to Lexi’s meta-play; it looks beyond what’s happening on stage at the school, turning to Maddy confronting Cassie about her cheating with Nate; Rue and her mom discussing her addiction; and a sex scene between Cassie and Nate. Logistically, I am not sure how these scenes work within the timeframe of the play. It is never specified whether these scenes are being shown to the audience in the auditorium or if they are part of the broader season story. The episode would have been stronger if the boundaries of each story had been made clearer.
Soon, it is time for the last big number of the play. Lexi has Ethan playing Jake, the character based on Nate. Ethan reenacts the famous Nate scene from season one, in the gym with his football team, as they walk around nude and he is visibly uncomfortable. Lexi plays up the homoeroticism in the scene onstage, as Ethan and the background dancers dance amongst flying phallic symbols. The audience cheers as Nate leaves the play with Cassie following after him. Nate’s reactions reflect a sadness that we have never seen before. There is still visible anger as he clenches his fists, but also a vulnerability and embarrassment. Nate’s response shows that he may be allowing himself to feel a little bit more after the exit of his father, but not too much, considering his reaction to Cassie moments later or his treatment of Maddy last week.
Cassie returns to the door of the auditorium and stares darkly while breathing heavily, and I fear for where the show will take this character. Cassie’s libido and sexual activities have made her nothing more than object to be punished or someone wreaking havoc. The beats of this plot-line were laid out at the beginning of the season. Euphoria likes to use Cassie for drama or shock value, instead of placing her at the center of honest conversations about the pressures that girls like Cassie face. The show still plays with the Madonna-whore complex. Some of the female characters are allowed to be sexual, but rarely does that garner them empathy. Euphoria affords greater humanity to the female characters who aren’t shown to be sexual Any character that does not fit neatly in one of those categories is reduced to a background character or just defined by another character trait.
She’s working through her grief, but Euphoria doesn’t take the loss of Cassie’s father seriously; it’s almost another salacious tidbit about her. She’s a Gen Z teen trying to figure out her relationship to her body at a time when sex positivity is much more popular; but she doesn’t stop to think what it means for an underaged teenager like herself, as opposed to an adult woman, to have this much sex. Through Cassie, the show could explore the pressures of upholding femininity or the pursuit of romance in the wake of losing a father, while still addressing her trauma and holding her accountable for the awful things she’s done. Rather than treat her story with care, Euphoria just sets Cassie up to wreak more havoc. Still, as we head into the season-two finale, there is a chance that Cassie will have to face up to what she’s done.
But before we deal with that, let’s hope Lexi is given more of the consideration she deserves as a character. By turning the spotlight to Lexi, Euphoria set aside the oversexualization of these teens—or, should I say, put it to better use—replacing it with some camp. Bless our favorite “boring” theater kid. Not everyone has outlandish and stressful lives; some people’s lives are more ordinary, like Lexi’s. Sometimes, these characters give the story a chance to breathe, and offer some of its most compelling insights.