Initiation and Zeitgeist
Rarely does one encounter a teenage drama series which sets itself up to confront themes that stretch further than the boundaries of adolescent behavior. What Euphoria puts forward is a fresh account of today's youth, their well-being, their reality, and it does so with such earth-shattering force of meaning that it displays the ordeal of today's twisted initiation into adulthood as deviating from traditional understanding. Levinson's show manages to strike a harmony between the different aspects characteristic to the struggle of adolescents with chaos being at the very center. It's worth noting that stories in the series cover fundamentally different themes and it would be folly to task them all with being representative of a generation. However, it is precisely this which makes Euphoria unique and worthy of taking up that mantle.
Unlike its contemporary TV shows, Euphoria is raw emotion. It flows in and out of characters, scenes, states of mind to the point at which every episode feels as if told in a single breath, uninterrupted and gripping. Our heroes face the twists and turns of fate which embody the all too familiar feeling that any and every bad experience means the end of the world – every bit of which is perfectly transcribed into the music. The fleeting moment of youth seems never ending. Rue mentions that "The world is coming to an end and I haven't even graduated high school yet".
Zendaya leads the charge in shining a light on several troubled teenager's turbulent years. The raspy melancholy in her narrating voice highlights an indifference which juxtaposes the action onscreen in an ironic statement that she does not care about, well, anything. Seconded by her choice of words, this little voice in our head emphasizes us that this is still a tale as seen through the teenager's eyes.
It wouldn't be nearly as impactful without the incorporation of brilliant choice of music. Labyrinth’s original soundtrack grasps the characters’ unique inner world while also embodying the psychological whereabouts of the collective and the world they inhabit. The sound it delivers is mighty, yet confused; confident, yet unsure; momentary, yet everlasting - it presents the Weltschmerz in a series of articulated and unarticulated vocals. There is an anarchic harmony at the core reminding us that this is very much real.
I would point out several tracks as absolutely vital to the narrative - Demanding Excellence, Still Don't Know My Name, and the crowning jewel - Forever. The last one shouts: I have something to say, I feel love and pain and ecstasy and I don't know how to express it. A dark rapture.
Still Don't Know My Name's lyrics offer a simple reflection of the characters. While it can be lyrically categorized as a love song, I believe it holds deeper meaning in that neither Rue, nor Jules, nor Nate, nor Maddy, nor anyone has a bearing on what matters.
The intricate set of percussion, high and melodious as well as deep and dark strings and piano, and enraptured voices in these compositions form a type of ritual music dating back to ancient times. In honor of Dionysus, ancient revelers would take part in intoxicated celebrations whose goal was to face suffering through rapture and transcend it. The eerie feeling of loneliness which persists throughout the series is thus emphasized through the use of music which we unconsciously know is listened to in group settings where the individual dissolves into the collective. Labyrinth has developed and integrated a tradition spanning millennia which at its heart has the idea of facing pain and attributing meaning to it. In essence it is a celebration of life itself which is why it presents such a stark contrast to the story of Euphoria.
Euphoria shows a world where the rite of initiation has been abandoned, thus abandoning would-be initiates to their own choice of initiation. Coupled with the increase in fragmentation of the modern individual, the line between initiate and initiated becomes obscured. Such is Kat’s online journey into sexuality. The situation ends up being a regression from tribalism, as even ancient tribes held irreplaceable initiation processes.
The series depicts the first point of vulnerability unprotected by parental figures at the point we first come into contact with the Other. Nate and Rue feel this most through their own relationship to their parents. Facing the Other causes us to feel frightened, ashamed, and proud, none of which are scarce in Euphoria's palette of emotions. As it represents the theme of self-reflection and self-discovery, it would explain the frequent incorporation of mirrors into the cinematography.
Being surrounded by grownups whose morality is in question certainly does not ease the process of transformation into an adult. It blurs the bigger picture leaving the youth stranded in an ocean. Perhaps we could not justify their suffering, but that’s something we wouldn’t find them saying. The promise of transcendence, which is rooted in each one of them, does not only render the pain bearable but exalts it to the heavenly degree presented. Much like Sisyphus, under no circumstance must their pain be understood as trivial. They are martyrs for their private, personal cause. Yet the pain is self-inflicted in the nature of self-destructive adolescence which paves the way for entering into the adult world. This gives rise to the feeling of invincibility because no one can hurt us more than ourselves. As such, it is no wonder the symbol of crying glitter is one of the show's signature marks, most of which in the same fashion present pain and beauty as a twofold aspect of a singular phenomenon.
An interesting observation is that in the beginning, the characters do not suffer from pain caused directly by themselves. Whether they’re congenital conditions or problems handed down by their parents, the characters' suffering is inherited, signifying that they carry on the responsibility and burden of those who came before. As is also inevitable, it leads to a titanomachy, or mythic battle between the older and younger generations, a battle typically won by the latter. However, in this world, the youth has difficulty in fighting this battle as well as letting go of adolescence. I think it might be because of the passive aggressive tyranny displayed by the previous generation and the system laid down by them. No scene captures this better than Nate’s fight with his father.
AlThough a setback lies in this new world gripped by mental illness, it does not hinder our heroes’ motivation, but rather presents the excruciating existence through an unforgettable glamour. Rather than forging a new world, they find themselves romantically basking in their own pain. I find this message to encapsulate the Zeitgeist of Euphoria’s generation in a most honest fashion and I believe the entire show to be an experience I would regard as fundamentally indescribable. It’s not something to be understood as much as it is something to be felt.