Warning: The following contains major spoilers for Euphoria Season 1.
On Sunday, Euphoria fans prepared for the worst.
After seven episodes wrought with graphic imagery and unnerving themes, the controversial series all but promised a finale as shocking as its beginning.
Ahead of airtime, discussions of the antagonists’ anticipated demise flooded Twitter. Grimmer predictions on Reddit baited the possibility that we would lose one of the series’ beloved protagonists. Recaps boasting live updates prepared to answer the looming “Who dies?” question, with search spots already secured on Google.
The universal feeling? This bonkers show was about to hit us hard, but we weren’t sure with what.
Now, following 66 minutes of unspeakably spectacular viewing, Euphoria fans everywhere are left scratching their dyed, glittered, and otherwise strategically styled heads. Creator Sam Levinson failed to indulge on that ripe-for-the-taking dramatic twist, instead offering up an emotional cliffhanger — one that gives greater meaning to Season 1 as a whole and cements the HBO newcomer as some of 2019’s top viewing.
Ominously titled “And Salt the Earth Behind You”, Euphoria‘s Season 1 finale takes viewers to the East Highland winter formal. There we see the main characters dressed to the nines, and battling their inner demons. The show’s elevated dialogue shines even brighter in the typical YA setting, as Kat and Ethan reconcile with maturity beyond their years. Meanwhile, Lexi waxes poetic on the meaning of high school, as Maddy and Nate go head-to-head in a more age-appropriate and wildly passive aggressive dance-off.
Amidst the bedazzled partying, we are sporadically taken back to plot developments that came prior to winter formal night. We see Cassie end her pregnancy, as well as an accompanying fantasy sequence that depicts her inner turmoil. We witness Nate and Cal come to blows in a staggeringly well-acted confrontation between abusers. Somewhere in this timeline, we also watch as Fezco breaks into the home of a doctor to rob him, and Maddy takes possession of one of Cal’s incriminating tapes.
It’s a tense and breathtaking mix of the happy, sad, and strange — par for the course in the Euphoria-verse. Then we have Rue and Jules.
Lauded by many early critics as the series’ emotional heart, the pair take off into the night with dreams of running away to bigger and better lives. Tearing through a train station, Jules is elated; Rue is frightened.
Thus far, the world of Euphoria has served as a poignant and painful backdrop for their love story. But with Jules’ increasingly erratic behavior ripping at the seams of Rue’s newfound sobriety, it becomes clear that this isn’t the happy ending we should be rooting for. Rue has that same realization, leaving Jules on the platform and heading home to be with her mother and sister.
From here on, it’s difficult to decipher what all has happened to Euphoria‘s plot as the finale dives into one last fantasy sequence — easily the most impressive of the season.
Rue’s arrival home is intercut with flashbacks to the death of her father. We learn that the large hoodie Rue has worn for much of the season, seen by many as an icon of her cool indifference, belonged to him. She weeps for his loss, as her mother’s loving words at a sobriety event suddenly waft over the scene in voiceover. We then see Rue and her mother in a physical altercation, evidently related to her addiction, in another flashback, as Rue’s sister, Gia, attempts to intervene. Occasional glimpses of Jules are peppered throughout the quick-shifting montage.
Through the chaos, Rue’s gaunt, glittered face can be seen again. She sits on the edge of her bed, seemingly in the present day. Heartbroken over losing Jules, she relapses.
It’s a tragic turn of events, backed by a surprising, yet fitting, musical number.
Zendaya, who plays, covers Labrinth’s “All For Us” as her character parades through the street with a woozy physicality. She is surrounded by dozens of unnamed people, all wearing the same deep red color as her father’s sweatshirt. They violently and gleefully drag Rue through the crowd, as she morphs into the consequences of her actions.
In the final shot, Rue climbs atop a pile of the strangers. Then, with a toothy smile, she plunges off them and out of frame. It’s a startling and stunning ending, far from anything fans had predicted.
What this means for the plot of the show is unclear. Given the haphazard structure of the episode, one could easily chalk up the relapse to yet another flashback — or, if you’re really committed to the idea of the show killing someone off, go so far as to interpret the final scene as a suggestion Rue won’t survive the relapse.
While it seems unlikely that the already confirmed Euphoria Season 2 would continue without Zendaya, the series has a proven willingness to “go there.” But on the other hand, we could see its creators having some mercy, and retconning the sequence with a clip showing Rue maintaining her sobriety.
Regardless of where the series heads from here, Euphoria‘s season finale marks a major victory for the freshman series. While Levinson may not have given theorists many juicy footholds to obsess over, it’s clear he and his team are confident the audience they’ve built will return.
That self-assurance is well deserved. When Euphoria premiered at the beginning of the summer, plenty of critics (all given just half of the season for review) noted that the series accepted a big responsibility with its eagerness to shock. In its eighth episode, Euphoria undoubtedly rose to that challenge — foregoing cheap thrills for what will, we hope, be a long-term payoff.