Has “Euphoria” gone too far?

The fifth episode of HBO Max’s hit drama “Euphoria” aired last Sunday on Feb. 6, and it has been sending shock waves throughout the media. Its release left many fans wondering whether the show had gone too far in glorifying drug use. The episode even caught the attention of D.A.R.E, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, whose entire mission is to teach students decision-making skills that promote safe and healthy living in America. The program is accusing the show of pushing the limits when it comes to portraying the real-life effects and consequences of teens using drugs, but lead star and co-producer Zendaya has come back with a statement that debunks their claims and emphasizes the importance of her role as she portrays Rue, “Euphoria’s” main character. 

Before the fifth episode premiered on Sunday, Zendaya took to Instagram, as she regularly does before each episode, to write to her fans about the importance of understanding where this show lies on the fine line between fiction and reality. The post included a beautiful message about Rue’s journey—and how in this season, even more than the first, she “hits rock bottom.” She also takes the time to say that if you can love a character as abrasive and broken as Rue is, then you can love someone in your own life who is struggling through the same things that her character goes through. At the end of the statement she says that it is “important that we have characters that are flawed.” 

In my opinion, this show is doing more for awareness of teens using drugs than it is not. In this season, we have already seen many improvements from the last in terms of what is shown on screen. We are watching less scenes filled with nudity and profanity, so the audience isn’t forced to watch that as much anymore.  I think the best way to prevent teens from adopting the on-screen drug abuse behaviors is to remind them that “Euphoria” is a dramatization that portrays its characters with backgrounds and social problems in the most extreme scenarios. The show is in no way a moral high ground for someone to base their life on, but rather an outlet for those who feel alone in the struggles they face and can see a realistic representation of those struggles on screen for the first time. In so many ways, Zendaya is already spreading awareness of the intensity of the show. For her to receive backlash from this episode in particular is unfair, especially when she gave a warning beforehand. 

Zendaya undoubtedly gave the best performance of her career within the first ten minutes of this episode. It proves how real she wants to portray Rue, even though it pains her to see what she is going through. In this season Zendaya controls herself differently on screen, and that poise should most certainly win her another Emmy award. She is pushing the envelope on and off screen by advocating to her fans the importance of the show and each character in it. 

As the second season continues, I can only hope to see more of what Zendaya has to offer as an incredible actress. Rue has a long battle ahead of her, but I think her progress thus far is something to highlight, not debunk. If anything, the second season of “Euphoria” is transforming the way we talk about real life issues and how real they can be portrayed on screen.