Illustration by Ameera Alharmoodi.

The Forgotten Mothers of Euphoria

Euphoria darkens the binary between what it means to be a mother and a father, only further reinforcing the patriarchal narrative that a father has the leeway to scar his children, while the mother has to be the bandage that shallows these scars.

Last week, the hit TV show Euphoria premiered its last episode of season two. Filled with arguments, reconciliation, drug addiction and forgiveness, fans have mixed feelings about the second season of this teenage high school drama. Some say that it is more boring than the first season, with more plot holes and bad writing. Over the last eight weeks of its streaming, social media was saturated with critiques, character analysis and rumors about what has arguably become one of the most popular shows in the past three years.
The show is the brain-child of Sam Levinson, who created, wrote and directed Euphoria based on his experiences with drug addiction. More than any other writer on a show, Sam Levinson is widely criticized and praised at the same time, and this stems from the fact that it is rare to see a HBO show that is written solely by one person, rather than a team of writers that are behind the screen. Sam Levinson is a 37-year-old white man who grew up in the entertainment industry, and thus his knowledge and writing about experiences that fall outside of his own experiences will not only be lacking, but could also be harmful in promoting stereotypes.
And so what Levinson explores thoroughly in the writing of the show are exactly his life experiences. His struggle with addiction makes Rue’s story as compelling as it can possibly be, and many addicts and recovering addicts online claim that Rue’s representation of drug abuse is eerily accurate. He also explores toxic masculinity as the male characters of the show, such as Nate, McKay and Cal all struggle with societal notions of masculinity and heteronormativity, contributing to the formation of very complex characters.
We do see, however, an extreme emphasis on father figures and their influence on teens in the show. Deceased, absent and abusive fathers are all underlining the struggles that the main characters are going through — Rue, Gia, Cassie, Lexi, Nate and Maddy all fall under this umbrella. Their biggest problems stem from their relationships with their fathers, and they exhibit this behavior through drug use, disassociation, excessive male-attention seeking and violence.
On the other hand, the mothers of the show barely get any attention or backstories and are usually shown as being patient, nurturing and supportive of their children’s problems and behaviors. Leslie, Rue’s mom, has arguably had the most difficult experience of motherhood in the show. Being a single parent to two daughters, one of them a drug addict, Leslie shows an admirably high level of patience while dealing with Rue’s issues, taking care of Rue when she is at her lowest and forgiving her after very traumatic situations spurred by her addiction. However, we do not see any backstory on Leslie except for a short scene in which she is singing at a church choir. What made Leslie so good at taking care of Rue? Does she have previous experience dealing with drug addiction recovery? What was her life like and how did it define the person that she is today?
We do not get answers to any of these questions even though 16 episodes have passed by, with her playing a significant role in Rue’s life. We have similar questions about Cassie and Lexi’s mom, Suze, a closeted alcoholic who despite her addictions, manages to take care of and call out her children when they deserve it. And once again we see it with Marsha, Nate’s mom, who got pregnant with Nate’s brother when she was barely out of high school. Her turbulent and toxic relationship with Cal, Nate’s abusive and sexually predatory father, was only portrayed through her celebration when Cal left the household.
From these examples, it is clear that Sam Levinson simply does not want the viewer to pay much attention to the sacrifices and care that the mothers are providing to the teenagers in the show. Their backstories are flung into oblivion either to not deter from the drama of the show, or simply because they are deemed unimportant when compared to the backstories of the male characters and fathers of the show. Furthermore, the show presents a strict line that separates fatherhood from motherhood: failed fatherhood is common and the root of all of the characters’ issues, while godly motherhood is the ointment for these irreparable wounds. This, once again, promotes a strict patriarchal binary between the role of fathers and the role of mothers in children’s lives. The view from the white male experience can only do so much, and it is simply not enough to portray the complex issues that the female characters, and especially mothers, face in the show.
There are obvious shortcomings in Euphoria’s writing. Many have critiqued Euphoria for being unrealistic in its portrayal of high school life: extravagant parties, rampant drug use, overly sexualized relationships coupled with the casting of much older actors and excessively manicured outfits and makeup which are highly unrelatable when compared to the actual experience of high school life. While some of these criticisms do have a point, we should remember that, while Euphoria is about teen characters, its target audience is not teenagers. I believe the show is intended to be a warning sign for parents with teen children, and offer them insight into the inner world of their children. This is not to justify the shortcomings of the show, but to highlight that the violence, drug use and sexual content that are showcased in Euphoria are not meant to be seen by teenagers.
On the other hand, Euphoria does get some things right. Even though a lot of the criticism of the show stems from the unrealistic highly dramaticized problems of high school students, the sense of urgency that accompanies these problems is shown through the frantic behavior and thoughts haunting the main characters of the show. Being a teenager feels like every mistake that you make or every problem you encounter is life-threatening and unresolvable. The sheer panic and urgency that these problems present to teenagers’ hormone-flooded brains feels excruciatingly dramatic. It might be that most teenagers’ lives are not filled with illegal drug trades, expensive outfits, zero curfews and little to no attention to academics. But the gravity of the issues captures the weight and urgency of teenage problems.
As the season concludes, fans are looking forward to what plot lines are going to be explored in the third season of the show. In order to fix its discrepant representations and problematic aspects though, it would be beneficial to hire a diverse writing team that can adequately give attention to all characters and the issues that they face. Simply put, Sam Levinson cannot and should not be tasked with writing about experiences that he has not personally gone through, and we hope to see more of the lives of the mothers in Euphoria.
Andrijana Pejchinovska is a Contributing Writer. Email her at
gazelle logo