Euphoria's penis obsession is more important than you might think

·6-min read
Photo credit: Sky
Photo credit: Sky

Euphoria season 2 episode 1 spoilers follow.

Euphoria's season-two premiere kicks off with the new year's party to end all new year's parties, but for better or worse, this is very much the same old Euphoria. In just the first hour alone, a baby eats cigarette ash, Cassie hides under a piss-soaked towel and Rue almost suffers a drug-induced heart attack.

It's business as usual then, and that includes the show's long-standing love affair with full-frontal male nudity. And no, we're not just talking a flash of peen in the background. Season two slaps you round the face with some wang almost immediately when Fezco's nan shoots a man mid-blowjob in the very first scene.

The way this scene unfolds would be shocking even without a glimpse of dong. But with so much focus on the penis, an erect one, no less, this horrific act of violence throws the viewer off completely. Are we supposed to laugh as this guy's dick bobs about while he screams? Or are we supposed to be appalled as blood from the wound splashes onto his erection?

Photo credit: Sky
Photo credit: Sky

However you felt coming away from that, it's a lot to handle. Ahem. But what else should we expect from a show that inspires weekly penis counts from the likes of Mel Magazine?

For those who are still counting in season two, that strip-club boner wasn't alone this week. During a tense meeting with some new drug-pushers, Fezco and his friend were forced to undress completely, revealing some flaccid manhood onscreen.

Then, perhaps most grotesquely of all, a random party-goer sat on the toilet told Cassie that he's going to take a shit right in front of her, no matter how hot she is. And, of course, his penis is just casually flopped out during this whole horrific exchange.

In summary, this first episode contains more sausage than a butcher's shop window.

"So what?" you're thinking. This is Euphoria! And you're right. Sam Levinson's highly caffeinated take on the teen experience has shocked from day one, painting the world of Gen-Z as both lurid and dreamlike all at once. Who can forget that hypnotic 'Night of Thirty Dicks' in season one?

But during the break between seasons, Euphoria leaned far more into tone than shock value, bringing us two intimate, character-driven episodes which number among the show's very best. While these specials were inspired by temporary COVID-related restrictions, the positive reception that followed could have inspired Levinson to shift this show into something more subtle, yet no less compelling.

Of course, as anyone who's watched the season-two premiere already knows, that didn't happen. Instead, Euphoria is as ballsy as ever — pun absolutely intended — but is this a regression or does this kind of shock value actually enhance the show?

Photo credit: Sky
Photo credit: Sky

That depends on who you ask. When Euphoria brought an entire forest of wood to the fore back in episode two of season one, Esquire published a rather scathing condemnation on the show's approach to male nudity. "All those penises existed for one reason: to raise an eyebrow in headlines," the piece argued.

There's definitely a point to be had there. Look at what you're reading right now! But beyond this notion of baiting controversy for controversy's sake, it can also be argued that the shock itself serves a much-needed purpose, one designed to shake up TV on a wider scale.

It's often said that male nudity is still depicted far less on screen than the female equivalent, particularly when it comes to full-frontal displays. And while that balance is gradually shifting thanks to shows like Westworld, Watchmen, and even Netflix’s Easy, men are still far less likely to drop trou on screen.

Aside from the obvious gender imbalance here, one that encourages us to objectify women more than men, it's also worth noting that male nudity (of this degree) is far more often associated with violence, particularly of a sexual nature.

That's also true of Euphoria, or at least it was in the very first episode. Because since then, the show has become far more concerned with deconstructing how the naked male form can be associated with vulnerability and weakness than with toxicity and power.

Each time a penis appears in the season-two premiere, the men involved are not in an enviable position. Whether they're reacting to a gunshot or standing butt-naked in a cold stranger's kitchen, there's nothing sexy or intimidating about either situation.

Photo credit: Sky
Photo credit: Sky

Of course the man in that first scene starts off in a position of control, but that's quickly upended by the arrival of Fezco's nan, who soon transforms his pleasure into a source of further embarrassment alongside the pain.

The camera doesn't objectify any of these wieners in either situation, and the men have nothing to gain from being naked, either.

That power shifts somewhat though in the episode's third penis reveal when a drunk teen brazenly tells Cassie he'll poop in front of her if he has to. While he's just a mess, one who seems pretty ambivalent to Cassie's presence, the situation itself is still extremely inappropriate and very uncomfortable to watch. But even then, the goal here is to ridicule this gross boy rather than position him as someone who we should be impressed or intimidated by.

So yes, Euphoria hasn't grown up much in the hiatus between seasons. It's still obsessed with excess in all its forms — regardless of what those quarantine specials might have led us to believe — and yes, Levinson clearly aims to provoke with his work. Yet dismissing Euphoria's dick obsession as just headline-baiting also does the show a disservice.

By returning with such a strong statement of intent, both in terms of nudity and other areas of bad taste too, Euphoria challenges us once again to re-examine why some things shock us more than others.

Often, an exposed wiener can symbolise male power or aggression onscreen. But the inverse can also be true. And sometimes, a dick is nothing more than a floppy piece of meat that hangs between the legs, as Euphoria quite rightly reminds us here.

Euphoria airs Sunday nights on HBO and Monday nights on NOW and Sky Atlantic in the UK.

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