The last time we saw Cal (Eric Dane), things felt ominous. He’d just learned that his son Nate no longer had a disc with the recordings of his father having sex with Jules (and many others), recorded without the other participants’ knowledge. Even though we know a little about East Highland’s perhaps most fucked-up dad, there’s still more to uncover and this week’s episode begins by showing us his life pre-parenthood.
It’s the ‘80s and Cal and his best friend Derek are in high school, where they’re part of the wrestling team together. They’re practically inseparable, hanging out, partying and even hooking up with their respective girlfriends together. One night as they celebrate graduation, the two of them drive out to a bar Derek knows will serve them, despite being underage. Cal’s real feelings for his friend have already been hinted at heavily in the opening scenes and when they get to the bar, their relationship takes a step into new territory – after putting INXS on the jukebox and dancing as the other punters watch, they end up kissing.
Life gives Cal a rude awakening the next morning when his day starts with a phone call from his girlfriend, Marsha. She’s just found out she’s pregnant and as her boyfriend tells her he’s happy about the unexpected news, the look on his face is one of heartbreak.
Back in the present day, someone else’s fantasy is getting a startling interruption. We join Rue (Zendaya) in her bedroom, singing to Bobby Darin and performing an energetic dance routine using her pillow and curtains as props. She bursts out of her room and dances through the hall, pillow still in her hands, waltzes into the kitchen and pours herself a glass of milk, which she begins to down, legs still flying everywhere. It’s then when her sister Gia (Storm Reid) makes her aware she’s watching her and asks the big question: “Are you high?”
Her enquiry prompts a meta break away from reality and into a classroom where Rue is giving a lecture on “how to get away with being a drug addict”. “People just wanna find hope,” she explains at one point. “And if not in reality then in television. Unfortunately, I’m not it.” The lecture includes the advice to find a “cover drug”, of which Rue has chosen weed, laying the groundwork with Gia long before her kitchen performance comes to an unexpected halt. For the rest of the episode, we see her repeating the lie that she’s “just smoking a bit of weed”, each of her friends greeting the news with concerned looks.
That’s also the excuse she uses on Jules (Hunter Schafer) to explain why she “forgot” where she met Elliot (Dominic Fike). Jules still isn’t happy, theorising that the new guy wants to fuck Rue, which she refutes. Later, in a dark room, Jules shines a lamp in his face and interrogates him on his motives and sexuality, reluctantly conceding they can all be friends by the end of it.
During another drug-taking session, Rue ponders how she can get her drugs for free, before having a eureka moment. She goes to Fez (Angus Cloud) and asks him to front her $5000 worth of substances, which she says she’ll sell using her fellow students as runners. He refuses, so she pays a visit to dealer Laurie, who they met in episode one, and gets a much more enthusiastic response. Instead of $5000, she gives Rue a suitcase with $10,000 worth of drugs and warns her that if she fucks her over, she’ll be kidnapped and sold to “some real sick people”.
Rue takes the case to her NA meeting, where sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) becomes immediately suspicious. He waits for her after and questions her about her luggage, to which she lies and says it’s her school books. He doesn’t fall for it but, when Rue keeps talking back to him, he severs their relationship and leaves her on her own. Back in her room, she gets some fentanyl out of the case and takes it.
Cal, meanwhile, is also paying Fez a visit – but with a very different purpose. He’s desperate to get the disc back and has been led to believe by Nate that the dealer is in possession of it. But as soon becomes clear – after Ashtray has bashed Cal’s head with a gun several times – Fez has no idea what he’s talking about. He seizes the opportunity to strike a deal with Cal, though – get Nate to leave him, Rue and Jules alone for good, or face the consequences.
Elsewhere, Lexi (Maude Apatow) has come to realise her role in life is as an observer, but rather than fade into the shadows, she decides to use that position to write a play about her and her classmates’ lives. Sister Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) is unaware of how she’s being portrayed in the production (“sluttier, tackier”), too busy continuing her secret relationship with Nate (Jacob Elordi) to pay attention to much else. But when she heads out one night to meet him, he bails on her at the last minute, taking flowers to Maddy (Alexa Demie) instead. Could another break-up be on the cards for Cassie?
On the soundtrack
- INXS’ ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ soundtracks Cal and Derek’s barroom tryst, providing a perfect mix of tenderness and anticipation.
- ‘Call Me Irresponsible’ is a fitting title for Rue’s exploits, and it’s the song she makes a song and dance to before Gia catches her out.
- As the credits roll, ‘Watercolor Eyes’ – a new song from Lana Del Rey – plays, capturing the heartbreak that feels set to come as the series continues.