Sam Levinson's decision to saturate his teen drama with enough characters to power a small colony is simultaneously understandable (drama! drama! drama!) and a mistake – and no where is the latter more apparent than with Kat, or lack thereof, we should say.
Barbie Ferreira was handed one of the series' most thought-provoking, layered storylines in its debut season following Kat's entry into the world of camming which, despite the vast swathes of people involved in the multi-billion pound industry, remained something of a mystery to many. But Euphoria, following on from various deep dives via podcasts and documentaries, brought it further into the light through Kat – and while it wasn't the robust interrogation provided by said research, it did lift the curtain somewhat and offer audiences something fresh.
But it wasn't just the act of camming that lent itself to discussion and think pieces, but the very fact that it was Kat and not Cassie, for example, who was creating her own adult content that was seismic.
Kat deviates from the female body type that we’ve been coerced into believing is ‘the ideal’ – a sad truth which is reflected both in TV and film. 'The ideal' states that women should do anything and everything (detox teas, gruelling exercise regimes, cosmetic surgery) to ensure they do not resemble her because it doesn’t fulfil the requirements of the male gaze, and if that means brutalising your body and your mind, so be it. But watching Kat enjoy and celebrate her own body as she filmed herself twerking in leopard print lingerie flipped two fingers up to that long-held sentiment. It was striking to behold because we simply haven't seen that in mainstream culture.
Through camming, there were plenty of men who lusted after Kat, so much so they were happy to throw their hard-earned cash at her to secure a front row seat to her body. It was a stark contrast to the messaging that we're fed about what will happen if you choose to live in a bigger body: a conveyor belt of ridicule and mockery – and deservedly so.
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According to conformist society lore, taking up space automatically negates your right to pleasure in its myriad forms, especially through sex. But when Kat underwent her journey of self-discovery in season 1, she left that mindset in the dust and for many watching, it was revolutionary to witness.
"I spent my whole life afraid that people were going to find out that I was fat but honestly, who gives a s**t?" she asserted. "There's nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn't give a f**k."
Inversely, there was criticism from some viewers who felt that Kat's arc was a damning indictment of how bigger women cannot do as those in smaller, more societally accepted bodies do and be desired for it.
The lingering looks from men only really arrived when she began wearing chokers and leather – a signifier of her new-found DTF attitude. The greatest expression of that – filming herself for punters on the internet – took place in her bedroom, behind a mask, with the curtains pulled tight. The implication read into that from some was that the men who flocked to view her content only lusted after her in secret. In order to have her hot girl summer, Kat had to shift how she presented herself, which ties into long-standing problems with the hyper-sexualisation of fat women.
It's a valid argument but as with so many discussions of a similar ilk, both courts hold weight and could sway you in their direction on any given day.
In Euphoria's second season, all of that was absent, with Levinson refusing to engage further with that strand of Kat's story – or with Kat at all, for that matter.
There were hints of interesting storylines to come for her in the earlier episodes, but they ultimately amounted to little more than a brief nod. Contrary to that arresting image of Kat gyrating on-camera as she gleefully indulged her sensuality in the drama's first outing, we observed her in a heated debate with her current internal self-loathing, which manifested as a raft of beautiful, assertive women demanding that she love herself, which is easier said than done. Kat, while aware that she's entitled to feel that way, was unable to in that moment – a nanosecond of relatability in a season which far exceeded the heightened tendencies of the show's first chapter.
Then there was the breakdown of Kat’s romance with Ethan who, despite being emotionally attuned, affectionate, a good sport (#ethan4dragrace) and mature – unlike virtually all of his peers – he failed to stoke Kat's fire. Her acknowledgment that her boyfriend was a catch but that just wasn't enough for her sent Kat into a guilt spiral so extreme that she fabricated a terminal brain tumour to escape their relationship, rather than vocalise her truth.
Kat was both bewildered by her lack of attraction, but also riddled with guilt and shame, which is an all too familiar emotion for women who choose themselves, and not a man or babies or any one of the endless reel of expectations that are attached to living in this world as a woman. That is the price you pay. Kat should be happy, grateful even, to have and to hold Ethan and yet, she can't help but fantasise about a Viking flipping her over and pummelling her like a jackhammer – a momentary gulp of pleasure before she was once again tormented by the belief that she had sinned.
That is a far richer storyline than so much of what we were served in season 2, such as Cassie’s descent into madness, which dominated the narrative. The eldest Howard sibling, who came to resemble Game of Thrones' Daenerys during her razing of King's Landing when she hijacked her sister's play, didn't really have anything of importance to say – and her antics had quickly grown both tiresome and absurd long before that. Levinson danced around the limits of defensible with Sydney Sweeney's character in season 1, but was all too happy to stride past that line in the most recent season.
Meanwhile, Kat was right there, but ultimately ignored.
There have been rumblings of tensions between Levinson and Ferreira, although neither creator or actor, nor HBO, have publicly addressed those reports. It's impossible to say if those allegations are to blame for the lack of Kat, but what we can say with confidence is season 2 suffered as a result, and we'll be hoping for better in season 3.