Part 1: Trouble Don’t Always Last
Following the glitter and glamour of Sam Levinson’s drama series Euphoria is a stripped-down one-off episode, exploring the shows core themes. Part 1 of the “Special Episode”—acting as a bridge between seasons—is dedicated to Euphoria’s main character, Rue, played by Zendaya. Picking up where we left off, Rue has fallen back into the grip of drug addiction—her relationship with Jules (Hunter Schafer) having failed and left her wanting. After opening to an optimistically dream-like sequence of Rue and Jules in New York, we snap back to Rue’s reality—crushing and sniffing pills in a diner bathroom. The subsequent hour barely moves from this setting, listening in on her conversation with sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) over pancakes on Christmas Eve.
Bleary-eyed and run down, Rue gives herself up to Ali in an honest interrogation of her soul. An ex-junkie himself, Ali doesn’t hold back with the harsh truths about addiction—the way it changes you, and ultimately turns you “into a piece of shit”. That said, Ali attempts to consolidate her moral values—however deep they are buried—and bring them to light, instigating a small shred of hope for her future. He exposes the selfish compulsion of addiction whilst motivating sobriety as a higher purpose. Religion, family and mental illness are all apparent in Ali’s search for meaning and direction—both in his life and Rue’s. The brutal nature of Ali’s truth-telling, matched with his sincerity and desire to do good, force Rue into facing reality—facing the future—instead of taking the easy way out and giving up altogether.
There’s nothing Christmassy about this episode, that’s for sure. The dim lighting of the diner matches its dark topics of drugs, loss and the ugliness of our Capitalist world. Zendaya and Domingo’s performances are compelling, keeping viewers constantly engaged despite the simplistic plot line. Though the minimalism of the episode is mostly a result of limited production during Covid-19, it feels more like a narrative choice. As entertaining (and aesthetically integral to the story) as Euphoria’s spectacle was, going back to basics adds a real depth to the show. We peer beneath the teen drama and romanticized aspects of Rue’s story to gain new perspective—even questioning our (and her) initial interpretations of the seasons earlier events.
Part 2: Fuck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob
Part 2 of Levinson’s special is dedicated to Jules, enabling us to see both sides of the story. In a similar set up, the episode primarily takes place in one room where Jules has her first therapy session around Christmas time. Jules episode has a little more artistic flourish than Rue’s; intercut with flashbacks and abstract imagery. Where Part 1 maintained a raw sort of realism—pressing Rue to face reality—Part 2 plays out almost like a dance. A piece of art within itself, Part 2 is tinged with neon lights and sombre music.
Jules mainly talks of her struggles with femininity as a transgender woman, painting an intimate picture of (cyber) love, sexuality and individuality. She yearns to be as the ocean—“really fucking strong and really fucking feminine”—and we learn it’s not just a simple case of ditching Rue at the train station. Despite her love for Rue, the pressures of her addiction recall the trauma of her own mother’s alcoholism, so it’s understandable that she would want to cut and run.
As fans eagerly await season two of Euphoria—now pushed back to early 2022—Levinson has provided a humble yet powerful bridge to tide us over. Rue and Jules have a tense, brief encounter at the end of Part 2, hinting at what’s to come. Emotionally taught and straight-to-the-point, Zendaya, Domingo and Schafer all deliver powerhouse performances as struggling characters playing tug-of-war with life. Beautifully shot and potently honest—if the “Special Episode” is anything like the upcoming season, viewers sure are in for a treat. Available now on HBO and Now TV.