Review: ‘Euphoria’ special episodes ground series in reality

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Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

Zendaya (left) and Hunter Schafer (right) starred in their own special episodes of “Euphoria” as a prelude to the upcoming second season.

Lily Elwood, news correspondent

“Euphoria,” HBO’s hit TV show, is back with two special episodes as a way to hold the show’s fans over until the postponed season two arrives.

These new installments in the “Euphoria” series did not disappoint and made it clear that writer and director Sam Levinson doesn’t need all the glitz and glam of season one to create a masterpiece. Beginning with “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” Levinson manages to create an entire episode out of one conversation between protagonist Rue (Zendaya) and her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo). It is truly an amazing feat to hold the audience’s attention for about an hour when almost the whole episode is in one setting with only two characters.

Of course, you can’t talk about this episode without mentioning the cold open. We see Rue and Jules living together in a beautiful apartment in New York City, only to have the fantasy ripped away from us in the next scene, which shows that Rue is really in her hometown –– high.

Another important thing to note about this episode is that it emphasizes the unreliability of Rue as a narrator. As Rue herself pointed out at the beginning of season one, her retelling of the story is not completely accurate. It forces the audience to question Rue’s credibility and wonder if everything was exactly as she described it or if she changed the narrative to fit her dream version of her life.

But the best thing by far about Rue’s episode is its authenticity. One of the main criticisms people had for the first season was that the show glamorized hard drugs and other dangerous activities. This episode brought the blunt truth to the forefront: Drugs were actively ruining Rue’s life. Zendaya’s performance was a masterclass in acting; she knew exactly how to portray the amount of pain that her character was in, even if Rue came off as apathetic.

The next episode, titled, “F— Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob,” focused on Jules (Hunter Schafer) and was a significantly more dynamic watching experience. It begins with Lorde’s heart-wrenching “Liability” off her 2017 album “Melodrama” played in full over a single shot of Jules’ eye reflecting images of her past relationships. It’s emotional and mesmerizing, and the memories from Jules’ past set the stage for what the majority of the episode will be — a therapy session.

For the majority of the episode, Jules is in therapy with Dr. Nichols (Lauren Weedman). She talks about her relationship with Rue, filling in the cracks of Rue’s unreliable storytelling. She explains her relationship with her mother and mourns her relationship with “Tyler”, the online persona that Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) created to blackmail Jules. Most of all, she talks about her relationship with being transgender and her desire to stop taking hormones as part of her transition. This was extremely effective in communicating Jules’ hidden inner turmoil that viewers didn’t get to see in season one.

“I feel like my entire life, I’ve been trying to conquer femininity, and somewhere along the way, I feel like femininity conquered me,” Jules said. 

In this episode, Jules begins to find her voice and seemingly cements herself as a co-protagonist in the upcoming season. She finally sees herself as more than an object of male desire and can define herself outside of the traditional box of what femininity means in a heteronormative world. As Jules says, “Being trans is spiritual.”

By having Hunter Schafer, a transgender woman, co-write alongside Sam Levinson, it makes way for new stories and new voices. The level of emotion expressed in this episode would not have been possible had Schafer not put her voice into this project. 

These two specials bode very well for the next season. They are keeping the “Euphoria” audience on the line and ready for more, despite their simplicity in concept. The teen drama is normally known and loved for its constant motion and artistic flair, but these episodes ground the series in reality, allowing viewers to relate to and understand the characters more deeply. It was refreshing to transition into what will most likely be a second season of theatrics, heartbreaking storytelling and lots and lots of glitter.