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When I sat down to watch the first out of the two special episodes of Euphoria, I had certain assumptions about what was coming. The first season of the series deals with multiple plotlines, develops side characters, explores themes of mental health, drug use, assault, catfishing, and more, all while wrapped up in a blur of neon lights. So, naturally, I expected the specials to do the same. The specials, however, strip themselves of the series’ excessive style, bring down the intensity, and give us a new, barer Euphoria, centered on its two main characters, Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer).
Although far from what I expected, the two special episodes felt like a fitting way of picking up where season one ended, like the calm after the storm. The first episode, Trouble Don’t Last Always (also called Part 1: Rue), starts with a high Rue sitting down to have breakfast with her sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo). The entire episode is simply an hour of Rue and Ali discussing addiction and exploring Rue’s self-destructive impulses. The only exceptions are a few glimpses of Rue’s imagination, but it really is Zendaya and Domingo’s performances that make this long scene as excellent as it is.
Although not a lot of action happens in the episode, the way Rue and Ali talk about their experiences with addiction and heartbreak adds a new depth to, and an understanding of, Rue as a character. The nakedness of the episode allows for a deeper level of sympathy, understanding, and emotional investment than was previously possible under the series’ intense stylistic focus, rapid succession of events, and number of plotlines.
The same can be said for the second episode, Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob (also called Part 2: Jules), except this episode is focused on Jules. The episode starts out stylistically closer to the series’ first season, sometimes showing us flashbacks, or Jules’ imagination and fantasies. However, the episode is grounded in a conversation between Jules and Dr. Mardy Nichols (Lauren Weedman), in Jules’ first therapy session. With a similar, toned down, and minimalistic plot, this therapy session allows us to learn more about her character. Whereas Rue’s episode focused more on the conversation with Ali, and their sharing of experiences, Jules’ episode allows us to get one step closer to a character who has previously been kept more at a distance. We see Jules discuss her gender transition and talk about how she feels singlehandedly responsible for Rue’s sobriety. She also reveals that her mother is an addict. This is brand new information to us and recontextualises Rue and Jules’ relationship. It gives us a better understanding of Jules’ feelings, and also of her actions in season one.
As someone who has never been the biggest fan of holiday specials, the Euphoria special episodes were a positive surprise, simply because they didn’t feel like standalone episodes. The stylistic difference, with the minimal cast and the long conversational scenes, enhances our understanding of both characters while acting as a natural transition between seasons one and two. The nakedness of the episodes, along with Zendaya and Hunter Schafer delivering some of their best performances yet, makes us feel closer to the characters than ever before. When Rue and Jules finally meet at the end of Jules’ special, we’re left desperate to know where season two will take us.