Euphoria provides just that for viewers

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Photo courtesy HBO

Cover for Euphoria Special Episode – Part One: Rue.

The first season of Euphoria blew audiences’ minds when it was released in June of 2019, featuring an Emmy award-winning performance from lead actress Zendaya, as well as spectacular performances by the rest of the cast. With season two not coming out until 2021, HBO is releasing two special episodes to act as a bridge between seasons one and two.

Warning: the content below contains spoilers for all of Euphoria, especially the new episode. If you haven’t, I suggest you watch the episode on HBO before reading.

The first special episode aired Dec. 4, and seeing as it was filmed during quarantine, the episode was bound to have been shot differently. It was directed unlike any episode of Euphoria before it, and the majority of the episode was spent watching Rue, played by Zendaya, and her AA sponsor Ali, played by Colman Domingo, alone in a diner on Christmas Eve.

It’s been a while since season one, so here’s a recap for those who need one. The season mainly follows main characters, Rue and Jules, played by Hunter Schafer, through their friendship and personal struggles. Throughout the season, Rue struggles with addiction to every substance imaginable. Near the end of the season, Rue is clean from drugs, and pursuing a relationship with Jules, until Jules suggests they run away. When Rue decides to stay for her family’s sake, Jules leaves her at the train station, and without her, Rue relapses in a music video-like scene in the last episode.

Now back to the special episode. The episode opens with a scene of Rue and Jules waking up in what seems to be their own apartment. They’re both happy to be together and are seemingly in a relationship. This scene is Rue’s perfect scenario, in fact, in season one, Rue described a fantasy to Jules in which the two lived and did everything together happily.

But the fantasy ends as soon as Jules leaves the apartment, and Rue begins looking around her apartment for pills. She gets high, and the next scene is she and Ali sitting in a diner booth, getting pancakes. This scene reflects a similar scene from season one, right after Rue’s breakdown in front of her drug dealer Fez’s house. Because of this we know that Rue is struggling, and has gone to Ali (Colman Domingo) for advice.

The episode is 57 minutes long. Of that, 48 minutes are spent on one diner scene with Ali.

This episode is filled to the brim with juxtaposition. The most significant example of this is the difference between the glamor of the first season and the solemn tone of the special episode, but it’s also a key part of the episode itself. There’s the juxtaposition between the fantasy of the first scene with Rue and Jules and the darker second scene with Ali. Even in that second scene there’s the juxtaposition of a struggling teenage addict and an older, wiser, recovered addict. In exterior shots of Ali pleading with his children over the phone we see another stark separation, the man Ali is and is trying to be versus the version of himself that existed for his children, a violent addict. The diner itself is so sparse as to leave the watcher solely focused on the faces and body language of Ali and especially Rue. Zendaya acts as well in this special episode as in the preceding season, and as the content of the episode and conversation between her and Ali changes, we see contractions and expansions of her posture that tell far more of the story than can be told through only words.

The limited setting and equally limited cast, only four actors, is certainly a product of COVID-19 restrictions, but the result is fantastic – an episode that delves into the interiority of Rue, allowing Zendaya to shine. The limitations have also served to highlight the skill of the writers, Sam Levinson, Daphna Levin and Ron Lesham, with Rue delivering biting dialogue about the inadequacy of AA programs for those deeply tormented by their relationship with a “higher power” and beautiful conversations between Rue and Ali on the nature of suffering as it relates to addiction.

Overall, for those looking more for content than action and willing to actually listen to what the show wants to tell us, this is an amazing episode of television and provides enormous insight into where Rue is mentally and emotionally before the season ahead.