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Review: Euphoria S2E5 “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” is a beyond stressful episode of Euphoria as Rue Bennett leaves physical and emotional damage in her wake when an intervention featuring her mom Leslie (Nika King), sister Gia (Storm Reid), Jules, and Elliot goes terribly wrong. Zendaya is an Emmy-worthy wrecking ball in this episode and burns bridges with literally everyone except Laurie, who wants to get her hooked on morphine and sexually traffick her. Writer/director Sam Levinson creates tension in this episode from a variety of pressure points from Rue withdrawing to how she says terrible things to Leslie, Gia, and Jules and finally her fear of Laurie after Jules tells her that she and Leslie flushed the drugs down the toilet. Plus she makes a little pit stop at the Howards’ house and reveals that Cassie has been sleeping with Nate, which predictably makes Maddy go psycho, and more pragmatically for Rue, it allows her to avoid an intervention while evading police, causing a car accident, and committing robbery along the way.

Unlike the bloat of the previous three episodes, Levinson’s script is lean, mean, and emotionally compelling spending almost 20 minutes on Leslie, Gia, and later, Jules confronting for relapsing in her drug use. He really pulls at the heart strings by opening with Leslie and Rue off-screen arguing while Gia is in her bed putting headphones in and just feeling terrible. Reid does a good job playing basically a kicked dog and has a great moment later in the episode when she’s just messing around on her phone trying to keep her mind off the fact that her sister is back on hard drugs and is on the run. However, once the camera focuses on Leslie and Rue, it’s a heated, close quarters battle filled with anger, sadness, tears, and the dashed off sarcasm that Zendaya delivers deadpan and is worse than yelling “Fuck you” at her mom and friends. She tells Gia that she has to be a lawyer or neurosurgeon so that Leslie doesn’t look like a bad mom after her dad passed away, and the low blows are fully on display later in her conversation with Jules when she says that Jules doesn’t actually love her, but wants to be loved. Rue also brings up how she left her behind while taking the train at the end of Season One and ultimately salts the ground of her friendship.

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

Sam Levinson and editor Julio Perez do an excellent job of opening up the cramped frame to show that Jules and Elliot have been listening to Rue’s outburst the whole time, and they and Marcell Rev play with foreground and background a lot in “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”. For example, there’s a lingering shot focusing on morphine and a chipmunk knick knack while Laurie feigning motherliness to Rue in the bath tub is blurred out in the background. Unlike Leslie, Laurie just cares about her money and will do everything to get it back. Martha Kelly brings an even keel, Midwestern faux warmth to the role of Laurie, and her kind demeanor is the exact opposite of her high security dwelling with locks from the inside on all the doors and all but one window locked as well plus parrots acting as a kind of analog security system to go with her muscle that made teenagers strip down in the Euphoria Season 2 premiere. It’s a frightening environment, and Levinson directs a mini-thriller with the threat of Rue being sex trafficked looming in the background every time a floorboard creaks or the scary men that Laurie keeps around almost wake. Oh, and while this is going on, Rue is about to dry heave from her withdrawals even though it’s not as bad as earlier in the episode.

The scenes between Leslie driving Rue back to rehab and her harrowing night at Leslie’s are basically one big chase sequence broken up by the aforementioned interlude at the Howards’ house and a shorter one where Fezco gives her some tough love and physically lifts a withdrawing Rue from his house after she tries to take some of his grandma’s pills. After the raid last season, Fezco has completely separated his work as a drug dealer with his home life so his inability to help Rue makes sense. The scene at the Howards, which features Maddy, Cassie, Lexi, and the always underutilized Kat is full of drama thanks to the big reveal with Alexa Demie doing some impressive acting with her hands and obliterating Cassie with cutting remarks. However, it comes across as petty high school drama in the middle of an intervention with a suicidal drug addict, who could lose her freedom. And Leslie understands as she tries to talk over the bullshit and get back to helping Rue, who gets away.

What follows is a physical manifestation for all the emotional hurt that Rue has shown the people she loves as she steals from a random rich and angry couple’s house and then goes on the run from the police ruining people’s get togethers, yards, and of course, the aforementioned car accident. The first bit of the episode was mostly score-less, but Labrinth’s bass and vocals kick in as Rue hops fences, hides in trash bins, and eludes cops, flames on a grill, and prickly pear cacti to just name a few. Sam Levinson films this chase sequence to show how self-centered Rue is in her quest to get some pills to stave off the withdrawal sickness that has her clutching her stomach and vomiting between parkour, real life Frogger, and Grand Theft Auto sans the cars. After the fiery, yet emotionally grounded conversation/argument/intervention with her family and friends, this part of the episode is very heightened and honestly transitions very well into the world of drug kingpin Laurie. It also show that Rue has hit rock bottom and alienated all of her family and friends except for her mom, who searched for her all night and welcomes her in the episode’s closing minutes.

Along with addiction, primal fear, and anxiety, Levinson and Zendaya tap into Rue’s grief about the loss of her father. It flares up early on when she throws it in Leslie’s face and returns when she’s submerged in the tub at Leslie’s house in almost a recreation of Euphoria’s pilot’s opening scene that began with Rue’s birth. There’s a flashback of her dad holding her, her heartfelt speech at his funeral, and even her looking at Gia in the infant ward showing the bond they had from the beginning. This sequences creates sympathy for Rue that even though she’s slagged off the people she cares about most in her life that she’s still a human being who’s going through utter hell that happens to be an addict.

Heart-rending performances from Zendaya, Nika King, Hunter Schafer, and Storm Reid plus a gonzo foot chase and a tense mini-thriller that sets up Laurie as an even more sinister figure than Cal Jacobs makes “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” easily the best episode of Euphoria Season 2. Sam Levinson doesn’t shy away from showing rock bottom for an addict with he and Zendaya putting the lies, sneaking, and manipulation on the play to go with the pain and anger that Rue feels as she struggles with withdrawal symptoms, estranging her family and friends, and having to payback a chilling drug lord. Zeroing in on Rue’s addiction and how it affects everyone around her was effective and honest storytelling from Levinson, but it does make the show’s other subplots (Cassie sleeping with Nate, Lexi’s play, Kat’s relationship issues, whatever the fuck Cal Jacobs is going through) pale in comparison.

Overall Verdict: 9.3

TV Review: Euphoria S2E4 “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can”

You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can

Euphoria really bounces back in the middle episode of Season Two. It leans on its two main strengths: a unique visual style from writer/director/creator Sam Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rev as well as music that brings out the inner lives of characters whether that’s Labrinth’s score (He has a cameo in “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can“) or the cues chosen by music supervisor Jen Malone. Beginning with a montage of Jules and Rue in various famous paintings (Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, “Birth of Venus”), photographs (John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz), and films (Titanic, Brokeback Mountain), Levinson sets up a basic, yet powerful theme of our own self-reality being different that what people perceive and explores it through different cast members of Euphoria culminating in powerful montage that nails where different characters are in their stories in one image. There are other connections between the storylines like alcohol’s ability to make character’s tell the truth about themselves (Often in a disgusting way) and love triangles, namely, Rue/Jules/Elliot and Nate/Cassie/Maddy.

Sam Levinson spends this episode cutting between three major storylines. There’s Rue, Elliot, and Jules hanging out and failing at platonic relationships and monogamy broken up by a liquor store theft that shows Dominic Fike can do funny and mixed signals. Along with this, there’s Maddy’s birthday party, which means Cassie’s anxiety is on overload as she wants to celebrate her friend and also feels guilty about sleeping with Nate behind her back. Finally, in a sequel to the flashback sequence from last episode, Cal Jacobs dusts off his old jeep and drives to the gay bar where he shared a tender moment with Derek as a teenager and realizes he hates himself, is a hypocrite, a fool, and predator.

The early part of the episode leans heavily on the chemistry between Fike and Hunter Schafer as Jules and Elliot joke about Rue faking an orgasm at the start of the episode and start messing around until Rue sends them a text about being outside. The faked orgasm happens because Rue is so high from the stock of drugs she got in the previous episode (And is definitely not selling), and Levinson contrasts the awkwardness between Rue and Jules with the physical bond between Jules and Elliot. Elliot is definitely being manipulative in this episode, but he has a moment of clarity when he comes clean later in the episode and tells Jules that he has been doing drugs with Rue. For once, he speaks directly instead of hiding behind flirtation or jokes.

Intensified by Rue getting high, “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” spends a lot of time showing Rue’s feelings about her dad’s passing and relationship with Jules in dream sequences set up Labrinth’s vocal and scores. As mentioned earlier, Labrinth appears in this episode singing and embracing Rue as she thinks about her father and is actually swaying by herself in her room. This is the slowed down, sadder version of the musical number at the end of Euphoria Season One, and Rue sits in her grief and negative energy. In fact, after Rue drinks alcohol, Zendaya strips the humor from her performance and goes darker and more straightforward. Her actions may have had an influence on Elliot finally telling Jules about his and Rue’s drug use that is how they initially bonded in the season premiere. Labrinth’s fallen angel score and vocals convey Rue’s emotions in this episode better than any dialogue and shows Euphoria is at its best when it shuts the fuck up and lets him, Rev, and Sam Levinson paint with sound and light.

You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can

In contrast with these more physical sequences, the party is a little talkier with some flat CW-esque line delivery from Jacob Elordi about where he stands with Cassie and Maddy. However, Alexa Demie gets to channel some of the energy from the carnival episode last season and pick apart Nate’s tone of voice with Kat backing her up and helping her call out some of his toxicity while also wanting to be with him. And, of course, this is happening while a super drunk Cassie is in the hot tub right next to him. After being rejected and snubbed by Nate, Sydney Sweeney nails Cassie’s sad, drunk state as she dances alone to a Sinead O’Connor song and becomes interwined with balloons all leading up to an epic moment of vomit that kills the party and once and for all reveals that something isn’t right with her. Cassie is suffering alone this episode with Lexi turning her story into a play, Maddy and Nate dealing with their relationship status, Kat not being into her underwritten relationship with Ethan, and her mom trying too hard to be Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls.

That theme of suffering alone continues to a much less sympathetic character: Cal Jacobs. The veneer of stern patriarch is all but gone in this episode as he returns to the gay bar he frequented with Derek and slow dances with man whose face almost gets superimposed with Derek’s. As O’Connor’s music plays (The same song as Cassie dances to.), Levinson slyly cuts to the other, predominantly younger denizens of the gay bar to show that Cal is in his own little world. Eventually, awkward looks turn into full on melodrama as Cal is unceremoniously kicked out of the bar when he tries to relive his wrestling and then rants to his wife and sons about how he loves to sleep with men and transgender women while urinating in the foyer. Even though both feature nostalgic New Wave music, Cal’s scenes in this episode are the polar opposite of the previous as Eric Dane goes full id and destroys his reputation and persona of town father in a single night. He’s super pathetic and doesn’t respect people’s boundaries and is definitely the worst part of Euphoria, but it’s nice to see Sam Levinson utterly cut him down to size instead of creating sympathy for him.

Lexi’s play auditions and Fezco, Ashtray, and Faye’s movie night seem extraneous and not as connected to the three major storylines, but for the most part, “You Who Cannot See, Think of Those Who Can” lets Levinson, Rev, and Labrinth wallow and play in light, darkness, music, and emotion that is bolstered by strong performances from Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney, and Eric Dane with Sweeney and Dane seasoning their tears with gallows humor. With the aid of alcohol, drug abuse, projectile vomiting, and public urination, this episode rips the Band-Aid of the facade that characters have built for themselves whether that’s a play tent in a snow storm (Rue) or a well-built mansion (Cal Jacobs).

Overall Verdict: 8.2

Review: Euphoria S2E3 “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys”

Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys

Euphoria really goes off the rails in “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys“, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Writer/director Sam Levinson spends the entire pre-title sequence trying to garner sympathy for a pedophile using nostalgic colors and some great New Wave tracks in the painfully predictable saga of Cal Jacobs (Played by a forgettable Elias Kacavas) having a repressed upbringing and only getting to spend one real night with his best friend/true love Derek before being thrust into his role as patriarch and father when his girlfriend is pregnant. Closeted queer men being pedophiles is a painful stereotype, and honestly all this information about Cal could be deduced from his actions in the present day except for him being a Ministry fan.

Honestly, this scene is Exhibit A of Euphoria being a show with a gorgeous visual style and an uncanny sense of how to weave in musical cues, but this can be done in a bloated and self-indulgent way like having a romantic dance sequence to “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS featuring a younger version of total irredeemable monster character. It’s better in the sequence immediately following the flashback where Levinson draws upon Zendaya’s dance background to show how much her drug addiction has consumed her life as Rue is in her own little world and puts Pop Tarts in the fridge and milk in the cupboard. This reverie ends with a deadpan line reading from Storm Reid as Rue’s little sister Gia, who asks if she’s high. And we’re back to the fourth wall breaking slide projector device where Rue (with an assist from Elliot) breaks down how she manipulates people in her life that she’s not a drug addict, including her family and friends by using key phrases to make everything seem okay. Of course, only her sponsor Ali sees through this bullshit so she has to go for a more direct approach towards the end of the episode and bring up that he was a bad father while toting around a suitcase with $10,000 worth of drugs. Colman Domingo strikes a balance between vulnerability and rage in his performance, and cinematographer Marcell Rev’s camera drinks up his face while the generic AA meeting drones on.

And speaking of the suitcase with $10,000 of drugs, this is where Euphoria loses the plot and becomes Tarantinoesque instead of showing the great lengths that Rue will go to feed her addiction. After a rough day at school and home, Rue has an epiphany where she realizes a way where she can do drugs for free. Of course, Fezco doesn’t buy her yet unspoken business plan mostly because he knows she’s an addict. However, Laurie (Martha Kelly), who was the drug queenpin from the season premiere, doesn’t share his qualms and totally goes for her half-assed pitch that includes pointless Steve Jobs references and a plan centered around high achieving teenage girls and blackmail. Of course, Rue doesn’t have any of these apparatuses in place, and there’s a real sense of danger when Kelly flatly delivers a line about kidnapping and selling her to make the money back. The suitcase that Rue nonchalantly takes to an AA meeting and home in front of her mom raises the show’s stakes, but also takes the focus off Rue and her relationships for a generic crime story. Also, Laurie’s only been in two episodes, but there’s no way in hell that she’d move forward with that business plan.

Like the previous episode, “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” checks in with all the characters of Euphoria whether it’s as big as a potential love triangle between Rue, Jules, and Elliot (Dominic Fike and Hunter Schafer have insane chemistry.) or as minor as Kat sticking her foot in her mouth when having dinner with Ethan’s parents. Once again, Sam Levinson doesn’t know what to do with her this season. However, he does go full metafictional with Lexi, who is directing a school play seemingly based on Euphoria and especially her relationship with Cassie, and shoots the scenes where her parents are arguing like a behind the scenes featurette for a TV show. This is all because Lexi perceives herself as someone who watches and observes, but never intervenes. She obsessively writes on her laptop while Cassie spends three hours getting ready every morning so Nate will still be into her although he ends up getting back with Maddy by the end of the episode.

Sydney Sweeney pulls off deranged and obsessed very well in this episode mainly through body language and one big monologue while she’s hanging out with Maddy about how Maddy should be with someone who doesn’t fight with her and worships the ground she walks on. Lexi wants to bring this kind of main character energy to her own life, but for now, she’ll settle for having a bunch of students auditioning for her play because Oklahoma! is played out in 2022. Maude Apatow bringing a mix of energy and passivity to the expanded role of Lexi has definitely been one of the highlights of Euphoria Season 2, and it’s interesting to see Levinson use a similar fourth wall-breaking, narrativizing device for both her and Rue’s arcs this season. It’s like they used to be friends or something…

Euphoria' Season 3 Release Date: How Long Will the HBO Show Last?

To end this review on a positive note, I love the playful and slightly chaotic interactions between Rue, Jules, and Elliot in this episode. They have frank conversations about sexuality and queerness with Elliot observing that Jules is a trans girl who wears a binder, and she sees him as “not gay” and “not straight”. With Rue out of the room, they also chat about how her sexual desire waxes and wanes. For example, she and Jules mess around a little bit this episode, but then the drug suitcase plotline kicks in, and there isn’t a lot of interactions between them. There’s also something naturalistic about how Hunter Schafer goes from Jules shining a lamp on Elliot like she’s interrogating him to smiling at him and starting to realize that she has similar feelings for him like she does for Rue even after he admits having a crush on Rue.

Plus Elliot has one hell of a monologue about how great a character Jules is that hits home after Fezco and Cal Jacobs call her “Jewel” in an interaction where Cal rolls up to Fezco’s shop looking for the disk of him having sex with Jules. He immediately gets cut down to size verbally and physically as Ashtray hits him with a rifle butt over and over again because Cal know he’s behaving suspiciously and can’t go to the police. Fezco and Faye’s (Chloe Cherry) response to Cal’s pedophilia plus Nate being in love with a girl that his dad had sex with immediately contradicts the opening flashback, and it’s nice to have Sam Levinson take a break from the sympathizing flashbacks and dream sequences and let Angus Cloud and Cherry react to how fucked up everything is. It’s also nice to see Cal put in his place for once instead of using his standing in the community to get his way, and also Euphoria is at its best when it’s pitch black comedy and not romanticizing abusers and pedophiles.

When I saw the previews for this week’s episode, I knew that “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” would be a step down in quality thanks to a flashback trying to make viewers sympathize with the monstrous Cal Jacobs. And it was worse than I imagined with Levinson and Rev going full 1980s nostalgia for the hell of it and not adding any new depth or information that we could have gotten from Cal’s present day appearances. Throw in an inconsistent approach to Rue’s arc that goes from clever and ingenious (The dance sequence) to hackneyed and melodramatic (The aforementioned suitcase.), and this episode of Euphoria is kind of a bummer. However, there are some bright spots like Fezco and Faye’s Greek chorus role to all the fucked up stuff going down at Euphoria High, Lexi using story to find herself and become more assertive, and the queer love triangle of Rue, Jules, and Elliot. More of that and less creepy old dudes in future installments, please.

Overall Verdict: 7.1

TV Review: Euphoria S2E1 “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door”

Euphoria

After over two years off and a couple special episodes to tide viewers, Euphoria is back for second season and doesn’t waste any time getting back in full swing. Writer/director Sam Levinson uses “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” to check in with all the main cast members from season while also telling the origin story of Fez (Angus Cloud), East Highland’s drug dealer with a heart of gold.

The episode kicks off with a potent opening sequence shot on gorgeous, grainy film stock by cinematographer Marcell Rev and introduces us to Fez’ grandmother (A scene-stealing Kathrine Narducci), who is truly a “motherfucking G” as Zendaya’s voice-over puts it. Levinson does tracking shots through the bowels of a strip club before stopping on a dime as Fez’s grandmother puts two in the legs of his father while he’s getting oral sex from one of the strippers. (This is the first of several scenes with male full frontal nudity.) Then, she goes back to the car where young Fez, who has a black eye from his dad’s abuse, is waiting and drives him home launching into full flashbacks of how he became partners with her. This is in addition to being Ashtray’s (Javon Walton) brother and guardian after his mother abandons him.

This flashback reinforces Fez’s strong bond with those he considers to be his family, including Euphoria‘s protagonist Rue (Zendaya) and that him being willing to kill for them isn’t just an exaggeration. The opening scene establishes a cycle of violence that Fez is caught up in and can’t escape by chilling on the couch and chatting with Lexi (Maude Apatow) about the origins of Christmas and the ethics of drug dealing. Fez’s world is full of tension, and he’s 100% aware of that like when he chides Rue for joking around after a drug buy where Fez, Ashtray, and her have to strip down because their supplier is paranoid that they’re wearing wires. Zendaya’s facial expressions when a burly drug dealer named Bruce tells her to strip down are pure trauma and going from that charged environment to a New Year’s Eve party takes a toll on both her and Fez, who doesn’t leave the couch until the end of the episode.

The New Year Eve’s party with its unbridled, hazy atmosphere of drugs, sex, booze, and wash cloths covered in shit is a great device from Sam Levinson to take the temperature of the main characters of Euphoria and also play with some different pairings of characters. Until the Labrinth/lens flare/ring light finale of the episode, Rue actively is avoiding Jules (Hunter Schafer) so she spends a lot of the episode dancing and having a good time with Kat (Barbie Ferreira). Kat and Jules bonded pretty early in Season One, but Jules’ relationship with Rue took center stage and made her world “smaller”. It’s nice to see her circulating around the party even as she keeps an eye out for Nate (Jacob Elordi), who manipulated and blackmailed her last season. As mentioned earlier, Lexi and Fez bond, and his upbeat attitude and the fact that he’s generally impressed with helps her enjoy the party while she tries to figure out where her sister Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) went. It’s a real opposites attract situation, and you can tell in Apatow’s eyes that Lexi is happy to spend time with someone who genuinely cares about what she has to say instead of trying to get something from her. Lexi and Fez were both underrated characters in Euphoria Season 1, and it’s nice to see them get the spotlight off the bat.

Euphoria

The third pairing is the darkest and saddest, Nate and Cassie. Before viewers even get time to settle into the party, Sam Levinson whips over to Cassie buying powdered donuts at a gas station and generally wallowing. Of course, she runs into Nate and his big truck, who offers her a ride to the party. Nate’s recklessness and objectification of women is on full display on the ride up as he drinks beer and hits triple digits on the speedometer. Sweeney hits a great range of emotions on the ride up from total fear to elation as she sticks her head out of the window while Orville Peck plays on the stereo. Cassie is struggling with her self-perception, and if she wants to be in relationships or just keep it casual. She’s not in a good place, and Nate takes advantage of this in a messy bathroom hookup that is one of the main sources of tension in the episode as Cassie hides in a bath tub while Nate’s star-crossed ex Maddy (Alexa Demie) uses the facilities and roasts a former classmate, Travis for trying to fit on her. Cassie’s ex McKay (Algee Smith), who isn’t that bad of a guy, tries to have a conversation about possibly getting back together, but she can barely speak after the utter humiliation of hiding in the tub, betraying her best friend Maddy, and being present for yet another instance of male full frontal nudity.

Humiliation and disgust along with the little bits of violence are recurring motifs in “Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” with Rue mixing heroin and cocaine and almost overdosing on her new buddy Elliot (Dominic Fike) only saved by her knowledge of drugs’ effects and bringing her pulse back to normal with Adderall. There’s a warm, smoky vibe around Rue and Elliott, and it’s fitting they end up smoking weed by a camp fire, which is where Jules finally finds her. Levinson and Rev pull out all the stops for a big romantic reunion while using light and dark to show there’s still tension, especially between Nate and Fez. This whole episode is full of shots of different characters keeping tabs on each other keeping an uneasy stalemate until it all boils over in a moment of violence in the final moments as Fez’s world collides with the world of the party.

“Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door” sets the tone for what is likely to be a very dark season of Euphoria with Fez unleashing a killer instinct that’s usually hidden behind jokes and keen insight. Kathrine Narducci’s grandmother barely appears in this episode, but we see the impact her presence had on Fez with repeated dialogue and actions in the present day. Also, Sam Levinson and Marcell Rev have successfully changed Euphoria’s visual look to better reflect its broken and on-edge characters while the music is more oldies and nostalgic needle drops than the latest hotness as almost stand-in’s for the missing parents or homages to folks like Fez’s grandma or his new drug source, a soft-spoken former teacher named Laurie. Euphoria Season 2, Episode 1 is confident, depraved, and not afraid to get its hands dirty with an incident towards the end of the episode that has me anticipating the fallout next week and for the rest of the season.

Overall Verdict: 8.9

TV Review: Euphoria Special Episode 2- Jules

Euphoria Jules

The second special episode of Euphoria that acts as a bridge between its first season and delayed (Due to Covid-19) second season focuses on Jules’ (Hunter Schafer) character, her relationship with Rue (Zendaya) and her parents as well as other things like her gender, the toughness of moving to East Highland, and how she feels like she builds stronger connections with folks online that in real life. The entire episode is framed in a therapy session that her dad, David (John Ales) wanted her to attend after she took a train and ran away from home in the final episode of season one. It blurs the lines between reality and fantasy quite a bit, and director/co-writer Sam Levinson brings a lot of Euphoria’s visual and musical trademarks into the episode with a synth-meets-sacred score from composer Labrinth and a pair of powerful needle drops from Lorde and Billie Eilish, who released a new track “Lo Vas A Olividar” with Rosalia just for this episode.

The colorful nature and the non-linear narrative that Levinson and Hunter Schafer, who is credited as a writer on “Jules” matches the titular character who wants to go to New York and study art and has amazing taste in fashion and makeup. One of the first shots of the episode is a colorful flashback montage of all of Jules’ major moments synced to “Liability” by Lorde with the poignant lyrics creating reminders of the hurt that she has been and has caused in the past year. It sets up Jules sidestepping talking about running away and instead talking about gender, and how she is tired of having it be defined by men and crafting her gender presentation to be desirable to them. She talks about going off puberty blockers and her previous fears of dysphoria and puberty’s “deepness” and “thickness” when now those things reminds her of the ocean.

Sure, the metaphor is a little cheesy, but a quick reminder that these are high school students, and it also is an opportunity for Levinson and Schafer to make a little magic in a flashback sequence. With Labrinth’s score soaring, they show us Jules at her freest frolicking in the waves at her grandmother’s house and letting them wash over her as she lies in the sand without a care in the world. This feeling is also connected to how she feels about Rue, who makes a few appearances in flashbacks, dream sequences, and one heartbreaking one in the present as she bikes over to her episode. The way that Jules talks about Rue is a real highlight of this episode as she talks about how Rue saw her real self beneath all the parts of different people that made up herself and compared to how a mother looked at a baby before that child can make any kind of memories. Levinson conveys this emotion visually through a recurring image of Rue and Jules staring into each other’s glittering eyes: Zendaya and Hunter Schafer get a lot of power out of one look. This episode is full of intimate moments between them, like Jules showing Rue how to inject her with estrogen in one scene where they’re sleeping over.

Euphoria Jules

Jules’ new therapist, Dr. Nichols (Lauren Weedman) tries to make connections out of this tangle of emotions and makes a painful, yet true one when she realizes that Jules’ fear and anger about Rue’s addiction is like her anger about her mother’s addiction. We don’t know where Amy (Pell James) is in the present, but there are some flashbacks like when Rue’s dad basically ambushes her by bringing her mom to make amends as part of an AA program. You can see the tension in John Ales’ face as he’s playing a character who wants to save the woman he loves, but doesn’t want to lose his only daughter. Amy overhears that Jules hates and doesn’t care about her so she leaves without saying goodbye, and later, we hear David on the phone about how she’s back at a psychiatric hospital after going on a bender. So, this is why Jules flinches, and Schafer’s lips quiver every time Dr. Nichols brings up her mother, especially when she’s trying to make a positive connection.

The other thread of conversation that Jules and her therapist have is about online relationships, especially her failed virtual relationship with Tyler, who turned out to be Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), an abusive football player, who blackmailed Jules with her own nudes so he wouldn’t have to face consequences for assaulting his girlfriend in the previous season. Jules still dwells on the texts and sexts she sent to Tyler (Jayden Marcos) and talks to her therapist about the openness and vulnerability she feels in online relationships. This is shown visually during elaborate dream sequences where she fantasizes about having sex with Tyler in her fantasy New York apartment with sensual red lighting and Labrinth’s score building to a climax. But, instead, there’s a bass drop, the lights cut out, and Tyler’s face is replaced by Nate’s as she returns to reality. The relationship between Nate and Jules is one of the scariest parts of Euphoria, and his sweet, catfish texts as Tyler continue to haunt her as she thought she had a real connection with him.

The best and toughest scene in “Jules” is seeing and listening to the story of Jules and Rue’s first from her perspective. In the first season, the scene is shot from Rue’s perspective, and she initiates the kiss before backing off and running away because she didn’t know if Jules liked her like that. However, this episode reveals that Jules was already in love with Rue, and this was the first time she had ever kissed a girl so she was hesitant about making a move. The flashback drives home one of Jules’ key fears: that she will lose Rue. We see her frantically calling Rue and trying to express her feelings to her, which is mirrored in the present day by her missed calls and texts plus their quick, awkward encounter at the end of the episode. Through therapy, Jules can start to rebuild her sense of self and even have conversations about things like going off hormones and being a trans woman. However, she wonders without Rue if it’s all worth it, and the final shot of the episode with the rain pouring down on Jules’ window really captures the pain of losing a friend, and it being your fault while leaving things open ended for the upcoming season.

Although it sticks to one location just like “Rue”, “Jules” is far from lo-fi with Sam Levinson and Hunter Schafer unleashing a plethora of fantasy sequences, artsy flashbacks, and musical tracks to show Jules’ state of mind during a difficult time for her. From watching Euphoria Season One, I definitely knew why Rue loved Jules, but this episode nails how much Jules cares for her with Schafer covering her face in close-ups because she loves her so much and is afraid she is going to lose her. This episode also does a good job of finding a throughline between its Jules’ relationship with Rue and her mother and also talks about online relationships and being trans in a very nuanced way with smart writing from Levinson and Schafer.

These special episodes have shown that Euphoria has two of the most emotionally vulnerable actors on any TV show (Zendaya, Hunter Schafer) and have whetted my appetite for the upcoming season, which hopefully have the same level of insight to go with its visual and musical panache. Also, fingers crossed for a Lexi flashback!

Overall Verdict: 9.2

TV Review: “Euphoria Special Episode Part 1: Rue”

Euphoria Rue

Because of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, writer/director/creator Sam Levinson gets creative and crafts an episode of Emmy-Award winning show Euphoria that is stripped down of its usual visual, costuming/makeup, and musical flair. “Rue” begins with a dream sequence of Rue (Zendaya) living her ideal life with Jules (Hunter Schafer) complete with lots of kissing, cute conversations, and not having to sneak out of the window because Jules is in art college, and they share an apartment. However, reality floods in as Rue snorts pills and relapses. This leads to her meeting with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) at a diner on Christmas Eve. They talk for the remaining 50 minutes of the episode about life, addiction, loss, their families, faith, and “real shit” until he gives her a ride home in the rain while Euphoria composer Labrinth sings a gorgeous cover of “Ave Maria” that is definitely going on the holiday playlist.

“Rue” reveals that Euphoria has a hell of a lot of substance underneath. Domingo is a veteran theatre actor, and he and Zendaya embody the old adage that “acting is reacting” in this episode. Because she is high, Zendaya plays Rue in a heightened way at the beginning of the dinner as she slurs her way through talking about how she’s a functioning addict. However, Ali is a great listener, asks good questions, and finds out that when Rue does drugs, she doesn’t want to kill herself. He responds to this with empathy about addiction is a disease, and that while some people want to keep folks like them out of sight and mind, that he knows what she’s been through. Ali even reveals to Rue that he has been clean for seven years, not 20 telling her that he had a relapse after being clean for 13 years.

Sam Levinson doesn’t really play any of the dinner between them for melodrama, but Zendaya’s delivery becomes a little less flat as they launch into a fascinating conversation about the role of faith and a higher power in Narcotics Anonymous. Levinson does a great job connecting both Ali and Rue’s current life situations to the larger world around them in a more organic way than, say, Euphoria’s pilot, which strung together Rue’s birth, the beginning of the universe, and 9/11 in a frenetic opening sequence. Ali is a devout Muslim, which Rue finds out when she wonders why he said his name used to be Martin in a quick bit of comic relief before she sarcastically defines “higher power” as something in nature or an Otis Redding. But the real reason that she doesn’t want to believe in God or a higher power is because of her father’s death because she’s tired of hearing survivors of tragic events say that God “saved them for a reason” when her dad had the purpose of raising her and her younger sister.

This scene hits a real emotional vein and also exhibits Ali’s emotional intelligence as he kiboshes the religious angle and gives a stirring, almost in character monologue about the life of Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement. He wraps it up with a personal anecdote about Nike’s “Our Lives Matter”, and how they co-opted the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of activists like Colin Kaepernick to sell expensive shoes made by Chinese Muslim slaves. Domingo’s passion comes out in this dialogue, and Levinson crafts a study in contrasts between him and Rue, who is too busy dealing with the shit in her own life and how she can’t forgive herself, to pursue activism or revolution, which he says is “spiritual”.

Euphoria Rue

And this “busyness” flows nicely into their side conversation with Miss Marsha (Marsha Gambles), who shares Gambles’ own story of recovering from addiction and being clean from 17 years while telling Rue (Who got a “Miss you” text from Jules while Ali smoked and called his daughter, Imani) that she needs to focus on her sobriety before getting into a relationship. And speaking of relationships, the chat that Ali and Rue have about her relationship with Jules shows a tiny bit of a generation/communication gap as Rue thought she was exclusively dating Jules because they kissed a lot, said they loved each other, and wanted to get matching inside lip tattoos. However, they didn’t have an actual conversation about their relationship status and instead reveled in the messiness, which can be fun, but usually ends in heartbreak and drama like Jules getting on a train and leaving Rue behind at 1 AM. Storywise, it’s really satisfying to have Rue open up about how she feels about Jules and the connection to her addiction to a third party that is unaware of the utterly fucked up reality of her high school. (See everything about the whole Nate Jacobs situation.)

One of my favorite parts of “Rue” is the “interlude” I mentioned earlier where Rue listens to the thematically relevant “Me in 20 Years” by Moses Sumney and sees a text from Jules while Ali goes outside and tries to reconnect with his daughters (Who Rue asked about earlier) while taking a smoke break. This short scene does a good job of fleshing their characters as Rue retreats to the sanctuary of her music, and Ali tries to show his daughters that he’s a good person even though they witnessed him assaulting their mother when he was high in the past. Rue is at the stage of her life and addiction where she just wants to retreat and try to feel good for her last few years while Ali is trying to make amends. Colman Domingo really nails both sadness and emotional honesty in this scene, and this grief is why they have a strong connection and “like talking to each other” like they both say towards the end of the episode.

With clear shots of both Rue and Ali’s faces, Sam Levinson shows that this isn’t just a polite truism, but they actually like having someone that they can basically empty all their darkest thoughts, saddest feelings, and sometimes, brightest hopes around. They are both characters that are not into bullshit (Unless Rue is skirting a talk about her addiction.) and small talk, and this episode reveals this in a beautiful way with some lived-in performances from Domingo and Zendaya. Levinson also shows detractors that Euphoria isn’t just a flashbang show meant to scare mommy blogs and pearl clutchers, but is deeply invested in the emotional lives of its characters.

In “Rue”, Sam Levinson doesn’t lump Rue’s relapse with a dozen other plots, but he puts it into full, bloody focus. This allows viewers to understand the nature of her addiction, and how it personally affects her and her relationships with her family, Jules, and yes, Ali. Zendaya’s delivery and scrunched up facial expressions enhance this intense character study (Give her a second Emmy already!), and I’m intrigued to see how Euphoria Season 2 explores her addiction, depression, emotions, and relationships.

Overall Verdict: 8.9