Love, Addiction, Loss – A Deep Dive into Euphoria’s Special Episode

Alright, folks. It’s here. The post I’ve been dying to write since the start of this blog. Yes, that’s right. It’s a post about HBO’s Euphoria. It’s a fantastic hit drama that debuted last year, and with season two having been written before the pandemic hit, filming the rest of the series proved a little more difficult. The series grew so big that fans have been clamoring for new content nonstop, from sneak peeks to music soundtracks for the show. Thankfully, the show managed to put out a special episode that serves as a sort of epilogue for the first season, while also being a Christmas special. With many fans still reeling from the HBO gods appeasing them, it finally brought an opportunity to discuss the series, and new special episode, as a whole.

For those who aren’t aware, Euphoria is a show starring Zendaya as Rue, someone who struggles with drug addiction, and is in love with a girl named Jules. That being the central narrative, the series focuses on other characters, and the show follows storylines about students in school who struggle with relationships, sexual and queer identities, toxic masculinity and body image as well. While it may feel like a cable network’s mature take on a high school drama like Degrassi, HBO and Sam Levinson never holds back punches. The show is pretty raw. It’s real. In the first episode alone, Zendaya’s character says “I know a lot of you probably hate me right now…If I could be a different person right now, I promise you I would. Not because I want it, but because they do. And therein lies the catch.” She lets us know shit is going to get rough, and by all standards, it does. Without giving too much away of the entirety of the season, it’s worth noting that the show is pretty damn good. Leonardo DiCaprio likes it, too. With that said, go watch the series if you haven’t already, and then come back to read this, because we will be getting into FULL SPOILERS.

Trouble Don’t Last Always

Sobriety, and the Relapse

“The hardest thing about having the disease of addiction, aside from having the disease, is that no one in the world sees it as a disease.”

The episode starts with Zendaya’s Rue and her co-star in the episode, Colman Domingo, as N.A. sponsor Ali. They both are at a diner on Christmas Eve, just eating and chatting, as Rue discusses her newfound balance of her mental and emotional state now that she’s been clean and sober. However, Ali quickly notices strange behavior in Rue, which as it turns out, is because she isn’t sober anymore. After becoming sober for Jules, Rue gets her heartbroken and is abandoned by Jules and relapses. The two discuss the struggle of staying sober after falling back onto drugs. It’s sort of the entire focus of the episode, which bored a portion of viewers who were expecting this episode to have more than just the few characters. At the end of the day, this was not meant to be season two, and this episode was one of the few episodes that managed to actually have Rue gain true help over her addiction, despite how in denial she was at the beginning. The episode is, in its simplest form, an NA meeting and eventually, a full blown therapy session for Rue, and for us as well.

Second Step: “A Power Greater Than Me…”

“You ‘ve got to fall in love with the poetry. Because everything else in life will fail you. Including yourself.”

The episode goes deeper than addiction when Rue begins to admit something to Ali, who we later learn is a converted Muslim. She recounts the steps to achieving sobriety, which starts with putting one’s self first. The second step includes acknowledging a higher power above one’s self as well. Essentially, putting faith in God. For Rue, this proves to be difficult for her to do. It’s more than something like atheism; she has a genuine distrust in the notion of a higher power such as God. Rue recounts when she first lost her faith; it happened when she lost her father to cancer. She scoffs at the belief that everyone’s life has a purpose given by God, and argues that this is false; Rue believes that her father’s purpose in life was to raise her and her little sister. With him having passed, she resents the sentiment of this being a part of “God’s plan”. After all, bad things just happen, don’t they? Rue shuts down any acknowledgement of a power higher than herself, which leaves Ali feeling almost defeated. And God bless Ali, this character, because he really stuck around to let Rue open all wounds to him.

A Revolution: “Our Lives Matter”

“Chinese Muslims are sewing these Kaepernick sneakers for 7 cents an hour, and you’re telling me that my Black ass matters. Give me a fucking break.”

Ali tries to console Rue by reminding her that, with each life having a purpose, and each one destined to die for a “Greater Plan,” there is more to living. He compares this to those who have died for the Civil Rights movement to come to fruition, and how their deaths served such a high purpose. He begins to take a look at how revolutions used to change lives for everyone, and Rue jokingly suggests that she starts her own revolution to give her own life meaning. Ali scoffs and says, “Didn’t you hear? The revolution is already here.” Ali begins to explain how every cause spins out into a whole revolution, where it almost becomes a trendy fad for millennials and gen-z kids, and also for big names and companies as well. Ali makes a really funny point here, while taking a jab at capitalism for being “revolutionary” as a means of being popular. He walks into a Nike shop, seeing a mural on the shoe store’s wall saying “Our Lives Matter,” which pleases him. It makes him not only feel safer, but also loved for once. He sees kids, Black and white alike, taking photos with the mural, and he never questions the disingenuous love for the cause, and then he picks up a pair of Nikes and sees the $149.99 price tag, then says “What happened here? I thought you loved my Black ass.” With this hot take on capitalism, Ali brings the conversation back to the point of the matter, the root of it all. He speaks on what it means to start a revolution, and not a hot new hashtag, but a true revolution for yourself. A revolution in your soul, spiritually, can only happen when you change yourself as your core. It takes knowing who you are, who you want to be, and finding the connections between those two in order to make real progress and change.

“I Miss You”: What to Do About Love?

“Me in 20 Years”

At this moment, Ali steps out of the diner to give Rue a few moments to digest all of the heavy sage-like wisdom, and calls his ex-wife to wish her and his children a Merry Christmas. Meanwhile, Rue receives a text from Jules, the girl who broke her heart. The text reads, “I miss you.” This ends up bringing us back to Rue and Jules relationship, which, as it turns out, was a little different in Rue’s head than we were led to believe (she was high all the time, and probably not the best reliable narrator). We hear about Rue’s desire to fix things with Jules, but with Ali’s advice, she realizes that she will never be able to have a better life for herself if she puts her focus and energy into someone else. At the end of the day, she needs to put herself first for her own well-being, instead of this girl she loves; you cannot make a relationship work without fixing and focusing on yourself.

Forgiveness is the Key to Change – “Beyond Forgivable”

“You think, ‘Why change? I’m just a piece of shit. I better keep going now. What’s the difference?’ without realizing that forgiveness is the key to change.”

In order for Rue to begin to forgive herself for becoming sober again, she needs to learn to forgive herself for past mistakes; as Ali puts it, forgiveness is the key to true change. Rue struggles with this, feeling as though she has done things that are beyond forgivable (which is neat, considering that in the initial draft of the pilot’s script, she admitted to killing an abusive jock). The notion of hitting rock bottom is brought up, and Ali regales Rue in a story about his own abusive father, and how he swore to never become anything like him. Years later, Ali finds himself having struggled with the same abusive relationship with his ex-wife that his father had with his mother. He realized the generational trauma was deep, and he needed to break it. Rue sees that, if Ali is preparing to learn to forgive himself for something so unforgivable, then Rue would have to as well.

Dark Times (Forever)

Then, we hear the truth from Rue as she begins to contemplate whether or not she can forgive herself. She admits something to Ali. She says, “I just…don’t plan on being here that long.”

That is the dark truth. After everything that has happened to Rue, from her father she’s lost, the addiction she’s suffered through, and the heartbreak she’s endured, she has decided that she is not willing to forgive herself or start a spiritual revolution at her core. Instead, she would rather just give up on life altogether. But then Ali, being the tough and supportive mentor that he is, calls her bluff.

“Who do you wanna be when you leave this earth?” he asks. “How do you want your mother and sister to remember you as?”

Rue looks up at Ali with tears welling up in her eyes. “As someone who tried really hard to be someone they couldn’t.”

Faith

We do too.

And at that moment, we realize that Rue doesn’t need to have faith in herself; not yet. As long as she has loved ones who have faith in her…she’ll eventually make it, won’t she?

This episode of Euphoria was not only the best deep take into Rue’s character, but it was also some of the greatest content to be put out by the writers, especially during the pandemic with low budget costs, smaller casts, and a single set piece being used. It served as a great epilogue for the first season, and hopefully the next special episode does just as good of a job in that way.

Check out Euphoria on HBO, or stream it on HBO Max.