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.

Super-Gods, Sick Mixtapes, and a Surreal Universe: Leaders of the Free World Review (#1 – #2)

If Gods blessed you with powers, would that make you one? Or does that just place you on a tier-level below the source of your abilities? It’s okay, don’t dwell on the existential question for too long, because thankfully we’ve got the answers for you. Hi, folks, and thank you for being patient with this anticipated post (just getting back to the day job grind) and welcome to my first ever Official Stars and Monsters comic review!

I was honored to be offered an opportunity to review the comic series Leaders of the Free World by one of the creative minds behind it, Corey Pruitt (better known as Task on Twitter) and quite frankly, it might have been the one of my most exciting experiences since the initial launch of this blog. Task is not only a comic writer, but also a podcast host on Supersuit Show, but also a major source of influence in the vortex that is the comic twitter community (Spider-Man fans hate Spider-Man, it’s the truth!) Task allowed me to preview his first two issues of his series, drawn by Elijah Johnson (also known as @artbyatlas0 on Twitter), and share some of my thoughts on Leaders of the Free World #1 and #2. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Leaders of the Free World #1 – “A Surreal World”

I dove right into the first issue with the same initial thought that new readers to any series worry about; “Will I be overwhelmed by the world that was built before me?” I suppose the breakdown of the Free World mythos stems from the origin of the Godsend, a group of super-powered gods who arrived to the planet, each instilling themselves in one nation, and essentially committing to their nation’s image, government policies. In return, the Godsend provided tech and knowledge to help advance the world, which inadvertently birthed a new generation of super-powered beings: the Archetypes, a less powerful group of people who created more conflict than safety in the world. After a war killed a third of the world’s population, the Godsend issued laws to limit an Archetype’s activity to only their respective country. This is the lore of Leaders of the Free World.

This series starts with an excellent brief look at the world’s history in the form of a history class, narrated by Surreal, a teenage Asian-American descendant of the an ancient god known as the Monkey King. He fits every relatable aspect of being a teen whose heritage holds more power than they realize. With great power comes great responsibility, and thankfully, we don’t have another Uncle Ben-esque character to reminds Surreal of that. Instead, he meets Eco, the Son of Gaia, who is a superstar wrestler with abilities drawn from, well, Gaia. When these two characters meet and share scenes together, there’s definitely an undeniable chemistry between the two when it comes to the hilarity in their bantering back and forth, and Eco’s unconditional support towards Surreal. The young Monkey King doesn’t know his own true worth yet, and thankfully, the powerful and wise Eco stands beside him from the very beginning, showing a kind of trust that makes me reminisce about the days when Luke Cage and Iron Fist teamed up in Marvel’s Heroes for Hire series.

“Timber”, Eco’s wrestling signature move. Also named after my dog.

As I continued through the issue, I enjoyed the spotlight on these two characters a lot, while also finding myself more enthralled by the joy in seeing Surreal’s old school hip hop playlist scattered across text-boxes in the comic. It creates an entertainingly new and fun experience in a comic book that feels as authentic as a classic comic series as you go through each panel. It was one of the things I was most excited about discussing with Task. When asked where the inspiration for this came from, Task said, “I always listen to music when I write. So I thought ‘What if each issue had its own soundtrack?’ It’s a way for the reader to see where my headspace was at during the creative process.” Nicely done, Task. We love it.

One of my other favorite story threads in this issue specifically included the introduction of Moonshine, the wildly erratic and drunken female superhero whose abilities appear to rival even Superman. It was just one of the many things I enjoyed in this first issue, and I could easily list more, but I have LOTS more to gush about!

Leaders of the Free World #2 – The Beginning’s of Freedom

Aright folks, this is my favorite issue of the two for sure! In Leaders of the Free World #2, we are introduced to my absolute pairing of characters in this set universe. Like Ying and Yang, we meet Medic and Doctor Seance. Medic is, well…if God was a woman, to put it perfectly. As an angel of war and peace, she’s a balance between life and death. In nothing but merely scrubs, she manages to kick enough ass to make Jessica Jones second guess her career as a comic book badass. Alongside her is Doctor Seance, an evil necromancer whose character visual design homages aspects of Robbie Reyes’s Ghost Rider, with a symbiotic relationship to Medic like that of Venom, and a sinister and calculating villain mind that crosses between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs. These two characters, joined together by a holy and flaming halo over Medic’s head, embark on a quest to join the other lead heroes as they prepare for a crisis of epic proportions.

This, however, prompted me to ask Task about the bonds between the various characters, like the development between Surreal and Eco, or between Medic and Doctor Seance. Task’s response was, “When I came up with the characters I had to ask myself ‘Who would get along the most? Who would hate each other?’ Surreal and Eco are both mythical beings born into a life that they never asked for. So they relate to each other the most. Medic and Seance have history that will be explored throughout the series. I don’t want to reveal everything now but let’s just say you will be surprised.”

Comics can mend ya heart, kid.

As I continued on in this issue, completely enthralled by the concept of Medic and Doctor Seance (and Surreal’s Mix scattered through this issue as well to help set the tone), we soon learn more about the hardships that some of these characters hold in their personal lives. Medic, being a superhero and all that, is still a medical doctor, and has a duty to both the world she saves and the world she inhabits. When she turns to work from battle, she unfortunately fails to save her patient’s life. She storms out, completely broken, and her coworker consoles her by stating a sad, but accurate fact of life. She says, “You can’t save everyone all the time.” When I read this comic panel, it was then that I knew this was going to continue to become a really powerful story, with a really exceptional writer behind this stunning and beautiful line work. And, just as the moment on the page was beautifully had, it was interrupted by a beautifully nostalgic shot…

*CUE FREEZE FRAME*

FREEZE FRAME!

The story returns to the initial group, with Surreal. Eco, Tech-Neek, and Moonshine briefly meeting, but it’s just as an invasion brews in the sky above them. From that, to their hilarious first encounter with Doctor Seance, we get really funny dialogue, awesome action sequences, and super dope nostalgic homages to things in nature of, say, giant mechas, or Power Rangers, or maybe even Dragon Ball Z, or just plenty of West Coast classics to keep the action seamless like a swift breeze under Surreal’s feet. Another one of my favorite shots out of this back half of this issue is most definitely Eco’s greeting to the invaders, known as the ominous Outreach. We get some top-tier Samoan representation, some more amazing character moments amidst the action, and an epic finale shot that may tease an epic clash between two of the most powerful beings on the team. Both beautiful and strong women, might I add.

One of my last questions, more of a fanboy-gushing moment, was me asking about what could be teased to other fans of this series, whether it be epic shonen-styled fight scenes between certain highly powerful characters, or the brief tease of the mysterious Mr. Excellent. Task answered with, “I’m trying to make this world seem as big and alive that I can. And that there’s more going on than what is happening in the books. Mr. Excellent’s story will lead to another story arch that I am excited to share. And it’s funny how you brought up the fights with Lunar because let’s just say she’s not entirely sold on the idea of this team up yet. Where she comes from she reigns over these beings, not collaborate with them. Issue 3 is on the way folks. Stay tuned.”

Well done, Free World. You have a special place in my love for comics now, and I cannot wait to see what an amazing franchise this becomes soon.

A Cybrogi. That’s it. ‘Nuff Said.

No weekly plugs this week, folks. Not like I usually do, I mean. No, all I want to suggest to my readers is to check out this new comic book ASAP. This is seriously one of the most enjoyable comic reads I’ve had in a very long time, for sure. It’s pretty amazing, and the series is available on Comixology right now, or, if you’d like, you can follow the writer @uptotask, or the artist @artbyatlas0 on Twitter.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Leaders of the Free World #3!

Switchin’ up my outro like I usually do too, folks. This time, I’m quoting Gamer Presidential Candidate, Mr. Ace Watkins.

*ahem*

Not solo; squad.

A Mother’s Strength – A Love Letter to All Moms

Hi, folks. Welcome back! Just your friendly neighborhood vibe-loving mystic sage back with another message from the stars! Or, if you prefer, just another self-proclaimed freelance writer writing to celebrate Mother’s Day today. That’s right, folks, this one goes out to your moms out there.

Made This Arrangement For the Mothers in Our Lives

This is a love letter to all moms; all moms who, today, feel incredibly special, but tend to later forget how special they are.

This is for enduring the nine months of childbearing, stomach-kicking, and craving-inducing babies that moms goes through.

This is for the cradling and rocking of our infant selves as we quiet our cries, to bask in the sound of a sweet motherly song.

Thanks, for if it weren’t for you, we’d have one less pair of shoulders to cry on when needed.

Thanks, for the warm hugs as we say goodbye and goodnight at the end of each day.

And thanks, for the sweet relief of inviting scents of delicacies and warm treats for us at the start of each day.

This is for tilting our chins up, when we are uncertain, as we are reassured with a gentle smile.

This is for being the backbone of our lives, as we struggle, and eventually, continue to build the foundation of ourselves.

This is for those who walk alongside us, with care and kindness, as we embark onward without a clue in the world.

And even when the lights are turned off, and trifling terrors and malicious menaces haunt our naive selves, mothers somehow show us the light within the dark.

The stars, and the moons, and all of the celestial bodies up above, and somehow, each of us found a mother.

Mothers, motherly souls, and others who have adopted the mom-aesthetic to carry out the strength and love that have helped us grow, blossom, and rejuvenate this world,

This is a love letter to you.


Those who are lucky enough to be with their mom today, hug them a little tighter today. I want to help share this with anyone who is struggling right now. Spread this message that’s encoded with love, kindness, and an energetically charged motherly hug to those who may or may not be able to see their mother today. I promise you, they love you. And they’re with you. ✨💫

Happy Mother’s Day