A Euphoric New Episode
Photo courtesy of Entertainment Tonight: Zendaya as Rue in the diner, across from Colman Domingo as Ali (not pictured).
The start of December marked more than just the final month in the series of long, exhausting months that have composed 2020. For fans of HBO Max’s famous show Euphoria, December brought back a vivid new realm, filled with bright colors and complex characters: the newest episode since August of 2019.
Titled “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” the 55-minute episode focuses almost entirely on a lengthy dialogue between Rue, the show’s protagonist played by renowned actress Zendaya, and a new character: Rue’s sponsor, Ali. The episode’s content does not hesitate to plunge viewers right back into the world of the show; one of addiction, heartbreak and – true to the name – euphoria.
The previous episode of the show, “And Salt the Earth Behind You,” served as the first season’s finale and left Rue relapsing after weeks of sobriety, displayed through a dramatic musical performance of Labrinth’s hit song “All For Us”. Her relapse was triggered by her final interaction with her love interest, Jules, who she parted ways with as Jules rode away to a brand new place beyond the borders of southern California.
Needless to say to anyone who has seen the episode already, the fast-paced and colorful world of Euphoria that fans remember from the first season was absent. The episode begins with a fantasy of Rue’s, in which she lives happily in a sun-filled apartment with Jules. After Jules leaves for work, Rue retrieves drugs from her closet to use. When she comes up to the mirror, suddenly viewers find themselves in a whole new setting: the bathroom of a diner, the night before Christmas.
Rue returns to her booth with Ali, and the rest of the episode unfolds in more or less the same setting, with only a few minutes spent watching Ali on the phone with his family in the parking lot and another few minutes in the car with the both of them at the end. Rue and Ali discuss a wide range of topics, nearly all culturally relevant today. Addiction, corporate performative activism, and suicide are among the most poignant.
Though I was initially disappointed by the lack of thrill in the show’s return, I came to realize that the essence of Euphoria prevailed despite the lack of a fast-paced plot: a dedication to a discussion of issues surrounding mental illness, oppression and love, with a level of candor rarely found in mainstream media.
Another intriguing aspect of the episode was its focus. Before it was available for streaming, Euphoria’s Instagram page offered a preview featuring a photo of Zendaya in character and a title: “Part 1: Rue.” The implication was clearly that the episode would center around Rue, an unsurprising choice given that she is the protagonist and narrator. Yet I did not expect that this episode would have such a small cast, including none of the show’s other iconic and well-loved characters such as Maddy, Kat, Nate, Cassie or McKay. Even Jules, the only other main character with some screen time, was not seen beyond the first couple minutes of the episode. This first episode’s focus on Rue does, however, imply that our other favorites will get their moments in the spotlight.
I do not want to snub the show’s newest addition, and one of the only other characters featured in the latest episode: Ali, played by Colman Domingo. Though my analysis of acting and character portrayal is certainly lacking, I loved this new character and the steadfast anecdotes and advice he animatedly spoke of with Rue. Domingo’s bluntness was refreshing, and his dry humor even made me laugh at an otherwise dark episode.
Regardless of their feelings of this first reintroduction, the show’s fans, myself included, remain excited for the next installment of the series, with a focus (once again divulged by Euphoria’s instagram) that comes as a surprise to no one: Jules.