In its debut season, Euphoria showed us the unvarnished experiences of adolescence, away from the prying eyes of parents. Episodes were dedicated to the characters’ struggles with gender, weight, depression, addiction, hyper-sexualisation, and all of the messy, harder to name emotions which come rushing at you when standing on the precipice of adulthood.
Now, in the second of the show’s two specials – intended to bridge the gap between seasons, rather than form part of either – we watch the action of season one through the eyes of Jules (Hunter Schafer). (Director Sam Levinson takes that approach literally, with the scenes flashing inside a close-up of her dilated pupil.) This reminder of everything Jules went through is more than just a recap; by shifting perspective, we see the story anew. Lorde’s delicate, yearning “Liability” plays, and the scenes flicker as though Jules is leafing through a photo album.
Following on from the first special, which catalogued Rue’s reckoning with addiction and heartbreak in an electric two-hander with Colman Domingo, Jules’s episode is also a therapy session, this time in a formal setting, where we find her reluctant to open up to her new therapist.
Co-written by Levinson and Schafer, “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob” is a meditation on Schafer’s experiences as a trans woman, much of which was inspired by a poem she wrote after leaving high school. The episode is a vehicle for Schafer to speak about the facets of womanhood she’s grappled with, putting her own experiences in Jules’s mouth. “I framed my entire womanhood around men,” she admits at one point. “When, in reality, I’m no longer interested in men.”
The episode challenges traditional cis notions of womanhood, with one especially memorable moment in which she talks about being afraid of puberty, because it meant that “femininity would always be this elusive, distant thing”. She goes on to talk about how she could be as broad and deep as the ocean, and how powerful that might feel, her words interspersed with shots of the sea washing over her.
Jules’s special stays in the same downcast register as Rue’s – it’s tough to shoot those dazzling ensemble scenes that Euphoria became famous for when everyone has to stay two metres apart – but it still strays into the fantastical. We see nightmarish sequences where Jules is cycling through tall trees or screaming into a dark room, which contrast with the dreamlike bliss of her and Rue blinking awake together. The tone, again, is a departure from the high-octane thrills of season one, but the quiet leaves space for contemplation, which here is genuinely meaningful.
The second special is another long conversation, this time shining a light on Jules’s side of her relationship with Rue. We learn that Jules had been dealing with her mother’s recovery and relapse before she left Rue on the train platform at the end of season one. Her confession offers all of the things which Rue would so desperately want to hear, but which Jules wasn’t able to say. “There so many times I wanted to kiss her, but I didn’t,” Jules says, frozen in her thoughts.
The special concludes with Rue coming through her bedroom door, and the pair coming face to face for real as she wishes her a Merry Christmas before bolting, meaning that this sequence happens on the same day Rue relapses and meets Ali at the diner. The last shot mirrors Rue’s episode as it slowly zooms out on Jules crying in her room and refusing the happy ending of going after her.
Where Euphoria goes from here will be interesting, as the sober mood of the specials has been notably different from the acrobatics the first season pulled. They have been fitting for a moment of inward reflection, though, and offered the chance to replay the accelerated action and see it afresh. The bridge episodes have also confirmed that that wherever the show goes next, it is at its best when showing the knotty anguish of growing up and when exploring the complicated relationship which is the beating heart of the show.
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