I was 12 years old the first time I looked at myself in a mirror and thought I didn’t deserve to be alive. At the time, I didn’t know that what I was feeling was greater than me, that it was something that would follow me around all my life, a disease that I would have to learn to live with forever. At 12 years old, I looked at myself in a mirror and believed that my life was not worth living. I want to say that I never had that thought again but that would be a massive lie. Over the years, I learned how to deal with my anxiety and depression, a battle that has taken me years to simply accept as my daily reality. The truth is, my mental health will always be something I will have to overcome, something that I will have to be conscious of and accept. I can’t ignore it, I have to deal with it whether I want it or not. Now, you might be wondering why the hell I am opening this review like this. Well, it’s because I want to put context around what I am about to write. You need to know where I am coming from. Because as I sat down and watched this special episode of Euphoria I could simply not help myself but go back to this scared 12 years old kid who starred at her mirror and wondered if she deserved to breathe. What Euphoria did with this episode is put to words what I have been feeling my entire life, and in the process, expand on its lead character in the most simple and impressive way it could have ever done.
When the first season of Euphoria aired, I watched it with a bit of skepticism. Not because I didn’t think it would be good, but because it would deal with issues that I was too familiar with. Too often, television and film treat mental illness and drug addiction as a joke or a way to make a character the villain. A disease that has killed so many around the world had barely ever been represented in a way that I felt represented what I had experienced over my lifetime. But then, Euphoria happened. I am not saying that Euphoria is the perfect representation of what addiction and mental health issues can do to someone but it is so close. Sam Levinson has talked in depth about his own addiction and mental health problems and how close to him and his life Rue is. The way the show handled Rue’s addiction and the depiction of it has been one of the strongest points of the show but because it was hidden behind cool shots and glitter, her struggle never felt as big as it truly was. After this special episode, that is a statement I can no longer make. Because this bottle episode of Euphoria dived right into Rue’s psyche and for the first time, we probably know her better than we ever have before.
Euphoria’s first season was full of glitter, fast-paced and shots that always had you wondering how they got it done. This is not that. This is a stripped-down version of Euphoria if I can say. It might turn some fans off because of the fact that it isn’t the glamorous and extravagant show we have come to known, but if you look beyond all of that, you are put in front of what I would consider one of the most captivating hours of television in recent years. Because this episode was true that, captivating. Two actors at the top of their game, sitting down and acting the shit out of a script that was pitch perfect. Because yes, this episode is essentially Rue (Zendaya) and Ali (Colman Domingo) sitting down at a diner after an AA meeting on Christmas Eve and talking about Rue’s relapse, addiction and life. It’s slow, it’s poignant, it’s captivating and it’s the dive we needed to finally understand Rue completely. After this episode, it is impossible to look at Rue and not understand why she does the thing she does. What Euphoria did with this bottle episode is what many shows wish they could do, they laid out the entire psyche of their main character and explained to us exactly who she was even better than they had done before. Because we already knew who Rue was, we had seen it over and over again, but now we understand how Rue sees herself, how she sees life and what she thinks she deserves.
There’s a moment in the episode where Rue tells Ali that the drugs are the only reason why she is still alive. It’s the first time Rue says out loud that she wants to die. During the hour, she repeats it multiple times. Tells him that she doesn’t think she will be here for much longer. It’s a harsh statement to make, but one that I understood deeply within me. Ali proceeds to ask her what impression she wishes to leave behind once she is gone. If she is going to leave this Earth, what does she want her mother and sister to remember her as. Rue’s answer? “Someone who tried really hard to be someone she couldn’t.” And in that one sentence, we see who Rue is. A kid who tried and failed and doesn’t see a way out. Rue never had a chance, she had no intention of staying clean at the beginning of the first season. She got cleaned and stayed cleaned only because Jules wanted her too and Jules became her drug. Projecting onto her, falling in love with her in the span of moments, going in headfirst and never looking back even if Jules never told her she felt the same way. Rue subtracted one drug for another. And now, that new addiction is gone, leaving her at a train station alone. So she went back, back to the one thing that had made her forget about everything, had silenced the voices in her head. Rue’s addiction is a cycle that she cannot break, a way for her to cope with her reality. It’s harsh, it’s ugly, it’s unforgivable at times but it’s the truth for so many around the world. Euphoria doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of addiction, it embraces it. It talks about it.
But Euphoria doesn’t forgive Rue. Because forgiving Rue would simply mean letting her do everything that she has been doing for as long as we have known her. No, it makes her confront her truths. Ali is there to be her conscience, to call her on her bullshit, to tell her to be accountable. With essentially one hour and two characters, the show is capable of stopping time and simply explaining to us what addiction is. It explores the world, humanity and the consequences of our decision. It’s an hour of television that can’t be overlooked, an hour of television that is so strong not only in terms of acting but also in writing. Zendaya proved during the first season how strong of an actress she is, after all, she did win an Emmy for her performance, but this episode is on another level. With just facial expression, subtle looks, smiles, frowns, she sells Rue’s journey without speaking. But when she speaks, oh it’s something else. Rue’s emotional journey is at the route of this hour and Zendaya is capable of making us believe it completely. The smugness that she starts with slowly disappearing as the hour advance and Rue is forced to face the reality of her actions, ending in a devastating revelation. Colman Domingo provides Zendaya with so much and commands every second he is in. The monologues he recites are captivating and effortless, his demeanour changing when needed. Ali had never been a character that Euphoria had spent a lot of time developing and exploring but Domingo created a full-fleshed character in an hour, a character that became Rue’s anchor point in a world that she has no idea how to live in. The two of them together for an hour created pure magic.
Before this episode, I had never seen my psyche portrayed on television. I had never seen someone articulate how I had felt about the world when I was younger and got helped. And yet, right now, I sit and write about a show that understands me more than I probably understood myself at the time. A show that maybe hid behind the extravagant during the first season but right now proved to be more than just visuals and cool music cues. Because Euphoria: Part One Rue is a character study, a one-hour long episode that can live on its own. Exploring its main character in a clever and subtle way. Addressing issues in the show but also our world. It’s a masterclass in writing and acting, providing a much needed to breathe not only for its characters but also the audience. Going deeper into a character that we already knew and love and showcasing its main actress talent in a way that is never flashy or extravagant. It’s stripped down and slow but never boring. What this hour of television did is showcasing that Euphoria is more than the drama and glitter that we became accustomed to during its first season. No, Euphoria is a show that has a point to make and wants to educate you in more ways than one.
You can watch Euphoria : Part One Rue right now on HBO Max (USA) and Crave (Canada) or this Sunday on HBO.