Euphoria Special: 1.01 Trouble Don't Last Always: Rue
Premiering last summer on HBO and Sky Atlantic to a wave of controversy, Euphoria was not your typical teen television drama. The fact that it was an HBO production, not to mention the involvement of indie darlings A24, immediately suggested that this was going to be as far away from the writings of Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life) and Kevin Williamson (Dawson's Creek) as you were going to get.
Right away with its graphic depictions of drug-taking, sex, not to mention former Grey's Anatomy star Eric Dane doing a full-frontal nude scene (in an aroused state too), you immediately realised that this was not going to be the type of series one might find on The CW, or invoke the nostalgic feeling of all those US teen dramas that once filled Channel 4's T4 block of programming at the weekends.
If anything, Euphoria was more reminiscent of the works of Gregg Araki, Larry Clarke or Harmony Korine, with full-on adult material that would be enough to give parents nightmares about what their kids might be up to when they weren't around. It was a full-on assault for the senses, and while it might not have been subtle, it was prone to finding moments of poignancy amongst its more shocking scenes. It also made for engrossing viewing.
The revelation at the heart of the series was the central performances of Zendaya and Hunter Schafer, and with production on season two having been delayed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, creator Sam Levinson has opted to bridge the long gap between seasons by delivering two specials, each centred on the now broken apart relationship at the heart of so much of it storytelling.
Trouble Don't Last Always might come as a shock to anyone used to Euphoria's intense pace and increasingly shocking moments. For anyone coming back to the show hoping for more of the same, you're going to be left waiting. Essentially one could argue that this is Euphoria's version of a 'bottle episode'; outside of its opening dream sequence that then segues into the main diner-setting of the episode, Sam Levinson's script is effectively a two-person play performed magnificently by Zendaya as Rue and Colman Domingo as her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Ali.
The majority of the fifty-five minutes duration seldom leaves the diner and instead just wallows magnificently in the two characters talking about addiction, their lives and their heartaches, with none of Euphoria's brand of shock tactics rearing its head. It is a shocking show, but I don't use that disparagingly. Sure enough, most of what is depicted on the series has a considerable impact and at least one episode has an image or sequence that will never leave your head, but it has always been a hard series to look away from, and the writing always sucks you in so irrevocably.
However, seeing the series slow down and puts its sole focus on character, dialogue and performances also shows the heart behind the extremity of so much of its content. The series has no choice in the matter obviously, but it gives Euphoria a good fifty-five minutes to indicate to its critics and naysayers that there is so much more going on here than what's on the surface, there there is heart and sadness coursing through its veins.
Zendaya deservedly won an Emmy for her work on season one, and the series has shown that there is so much more to her acting abilities than merely being 'the superhero's girlfriend' in the Marvel movies or 'Zac Afron's girlfriend' and The Greatest Showman. Rue's cocky swagger has always hidden that more vulnerable heart underneath the confidence, and we watch it melt away over the course of the duration here in a way that should almost guarantee a second Emmy.
There is a danger that Levinson's dialogue might become overburdened or heavy-handed, but it's delivered with grace and aplomb by both Zendaya and Domingo, as they lay out their life experiences and, in Rue's case, her declaration that she 'doesn't mean to be here for too long'.
It's an achingly sad moment that is subtly dealt with, with no histrionics or manipulation. The series has frequently had an ability to be like a Ryan Murphy series or a Quentin Tarantino film, with creator Sam Levinson effectively going through his collection of movie score soundtracks and finding the right composition from an older movie, to play perfectly over so many scenes on the show.
Here, he just lets the camera do its thing, taking in Rue's devastating intent to die, how Ali reacts to it and then lets us watch as they go from there. It's as powerful a moment a television series has ever delivered, and possibly Euphoria's greatest and most genuinely heartbreaking scene. For a series most famous for its controversial edge, the first of these two specials not only leaves you eagerly awaiting the second, which will be from Jules' point of view, but lets you know that here is a series fully capable of hitting you where it hurts.