Euphoria Special: 1.02 F*** Anyone Who's Not a Seablob: Jules
If the first volume of Euphoria's two specials saw the series on a more subtle footing or at least one that reined in its more excessive visual stylings, then it feels like creator/showrunner Sam Levinson is making up for the more restrained nature of that episode here.
The love story between Rue and Jules is very much the emotional centre of the series, aided magnificently by Zendaya and Hunter Schafer's performances and some of Sam Levinson's more compassionate and less sensationalistic writing. A lot of the good work is down to those performances, and the choice to focus these two episodes on each half of the show's central relationship, has clearly brought out the best in the series.
For anyone won over by the sedate visual style and emphasis on a more grounded atmosphere that made the first special such compelling viewing, and who might have previously found Levinson's directorial flourishes during the initial first season a tad much. might be disappointed to see that Euphoria's house style of overt sexuality and intense production values are back in full swing. For anyone else who is a convert to the series at this point, then this is perhaps the purest dose of Euphoria yet, an intense psychological trip into Jules' psyche, character and life.
Initially, it appears as if we might be in for something similarly structured as Rue's episode; the diner has been substituted for the office of Jules' therapist, and it appears we are going to be in for a forty-five-minute conversation, a bottle episode again. Levinson and Schaefer's script changes gears considerably and soon we are thrown into Jules' psyche, thoughts and the inner workings of her mind, crosscutting between her conversation with her therapist and a visual portrayal of what she is talking about.
Her relationship with Rue and how her addiction affects Jules, are contrasted with that of a similarly tragic story involving her mother, and given that the last special also dealt with addiction and suicide, it once again reiterates just how dark a slice of teen drama Euphoria is. This has never been a series for everyone, and for audiences who like their teen dramas with a slice of network gloss like The O.C. or that touch of wholesome drama like Dawson's Creek, a stylishly provocative HBO series like this was always going to stray into dark and sometimes uncomfortable places.
Euphoria's fearlessness in straying into confrontational content, where sex and nudity are on what feels like constant display and where drug-taking and substance abuse are dealt with in graphic detail, means that the series has frequently landed itself with the label controversial. But that also means that when it is subtle (and it can be subtle), the more powerful and poignant elements gets lost in the conversation.
Case in point, this episode. This is a forty-five-minute piece of television which is driven entirely from the viewpoint of a character who is a trans woman, and with it comes an exploration of character that is very much driven by what it means to be trans. With a script co-written by Schafer herself, the episode touches on Jules' exploration of her trans identity, and not just her views and thoughts on her relationship with Rue and her parents.
Any other teen series, especially something that might have ended up on network television, might have just treated a character like Jules as a mere supporting character, there in the background and to show off just how diverse it is. Instead, Jules has been made into a character who is very much driving a lot of the story, placed front and centre in the middle of its most important and popular relationship. She is allowed to be a fully-fledged three-dimensional character in her own right, with her own set of dramas and stories that belong to her.
Over the course of its runtime, the visual style becomes more and more overwhelming, but Schaefer's performance keeps everything grounded and focused, the episode eventually building up to a devastating final scene that finally reunites Jules with Rue and a conversation between the two that we've been waiting for since the first season's final moments. For all of Levinson's cine-literate direction and clear love of Brian DePalma, both episodes essentially come down to a simple and beautifully awkward moment between the two characters where simultaneously so much is said, and yet nothing at all. It's a wonderful scene and features equally superlative work from Zendaya, but make no mistake, the episode belongs to Schafer.
Even if Levinson's direction and mode of conveying the story is a visual cornucopia that might prove too much for some, the truth is that if the first season of the series wasn't proof enough then here it's abundantly clear; Schaefer's work on the series and in particular this episode as writer and actress is that of a star in the making.