Amidst a collective paralysis, Sam Levinson and the Euphoria cast rise to the challenge of creating movement forward for the show in Special Episodes: Part 1 and 2. As we come back to the world of Euphoria, we have had time and space away from it, and so have the protagonists Rue and Jules. For the first time, we see each character in their own spaces, ready to talk (one way or the other), and are reminded that we need to do so as well; we need to stop, to breathe, to sit with it, and to talk about it. When we get comfortable on the couch in the therapist’s office or settle into a cup of bad coffee at our local diner, is when we begin to move forward. When we get uncomfortable is when we come up for air. Both episodes juxtapose ideas of inside and outside, past and future, reality and fantasy, stillness and movement, internal and external. Each of these contrasts allows for constant conversation between episodes. In assessing how Levinson manipulates notions of place and time, in Special Episodes 1 and 2, it becomes clear that until we look back, we cannot move forward.
The qualities of Special Episode 1: Trouble Don't Last Always are subtle and nuanced, slow and gradual. Viewers are catapulted back into the elusive nature of the relationship between Rue and Jules as the episode opens into their hypothetical New York Apartment. The bathroom mirror, perpetually visible, acts as the only object of true reflection in this fantasy. Once Rue is alone in the apartment, she habitually inhales a line off the toilet seat, flips the hood of her signature hoodie once worn by her father, and we snap back to reality. Rue’s reflection occurs in Frank’s sleepy suburban diner, where we find Ali sitting across the table, awaiting a têt-à-têt.
Our vantage point onto their conversation oscillates between inside and outside the diner. When the conversation remains defensive and surface, we stay outside, where the glass window act as a barrier. The glass barrier acts as a filter and distorts the image. We can’t see the true Rue from outside. When Rue decides to finally talk, to say what she means, we move inside. As the conversation snakes from sobriety to faith, to Jules, to Rue’s self-esteem, and to Ali’s past, we move from inside to outside, outside to inside. Still, it is only when we’re inside the diner, without a barrier, and with clarity, that we are right-hooked with dialogue such as: “believe in the poetry because everything in your life will fail you, including yourself.” Ali steps out for a smoke break, and Rue checks her phone for relief, only to find they cannot hide from outside from inside the safety of the diner. Me in 20 Years by Moses Sumney anchors the silent episode as the past of Ali’s family and Jules’s affection steps into the present and reminds the characters of what’s really on the table here. Ali uses verbiage such a “look deeper” and “are you okay with that?” reminiscent of language used in therapy to challenge Rue. She confesses that she hopes her legacy to be “someone who tried really hard to be someone I couldn’t,” and the rain begins to fall. As the rain pounds down onto the windshield of Ali’s car, her face blurs, and we are unsure of how her image will change. A religious-like incantation signals a kind of cleansing, a washing away, but what will be left is uncertain.
If Special Episode 1 is subtle and sedentary, then Episode 2: Fuck Anyone Who's Not a Seablob is chaotic and moving. We oscillate between reality and fantasy, inside the therapist’s office, and places unfamiliar, past, present, and future. The bare-faced and undone Jules greets us in the opening scene, followed by a projection reflected onto the glass of her eyeball. We watch her watching it all back and feeling it; this scene is indicative of how the body stores memory.
We hear the patter of rain against the window as she delves into what she really wants to talk about; a release is happening in this space as well. The sun illuminates the room with the first mention of Rue’s name, and we find ourselves in the past, a familiar scene from the series, but now we have a new angle on it. When Jules chooses to be vulnerable, the viewer gains access to her world, her world with Tyler, her world with her mother, and the world of her femininity, mimicking our ability to uncover repressed trauma and hidden memory once in a safe space. When we are vulnerable, we gain a new kind of power. The highly anticipated song, Lo Vos A Ovidar, authored by powerhouses Rosalia and Billie Eilish, makes its debut as Jules begins to unlock a comparison between Rue and Jules’ mother and discovers a pattern of codependency.
Every time the episode transports us to a new place or time, witchy harmonies elevate our arrival; we witness Jules find her own faith, creating her own church. The therapist entices, “keep going with that” as she functions in a similar capacity to Ali. Jules recalls an intense sexual fantasy, bringing us to revisit the same hypothetical New York apartment, connecting the girls by their common desire to figure out the future. In this imaginary space, Jules’ notion of the past and future, as she reconciles her relationship with Tyler and the inevitable result of her love for Rue, comes colliding together. She must choose in this sexual fantasy, and she must decide, conquer femininity or let it conquer her. In the final scene, we find relief in Jules’s reality. We know her room and are comfortable to see Rue and Jules in the same frame again. The frustrated irresolution of their conversation is enraging. It reminds us of their inability to communicate, not saying what they need to. The episode ends similarly to the first, with the rain beating and an emotional Jules blurring as the camera pulls out through a glass window; what comes next is uncertain.
Each episode leaves us with heaviness but hope. A heaviness that the work has just begun, there is much more to do, but we’re headed in the right direction. When we talk about things, we can find stillness or chaos, we can find clarity or more confusion, but whatever awaits us comes with the gift of knowing that we are no longer experiencing it, and it can no longer hurt us. It is in the “can” where there lies possibility, and we begin to find our own kind of faith in this process. Levinson reminds us of the catharsis that awaits every time we watch Euphoria and affirms Euphoria’s ability to access the human condition. Special Episodes 1 and 2 are a much-needed reminder to viewers that no one has this figured out but the best we can do is find the beauty in the poetry.