‘Euphoria’s special episodes are beautifully unnecessary

Impressive writing and acting can’t save the episodes from their own redundance

The special episodes follow Rue and Jules after the events of the show’s first season.
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When Euphoria announced two unexpected special episodes last November, there wasn’t much indication of what those episodes would look like.

The announcement said little more than that two episodes, one focusing on Rue and the other on Jules, were produced during the pandemic and would be released in the coming months. I was excited to see more from the show, which I binged back in April. Euphoria’s format throughout Season One was fast-paced and full of eye-catching sets, wardrobe, and plot points. The special episodes broke the mould, replacing the show’s regular dark, impractical plots with a bout of depressing realism.

Season Two of the HBO drama was originally intended to air in 2020, but filming has been pushed back to March of this year due to COVID-19. As a result, the showrunners made the decision to create two special episodes dissecting the two main characters, Rue and Jules. The pair had been left a chaotic spot at the end of the first season: Jules got on a train to run away and Rue relapsed and fell into a drug-induced musical fantasy. Fans expected that our next interaction with these characters would deal with some kind of messy fallout; the special episodes skipped the mess, focusing instead on the character’s recovery.

Both episodes have relatively the same format. In “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” Rue sits at a diner with her pseudo-sponsor, Ali, on Christmas Eve. Last time we saw the character, it was unclear where the show might take her next. “Trouble” doesn’t bother to give us answers. Instead, the episode stays in and around the diner as Rue and Ali talk about what it means to be an addict. The writing is intensely grounded, completely separate from the almost fantasy-like teenage world we had been introduced to in previous episodes. At times, watching “Trouble” feels more like watching an anti-drug PSA than an episode of television.

In the second special episode, “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob,” Jules speaks to a therapist, also on Christmas Eve. Since we last saw Jules, she’d been brought home from the city by her father. In the episode, Jules talks to her therapist about her relationship with femininity as a trans woman as well as how her relationship with Rue mirrors that of her relationship with her mother. In both episodes, the topics are worthwhile discussions about where the characters are mentally and how they were impacted by the events of the last season.

While beautifully written and featuring standout performances from Zendaya and Hunter Schafer, it’s hard to forget the circumstances of the special episodes. Produced in the middle of a pandemic, the episodes both featured few characters, extras, and changes in set. They end up feeling like bottle episodesunnecessary and cheaply made pieces of television that do little to further the plot. The second episode gets a little more leeway, with some scenes flashing back to Jules with her parents that we haven’t seen before. Otherwise, the episodes are two hours worth of realistic conversation that rely on the actors to hold our attention. It’s easier said than done.

At every commercial break, I found myself wishing the next scene would take us to a new location where we could further the overarching plot. To my disappointment, we would always return to where we left off, in the middle of a conversation that felt like it could have happened off-screen.

I won’t deny that both of Euphoria’s special episodes are excellent studies of very complex characters. They are rare pieces of television that almost never get made. However, there’s a reason for that: it’s often exhausting as an audience member to watch an episode of television that’s devoid of plot. No matter how technically impressive, it’s simply not very exciting to watch. In a show usually full of excitement, it’s a little disappointing. 

The end of “Sea Blob” gives us a tiny bit of plot to look forward to in season two; Rue visits Jules in a short scene where they speak for the first time since the end of the first season. Their relationship is strained, and neither of them are in a good mental space. The electric chemistry between Zendaya and Hunter Schafer gave the special a spark, if only for a moment. Diving into their relationship, even for just an instant, finally felt like something we as an audience needed to see.

For the first time in two episodes, I was excited to see what was going to happen next. Sadly, that’s something we won’t know until the premiere of season two—whenever that may be.

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