Last night, HBO debuted on their channel (after having sneaked it a few days earlier on HBO Max) a special new episode of the breakout series Euphoria. The first season was a smash, winning Zendaya an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series, while the filming of the second season for creator Sam Levinson and company has been delayed by COVID-19. Not one to let Coronavirus and the pandemic keep his creative juices from flowing, Levinson not only created a film for Netflix with Zendaya called Malcolm & Marie, he followed strict protocol to shoot a special episode of Euphoria. Designed to bridge the gap between seasons, it’s a stripped down episode that is one of its most utterly effective.
For those not in the know, this is how the first season is described on Rotten Tomatoes: “The drama series follows the life of a group of teenagers dealing with sex, parties and drug abuse. Rue (Zendaya) has come out of rehab but has no plans to remain clean, Jules (Hunter Schafer) is a transgender girl who has hard time trying to fit in, Nate (Jacob Elordi) struggles with sexual insecurities, Chris (Algee Smith) is having trouble adjusting to college life, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) can’t seem to escape her past, and Kat (Barbie Ferreira) is trying to explore her sexuality. In Season 1, the kids go through many challenging events, but despite the difficulties they learn to deal with what life throws at them.” For this special episode, this is the description, also from RT: “Rue celebrates Christmas in the aftermath of being left by Jules at the train station and relapsing in the first of two special episodes.” Directed by Levinson, the episode features Zendaya, along with a bit of Hunter Schafer, as well as Colman Domingo, who memorably had a brief appearance last season.
This special episode focuses on Zendaya’s Rue and Domingo’s Ali. While we learn more about Ali, it’s mostly a long conversation between the two of them, not just about addiction and drugs, but about life. He’s trying to break through and get through to her, while she resists. It’s as much heartbreaking as it is intellectually stimulating. For a show so often designed around style and camera movements, this is almost entirely content to observe these two flawed human beings. If you didn’t already feel for Rue, you sure will now, even if she’ll frustrate you a great deal as well. From top to bottom, whether it’s Sam Levinson’s filmmaking, or the acting on display, everyone is going above and beyond here.
Different from Season One, and likely different from Season Two, but special in its own way, this is a riveting hour of television, with brilliant acting from Zendaya and Colman Domingo. Zendaya won the Emmy Award for her work in Season One, and she continues to shine here. It’s vulnerable work, the kind that we’ve come to expect from here on this series. What makes it so unique is all of the flash and style is largely removed here, centering it on acting and acting alone. It’s one of the show’s best episodes, bar none.
Looking forward, Season Two will probably be flashier, like Season One, though COVID and the changes in how things are being shot may change that. For now, this first special episode is an excellent return to characters we care about. At it’s core, Euphoria does an epically good job of that. Count me in for more, as soon as it’s safe…
Be sure to check out the special episode of Euphoria, now on HBO and HBO Max!
(Photos courtesy of HBO)