The last time we saw Rue Bennett (Zendaya) she was being swallowed up by a mass of bodies in the street after relapsing back into her drug addiction. It was powerful and symbolic, her body seemingly being pulled through her house and out to the crowd by a careless puppet master, slamming her into walls and tables as she went.
When season one of Euphoria ended, we expected we’d see the aftermath of that relapse in a second series, but coronavirus had other ideas. Filming on the new instalments was delayed, scripts reportedly rewritten and plans rejigged to include two special “bridge” episodes to make the wait more bearable.
Those vignettes might not have been what creator Sam Levinson originally intended, but the first one, ‘Trouble Don’t Last Always’, shows they’re no mere stopgaps. The ongoing pandemic has imposed a bunch of limitations on filming, but out of them comes emotional, astonishingly executed gold that makes you question everything that happened in season one.
Things start happily enough – Rue planting a frenzy of kisses on Jules (Hunter Schafer), who wakes her up before another day at college. As they say goodbye at the door of their apartment, Jules smiles at her and says: “Can you believe it? It’s everything we dreamed of.” After Jules went through with Rue’s plan to run away at the end of season one – despite Rue not showing up to board their getaway train – it seems they’ve made up and everything is rosy. But the second Jules is out the door, Rue heads to the bathroom, crushes up a pill and snorts it. When she exits the room, she’s not in their home but a sparsely populated diner, sharing pre-Christmas pancakes with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo). Seems like it was all a dream after all.
What follows is an hour-long episode that barely moves from one place. There are no glitter make-up embellishments, hardly a break in focus on two characters and one overriding subject – the very thing we saw Rue collapse into at the end of season one – stripping away the external distractions and getting right to the very core of what Euphoria has always been about. It’s heavy going, and the plot covers religion, the death of Rue’s father, life’s luck of the draw and capitalism’s cynical embrace of social causes, but it always comes back to the root tale of addiction.
Without strong writing and even stronger performances, it would be very easy for this episode to drag, but Zendaya and Domingo are compelling throughout. Zendaya melts back into Rue’s fan favourite burgundy hoodie, her face lined with misery, each tiny movement giving away when she’s holding back tears. Domingo’s emotions are more noticeably on display, cycling through frustration, sadness, regret and relief as he tries to help Rue see she’s not the “unforgivable” person she’s come to believe she is and guide her to a place where she sees the value in getting clean and staying alive.
The premise of this first bridge episode may be simple, but its effects are impressively powerful, taking us deep into a nuanced character study of a girl who’s lost, lonely and struggling to find a way out. Where things go from here is still unclear but, in beginning to unpick Rue’s current mindset, it gives us a better understanding of her as a whole.
‘Trouble Don’t Last Always’ recap:
Fake Rules? In season one, we saw Jules and Rue get matching lip tattoos that read: “Rules”. It seemed real then but, during her conversation with Ali, Rue explains they only talked about doing it. She told us last series that she was an unreliable narrator, but this moment makes you question what other scenes were fantasy too.
Me in 20 years: When Ali heads out to the parking lot for a smoke and to call his estranged family, Rue pulls out her phone to find a message from Jules. “I miss you,” it reads with a red heart emoji, before a Spotify link to Moses Sumney’s ‘Me In 20 Years’. It’s an interesting song to send – one that ponders whether your fate is to be alone forever, haunted by another person’s impact on your life (“Hey, after all these years I’m still here, fingers outstretched/With your imprint in my bed, a pit so big I lay on the edge”).
The disease of addiction: Throughout the episode, Ali subtly and explicitly tries to show Rue that she’s not a lost cause or someone who should be ostracised from society because of the things she’s done. “Drugs change who you are as a person,” he tells her and when she rejects the idea that he – a seemingly good person – has ever slipped as low as her, shares stories from his own battles with drugs that prove her, and society at large, wrong.
Ave Maria: Euphoria Special Episode One ends with Rue and Ali leaving the diner and driving away in his truck. The camera slowly zooms in on Rue’s face, which seemingly begins to age dramatically, becoming heavier and more worn. ‘Ave Maria’ – only the second piece of music to appear in the episode – soundtracks the moment, a singer trilling about salvation “amid despair”. Is it a prayer that will get a positive answer in season two?
‘Euphoria Special Episode One: Trouble Don’t Last Always’ airs at 9pm tonight (December 7) on Sky Atlantic