Euphoria’s Jules (Hunter Schafer) is profoundly traumatized. Between her estranged mother’s substance abuse issues, a scarring stint in a children’s mental hospital, and her brutal experience with catfishing (and blackmail), she’s endured far more than most of her rowdy, rebellious peers in the show—not to mention the way she’s imposed the burden of maintaining Rue’s (Zendaya) sobriety on herself. So it’s only natural that the second of Euphoria’s pandemic-era special episodes would find her in a therapist’s office.
Co-written by Schafer and the show’s creator-director Sam Levinson, “Jules” offers more intrigue than the stagnant Rue-focused episode of last month, with a much bleaker outlook on its protagonist’s future. Where a recently-relapsed girl found solace and tenderness in “Rue”—an episode with the aphoristic alternate title that insists “Trouble Don’t Last Always”—our new titular teen finds very little to be hopeful about this time around.
In this first visit with a new therapist, we witness Jules talk through so much. She’s still dealing with the emotional wreckage from her relationship with Rue and the devastating revelation that her sweet, affectionate “Tyler” was actually Jacob Elordi’s sinister Nate Jacobs. She’s reassessing the motivations behind her gender transition and grappling with how many personal choices she’s made in the service of what she assumed men wanted. Her perspective on Rue’s addiction can’t help but be colored by her own strained ties with her mother. Plus, she’s having nightmares that depict an overdosed Rue dead behind a locked bathroom door in an apartment the two of them share. Oof.
Departing from the more obviously COVID-restricted “Rue,” which was entirely set in a diner, “Jules” marks the return of Levinson’s showy camera work, graphic sex scenes, and swirling dream sequences, but it also stares directly at the reality of Jules’ (lifelong and more recent) pain and victimization. The result makes for a non-stop trauma-thon.
Schafer’s performance (and writing) clearly elevates this episode, holding our attention with everything from a subtle lip quiver to a heart-wrenching sob. In particular, she shines in the quieter, joyful moments which recount Rue and Jules’ relationship, like a scene in which Rue gently injects Jules’ hormones for her before the two girls collapse into bed together.
Despite being dolled up in glittery eye makeup and a funky score, the first season of Euphoria’s perspective on adolescent drug use, sex, and interpersonal relationships was dark. “Jules” is even bleaker, with little flair or sparkly eyeliner to distract you from our heroine’s despair. These two episodes were only supposed to operate as a small bridge from Season 1 to 2, but they seem to have also shifted something fundamental about the show itself. Even if the vaccine miraculously allows Euphoria to return to its raucous roots—the current plan is to resume shooting in March—it’s difficult to imagine the show jumping right back into a frenetic, kaleidoscopic world after these two devastating character studies.
It’s rather befitting our COVID era of tremendous sorrow that the only environments that can be relatively safe to shoot in (though the jury’s still out on whether anybody should even be filming at the moment) are the ones that don’t allow their fictional characters to have much fun. Levinson’s other quarantine project, Malcolm & Marie, runs into the same issue: Coronavirus precautions limited the size of the cast and the scale of the film, the result being little more than “an attractively photographed shouting match.”
The final moments of “Jules” show Zendaya and Schafer’s characters reunited for the first time in reality since their dramatic separation at the end of Season 1. A pre-COVID version of this scene might’ve been explosive. Instead we don’t even see the two touch before Rue’s abrupt departure. We leave Jules alone in bed, crying herself to sleep. Like so much of the world in the past year, Euphoria’s changed, and we might not ever return to the way things were before.