In just one short season of television, there are so many ways that “Euphoria” changed not just television, but popular culture. With Zendaya at its helm, the show is a stylish high school drama about the massive psychological weight of drug addiction, the complex web of sexuality and the unique difficulties that come with the digital age.
In the first season, “Euphoria” had a pace almost unparalleled in speed. It raced from story to story, location to location, bursting with creative camerawork and exhilaratingly snappy editing. So when it made its return, not with a second season, but with two special episodes centered around a single, slow-paced conversation, it was a game-changer for what fans had come to expect.
The first part was about Rue (Zendaya, “Spider Man: Far From Home”) and her mental journey with drug addiction after a recent relapse. The second part tells the same events from the perspective of Jules (Hunter Schafer), Rue’s spontaneous and self-assured love interest. After the release of the first part, I considered it one of the most moving episodes of television in recent memory. Now, I feel part two might have surpassed it.
The episode is told through a conversation between Jules and her new therapist. From the start, she is unwilling to talk about the events of the end of the first season. Instead, to the surprise of the therapist, she expresses that she wants to go off hormones. She soon clarifies, however, that this is not because she wants to detransition.
Jules is poetic in the way that she talks about her gender. As she puts it, men are “boring” and “not creative” with what they want. She is frustrated with crafting her femininity around what men consider womanly. Instead, she’s brilliant and imaginative enough to think abstractly and seek femininity that is thick and deep, “like the ocean.” She laments how “my entire life, I’ve been trying to conquer femininity, and somewhere along the way, I feel like femininity conquered me.”
The episode reaches wonderfully profound moments like this, while later bringing us down to personal, traumatic lows. For the first time in the show, Jules dives into her gut-wrenching relationship with her mother who, like Rue, has had her own battles with drug addiction.
It also explores her brief connection with the boy who catfished her and the poignant truth that every child who grew up in the digital age knows all too well: Online relationships can be just as emotionally impactful as those in the real world. In fact, they’re often felt more deeply because they’re built on imagination and endless potential. They provide a magical allure that promises the solution to every problem you have. And when they end, or when they miss those unreachable expectations, it’s a form of heartbreak that is as cruel as any other.
It’s a remarkably courageous choice for the show to turn away much of the flashiness it has become known for. By centering these two special episodes on the intricate emotion of its characters, the series becomes more vulnerable than ever before. It explores contemporary feelings with levels of wisdom and experience that might have never before been handled so elegantly. The lack of flare also proves how talented creator Sam Levinson (“Assassination Nation”) is as a writer. His biggest strength is not his stylish pacing nor his twists and turns. Rather, it’s the levels of emotional nuance he’s able to uncover with seasoned maturity.
This episode is a masterclass in abstract, modern feeling. It’s exposed and painful and unafraid to take us to the deepest truths it can find. More than that, it’s a genuine, no-B.S. dive into the heart and mind of one the most beautiful characters of the decade. From the performance, to the writing, to the absolutely gorgeous, soul-stirring visuals and music, “Euphoria” is one of the most well-crafted, important shows on television right now. If they didn’t prove that in the first season, they certainly have now.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.