Jules may look ethereal, but she is not here to save anyone but herself — and she shouldn't have to.

By Clarkisha Kent
August 15, 2019 at 03:06 PM EDT
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Euphoria concluded its inaugural season with an eclectic and somewhat ambiguous finale. But one thing not left ambiguous was “Rules” deciding to go their separate ways after Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Rue (Zendaya) first resolve to run away together, then Rue backs out at the last minute while Jules decides to stay on the train. And it left a good chunk of fans who had spent the season shipping the couple in their feelings.

But the turn Jules’ and Rue’s relationship takes isn’t all that surprising — and is even refreshing — when you see Jules as Euphoria‘s deconstruction of the infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

While the character trope has been around for decades, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in 2007 to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, defining it as a woman who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Natalie Portman’s free-spirited nymph in Garden State became a prime example of the problematic archetype. Seven years later, Rabin denounced the term after observing that, like so many things on the internet, it was being stripped of its nuance and overused as a misogynistic shorthand. “I’m sorry for creating this unstoppable monster,” he wrote, pleading: “Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness.”

And that’s exactly the kind of trope-burning character Euphoria created in Jules.

HBO

Jules initially checks all the boxes of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, with interesting twists.

TVTropes lists the characteristics of a classic MPDG as super energetic, playful or childlike, always beautiful, and particularly high on life, with an appearance that is usually anything but ordinary (think interesting hair, outfits, or makeup). Her ethereal appearance puts the pixie in Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Jules’ introduction and subsequent immersion into Euphoria is completely in line with this characterization. Before we even see her for ourselves, Fez (Angus Cloud) describes Jules to Rue as “Sailor Moon” and says Rue will like her, so we immediately have a preconceived picture of this mysterious being served up for our protagonist. And Jules is soon introduced to us in all her carefree glory, tall, beautiful, with long flowing blonde hair, shimmering glitter makeup, and quirky clothes right out of an anime like Sailor Moon. She initially appears as an anomaly in this high school world, causing everyone around her to stop and stare at how out of place she seems to be here. She’s Sailor Moon meets Stargirl.

On top of this, Jules seems happier and much more energetic than our brooding main character and struggling teen addict Rue. They quickly become close, and it seems as if Jules has arrived just in the nick of time to provide much-needed levity and joy to Rue’s rough life and help her live a bit more freely.

Eddy Chen/HBO

Euphoria then switches up Jules’ MPDG tendencies by making it clear she is not interested in occupying that role.

Euphoria cleverly uses the MPDG trope to make the audience view Jules as this free and ethereal spirit here to cheer up and uplift a depressive and lost soul like Rue, and even stand up to psychotic and despotic bullies like Nate (Jacob Elodri). The trope is already somewhat subverted by Jules being a trans girl who has adventures outside of interacting with our lead, and Rue being a young black female protagonist instead of the usual lost white man reluctant to grow up. And then it quickly flips the script on us completely by giving us Jules’ tragic backstory, complete with self-harm, psychiatric hospitals, rejection from her mom, and a complicated personal life that can’t be summed up as “quirky.” Her ambition and bubbly nature are also quickly ensnared into Nate’s terrifying scheming and the notion she is this ethereal and somehow untouchable force violently goes out the window.

Euphoria and Jules seem to recognize that Rue — and we, the audience — have cast her in this role as an MPDG, and she starts to visibly reject it. From Rue quite literally comparing the feeling of being around Jules to the feeling of being on drugs, to Lexi (Maude Apatow) implying Jules is the only reason Rue is staying sober, to various people — including Jules’ own dad — pressuring her about whether not the two are dating, Jules expresses inaudible discomfort by growing increasingly distant. Episode 5 ends with Jules staring at us, the audience, with a perturbed expression on her face while Rue sleeps on top of her. In episode 6, Jules dodges a kiss from Rue that leaves both the audience and Rue pretty stunned. And in case we or Rue somehow just really don’t get that Jules does not want to be bothered with our overactive imaginations and reductive views of her, she straight up tells us that she’s fed up with this MPDG nonsense by quoting Shakespeare: “I have no joy of this contract tonight. It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be”.

The lines are from Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet expresses her fears about the speed at which the young lovers courted each other. Here, Jules uses these dreamy, ethereal, and “romantic” sounding words to tell us and Rue that she doesn’t neatly fit into the MPDG box and that she never had a desire to.

HBO

In the end, she arguably leaves Rue worse off than better.

After Jules’ grand, Shakesperean speech, it should surprise no one that Jules decides to stay on the train and run away like planned in the season finale. Having Jules leave in such a manner, especially when it looked like Rue might go with her, is a perfect final rejection of the MPDG trope. The MPDG exists to improve the life of the lost protagonist, teach them how to truly live it, and if the MPDG does leave it is only after helping the brooding hero obtain a better life and outlook of their own. This is definitely not the case with Jules. She continues to break rank with the trope by showing that she’s not always very thoughtful when it comes to Rue’s needs by dismissing Rue’s warnings that she forgot her meds and needs them. After Jules leaves her, Rue is heartbroken and seemingly relapses, giving us a tragic end to their romance (for now) and throwing the MPDG trope in the trash where it belongs.

So while Rules shippers may not love where the pair left off, Euphoria excelled at showing us the depth of human beings and, yes, how incredibly selfish we can and should be when it comes to forming our own identities and lives. We can’t wait to see what tropes and biases Euphoria challenges when it returns for season 2.

Eddy Chen/HBO

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