The HBO drama returns with "Part 1: Rue," the first of two special episodes.

By Marcus Jones
December 04, 2020 at 03:43 PM EST
Credit: Eddy Chen/HBO

It is an achievement in and of itself that Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and star Zendaya were able to deliver the first of two special episodes of the groundbreaking teen drama amid a pandemic, but now that it's out, wow, did "Part 1: Rue" (a.k.a. "Trouble Don't Last Always") show exactly how the 24-year-old earned her Emmy this year.

As the episode opens, we're still unsure of Rue's fate post-relapse-fantasia, and things kick off with what seems like a flash-forward of Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Rue waking up with each other, stealing as many kisses as they can before Jules is off to another day of fashion school.

Right as Jules says, "Can you believe it? It's everything we dreamed of," the veneer of the fantasy cracks, and Rue is left alone in their imagined New York apartment, rummaging through different nooks and crannies to collect the items she needs for another high. As she snorts the drugs, they hit her system, and the episode spins into what seems like the present day.

Rue is wearing the red hoodie from the end of the season 1 finale, sitting in a diner waiting for her sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo). It's a character we've seen counsel Rue before, but between the sextet of teens the show focuses on, the peers who orbit them, and things like dream sequences and surreal party scenes, we haven't really gotten a chance to get to know Ali until now.

In a break from form, the entire rest of the episode takes place at the diner, delivering an unbridled look at the psychology of a teen addict like Rue, and if there's any hope for her after all.

It doesn't take Ali more than a minute to realize Rue showed up to their dinner high. She erratically tries to argue that she has actually found some balance in her life, until her sponsor breaks through to her with a statement that "sobriety is your greatest weapon."

That information is a pill Rue can't swallow. She devastatingly counters with, "To tell you the truth, drugs are probably the only reason I haven't killed myself."

Ali will not accept this from her, and doesn't take it for an original thought either. As an addict himself, he sees the potential Rue has should she start wanting to be clean. While in her mind she is a drug addict because she is a piece of s---, he recalibrates that to explain she's a piece of s--- because she is a drug addict, meaning she is allowed to blame a lot of her missteps on her addiction. Rue was not born a bad person.

Right about then we learn they're having their conversation on Christmas Eve, which comes as a bit of a surprise more than a year after the season 1 ending, though we did see them attend a winter formal in the finale, so the timing still lines up.

As Rue asks Ali questions about himself and the long road he's traveled as an addict, he reveals that he has two daughters, he had a year-and-a-half relapse after his first 12 years of sobriety, and his birth name is Martin (he changed it to Ali when converting to Islam).

In a hilariously meta line acknowledging the curious group of people Rue surrounds herself with, Ali answers one of her inquiries with, "What am I, your first Black friend?"

The conversation turns spiritual when Ali advises Rue that she should root her sobriety in a higher power, something the teen says she has trouble with as an atheist. Her higher powers are things like the ocean and the music of Otis Redding, but the spiritual connection isn't there.

Ali tries to appease her by saying even if she doesn't believe in God, God believes in her, but it only makes her question whether that means her father died because God doesn't believe in him. Furthermore, in thinking of how survivors talk about how they must have lived for a reason, she asks, "Why does your life have a purpose and my dad's doesn't?"

Ali's response is both entertaining and confusing, with him connecting the story of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to Nike having an "Our People Matter" sign in its store that white customers take selfies with as Black customers have difficulty buying $130 sneakers. He also calls Gen Z some "mark-ass bitches," but it all leads to the notion that a true revolution has no allies, it's spiritual. "You have to create a new god to believe in something greater than yourself," he says. "Your only hope is revolution."

With that, Ali leaves for a smoke break. Rue gets an "I miss you" text from Jules with a link to the Moses Sumney song "Me in 20 Years." The song plays almost in full as we see Ali try to reconcile with his daughters over the phone and introduce himself to his grandchild as Pop-O.

Once back, with the conversation now focused on Rue's relationship with Jules, Ali outsources a server at the diner named Marsha to help explain why Rue should not seek out any romantic relationships right now. "Everything that's good to you isn't always good for you," she tells Rue. "Trouble don't last always, and it doesn't if you want to make a change," Marsha adds in a voice full of wisdom, reminiscent of Maya Angelou.

Rue breaks down and shares that she blames Jules for her relapse, and that she feels Jules cheated on her when she left town, but Ali fact-checks all that, getting Rue to admit that the girls never defined their relationship. Rue brushes it off and continues blaming Jules for the train station situation, feeling abandoned by Jules even though their escape was Rue's idea that she chose not to follow through on.

The chat flows into the topic of redemption. Rue is convinced she is an unforgivable person for threatening her mother with glass, but when Ali tells her that he grew up a house where there was domestic violence and spent years planning to murder his dad, only to become an addict and hit his own wife during an argument, Rue tells him she still sees him as a good person.

Ali makes a point of how part of the reason the world seems it has gone bad is because too many people think they're unforgivable and therefore have no reason to change, so they run around acting out without giving a f--- about redemption.

Rue and Ali's one-on-one reaches its climax when the 17-year-old tells her sponsor, "I don't really plan on being here that long, and that's the tough part about all of this," to heart-shattering effect.

When Ali asks, "Who do you want to be when you leave this earth?" and "How do you want your mom and sister to remember you?" Rue responds, "As someone who tried really hard to be someone I couldn't."

The episode concludes with the pair exiting the diner into rainy winter weather, and climbing into Ali's SUV to drive home. A cover of "Ave Maria" performed by the series' composer, Labrinth, plays over a long shot of Rue looking drained in the passenger seat.

Given how the episode starts with a fantasy, this special could entirely be Rue in a purgatorial state. It offers no answers about her relapse, but does share Rue's perspective on her relationship with Jules. Stripped away of all the camera tricks, shock factor, and eye glitter, "Part 1: Rue" shows how foundational Zendaya's raw portrayal of a young drug addict is to Euphoria, and how big a loss it would be to both the series and television in general for the resolution to the season 1 finale to be that Rue is now dead.

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Euphoria (2019 TV series)

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