Director(s): Sam Levinson
Writer(s): Sam Levinson
Cast: Zendaya, Colman Domingo
Synopsis: “In the aftermath of being left by Jules at the train station and relapsing, the first special episode follows Rue as she celebrates Christmas.
Coming into this episode after the cliffhanger at the end of season 1, I truly had no idea what to expect. We were left with so many questions and there were many different directions the Euphoria team could have gone. Rue’s relapse was a major stepping stone, and I was excited to finally witness what creator Sam Levinson thought up in Season 2.
Once we really started getting into this episode, my excitement turned to shock. Not at the fact that it was bad, no, at the fact that it was so different than what we were used to from the show. Where in Season 1 we were taken into the glitz and glamour, or… euphoria, of the surroundings, this special peels the structure back to its very core and becomes a conversation between Zendaya’s Rue and Colman Domingo’s Ali. The direction is still artistic and stylized in the same way that we have seen from previous episodes, but the substance at which we are given the information is as different as it could have been.
We start on Christmas Eve with Rue and Ali sitting at a diner talking about Rue’s relapse. Zendaya and Domingo play this off like a debate, constantly trying to get their point across while trying to deface the others. The back and forth from these two actors is so beautiful and poetic. You begin to listen more to one of them, and then the other one fires back and causes you to question. These conversations are deep, but are written with such a naturalist feel that you can understand the pain and hurt that is really being shared between the two.
Emmy Winner Zendaya, is a rock, as she has a response for everything Domingo says. She is quietly listening but has a full refusal to understand what is being said to her. Shortly into the conversation, Ali makes a remark that sends Rue on this monologue trying to explain the meaning and bullshit behind it, and it is heartbreaking and real. She has this big idea of her world and no matter how big she thinks, she remains so closed off from ever being able to reach these thoughts. She doesn’t want to change, and even though she knows she doesn’t have anything under control, that is not going to change her from the ultimate fate she gave herself.
But, she is also young and hasn’t had the experiences that Ali has. So while she has this outlook on life that is bleak and broken, Ali must remind her that he is bleak and broken, but he is still here. He has visited these places Rue is scared about and cares so deeply for Rue, he doesn’t want to see her visit these same places. The journey we take with Domingo here is so powerful and so poetic, it is hard to look away from him while he is on screen. There is this subtle way that Ali doesn’t ever snap back at Rue, and he never has a quick response. Done beautifully by Domingo, you can see Ali takes his time trying to think through every possible outcome that can happen with whatever he manages to say. It truly made me believe him so much more that he would take his time to respond.
We also learn so much about Ali in this short time. We learn his past, his present, his ups, his downs, and any and every wart that comes in between. There is a sternness and brokenness that Domingo shows where we can tell Ali is winging this just as much as Rue is. Of course, he knows what he wants to say, but early into the episode, after Rue throws him off his path, he is forced to throw his script out the window and just talk about what he knows and what he is. What Domingo did here was truly breathtaking, and across film or tv is one of the best performances I have seen all year.
While this may not feel like a traditional Euphoria episode, or even a traditional Christmas/holiday special, it is one that is so necessary to not just characters within the show, but to the audience as well. Many different talks of life, addiction, revolution, love, pain, and one’s self are conversations that everyone who is struggling during this difficult time can latch themselves onto and maybe begin to put these pieces back together instead of a feeling of euphoria, we are given therapy that is at the same time heartbreaking as it is eye-opening. I fully commend the entire Euphoria team for being able to release something this impactful in such a difficult time.
Final: Euphoria special trades “euphoria” for powerful conversations that are important to hear in this time. Zendaya proves her Emmy win wasn’t a fluke, and Colman Domingo gives one of the best performances of the entire year, regardless of the medium.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.