Hunter Schafer dazzles in Euphoria’s latest beautiful mess

Illustration for article titled Hunter Schafer dazzles in iEuphoria/is latest beautiful mess

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As with the close-look at Rue’s spiral out of sobriety following Jules’ departure in “Trouble Don’t Always Last,” Euphoria’s latest special episode zooms all the way in, eschewing plot for the sake of a close character study. This time, it’s Jules in the spotlight. We don’t exactly see what happened when Jules left Rue on that train platform in the season one finale. Rather, we see the aftermath. The episode mostly takes place during a therapy session, where Jules soliloquies on gender, family, love, self image, self harm, and more. The script is occasionally overly precious, but it all comes together because of the powerhouse force that is Hunter Schafer. She gives an indelible performance throughout, making for a very memorable and special episode of television.

The episode quite literally keeps a very close focus on Jules, much of it unfolding in very long shots of Jules in close-up talking through her feelings. Some of these feelings pertain to her gender and sexuality: She’s considering going off some of her hormones because she feels like she has made so many of her decisions in life based on making herself desirable to men. Some of these feelings pertain to her mother, an addict who she doesn’t have much of a relationship with. Many of these feelings pertain to Rue. All of these things touch on each other. Jules expresses anger toward Rue for making her sobriety to dependent on Jules’ availability to her. She doesn’t initially realize that she talks about Rue the same way she talks about her mother. Her therapist has to point it out. Those little moments really make this feel like a real and intensely incisive therapy session. Jules talks as if she knows exactly what she feels, but she sometimes can’t see what’s right in front of her.

The episode’s direction is a little flashier than “Trouble Don’t Always Last,” but there’s still a level of restraint that isn’t really seen in most of the first season of the show. The pulls away from the therapy session are fluid and dynamic. “No girl had ever looked at me the way Rue did,” Jules says as we actually see Rue’s face from her perspective. Even the lighting of the scene feels intimate and warm. Euphoria is so good at evoking specific feelings, and this Jules-centric episode really does feel like a deep dive into the character’s interiority.

The more reality-bending parts of the episode work quite well, leaning into some of Euphoria’s over-the-top aesthetics but remaining strongly grounded in the emotional narrative. Jules enters a sort of horrorscape as she recalls sexting with “Tyler,” who was really Nate catfishing her. She created a fantasy when she was sexting him, and that fantasy is punctured by reality. A reality in which Nate was trying to hurt her. The episode distorts into a very stylized sequence that depends on a pulsating score and dance-like blocking. But it still feels strongly rooted in character, steeped in palpable emotion and crafting a sense of dread and confusion.

We also literally see one of Jules’ nightmares play out, and it’s a stark contrast to the fantasy life that Rue imagined for her and Jules in New York. Rue’s addiction affects Jules deeply, especially because of her relationship with her mother. In the same way Euphoria lends so much empathy to Rue’s experiences as an addict, this episode looks at all the challenges that come with being an addict’s support system and being intimate with someone who struggles with addiction. We see it in the way Jules thinks of her mother, and we see it in the way she interacts with Rue. The two of them share so much. They hold so much love for each other, but that love gives and it takes. There’s so much care in the scene of Rue administering Jules’ shots. And then there’s so much destruction in the nightmare Jules has about Rue not being able to answer the door. Their dynamic remains the strongest part of the show, but it’s especially fascinating in how hard it is to define. The romance between them is as moving as the conflict between them. Jules and Rue devastate and enchant.

Even though not much happens in this episode, there’s a lot going on on the character level. “I want to be as beautiful as the ocean,” Jules muses at one point. This thought trails into memories of her grandmother, a contemplation on femininity, a touch of spirituality with a trans lens. It’s intercut with shots of Jules in the ocean. It’s beautiful, but there’s also an intentional mess to it. It reminisces of the free-flowing monologues of Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, and Hunter Schafer is every bit as compelling as a teen girl full of contradictions and complexity as Claire Danes was in that role. Watching the episode feels like reading Jules’ diary. It feels like getting an unfiltered, organic, and intricate glimpse into her psyche. Her thoughts weave between so many different significant moments and memories from her life, but it’s all connected. Euphoria keeps us so strongly rooted in Jules’ perspective that it’s easy to follow her from one point to the next.

Again, none of this could really work if Schafer wasn’t so talented and in command of the material. The dialogue on Euphoria can occasionally feel so intentionally poetic that it almost comes off as stilted or overwrought. That’s sometimes true in “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob,” but it’s also one of the strongest written episodes of the entire series. Sam Levinson usually is the sole writing credit for episodes, but this time he shares a co-writing credit with Schafer, making her the standout star of this episode on multiple levels. The script is a quiet but potent stream of consciousness that captivates. We see Jules move between so many different emotions, desires, and perceptions of herself. It’s the good kind of mess—mess that feels deeply human. Euphoria lets Jules brim with contradictions. Her monologues have specificity but also manage to touch on so many things at once. The writing does a lot with a little, and that’s not Euphoria’s usual speed.

Stray observations

  • All the awards for Hunter Schafer please! Also, let her co-write more episodes, because this script is truly wonderful!
  • I really wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this episode since I tend to hate whenever television does therapy sessions, but this one actually feels like a fairly believable therapy session.
  • Zendaya and Hunter Schafer on screen together are just so good.

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