The first season of HBO’s hit series, “Euphoria,” was filled with epic cinematic visuals, high-stakes drama, and enough glitter to choke on. In this drama, executive producer, writer, and director Sam Levinson confronts the dark struggles of high schoolers. The show follows the narrator, Rue Bennett, who is played by Zendaya. She is shown navigating sexuality and the discovery of a mood disorder, all while grieving loss and using drugs to cope. The finale episode of season one tickles the viewers’ sensations, ending with a vulnerable music video to All For Us by Labrinth. Rue relapses after being abandoned by her love-interest at the train station. The imagery offers a marching band, stunning choreography, and burgundy hoodies and robes.
Let’s speak on the first scene of this unique bridge episode. It invites us into a wishful fantasy at the seat of hopeless romance. Rue (Zendaya) dresses Jules (Hunter Schafer) in kisses as she rises to another day in fashion school. Jules’ memory jolts her out the door for an important presentation. We witness Rue racing to retrieve materials from underneath their mattress. This is the first visual note of her purple T-shirt stating, “My Religion Is Kindness.” She heads to the bathroom with a dollar bill, a book, a plastic straw, and an undisclosed substance. Her morning ritual ensues: a rail snorted from on top of the toilet seat. For viewers, reality sets in.
Then, the scene transitions to Rue entering Frank’s Restaurant, a diner, wearing the burgundy hoodie coupled with the T-shirt. This is giving the essence of a haunting alternate reality from the fanatical opening. She meets her sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo) and they sit across from one another enjoying pancakes. It is Christmas Eve, and the holiday spirit of merriment seems to be eerily absent from the air. Rue shuffles through a self-proclamation of “an amazing emotional balance,” justifying her continued drug use.
This scene is heart-wrenchingly quick to drop us into the black hole of the imperfect human condition. We find out that Ali was clean for 12 years before relapsing for a year and a half and then gaining another seven years without using. We also learn that he was born as Martin and became “Poppo Ali” to his grandchildren after converting to Islam. All the while, Moses Sumney’s song “Me in 20 Years” plays.
Even with pandemic restrictions in place, Emmy-winning performance and the essence of simplicity echoes volumes toward radical cinematography and screenwriting. The reduction in theatrical pace does thwart the many highlights in Ali and Rue’s discussion that provoke riveting movement.
Haven’t you heard?
There is another revolution! Ali takes time to critique the evolution of radicalism. He describes an experience at his favorite shoe store where he notices in 20-foot letters, “Our People Matter.” In an internal dilemma, Ali recognizes the predatory tactics of big businesses commodifying protest chants for gross advertisement. He shifts his focus back to Rue and asks her what she will do to accept the necessary change involved in accepting sobriety. In return, she mocks him, stating that maybe she’ll start another revolution similar to Malcolm X’s. Ali encourages her to commit to true revolution, which at its core is spiritual. He is challenging her to see a power greater than herself that will uproot the disease (disease) of addiction and replant her being in the soil of consistent stability.
“You’ve got to create a new God, or Gods … And it can’t be the ocean, or your favorite song. And it can’t be the movement, or the people, or the words. You’ve got to believe in the poetry.”Ali
This statement unhinges Rue from her bed of excuses. She is forced to have faith in the unseen and depend on faith to prove the benefits of sobriety, but she is not easily convinced. She admits that she does not want to get clean yet, but repeatedly contradicts herself expressing dissatisfaction with her pattern of decisions. It is hard to pinpoint what Rue’s true desires are, whether that be absolution or confirmation of her presumed worthlessness. Maybe she is simply unearthing her own disappointments about the world and how it affects her patterns. As she unravels, the audience remembers the fearlessness it takes to walk through the shadows and face oneself and selves wholly. As viewers, we become mirrors to these characters, rooting for their success in healing deep wounds.
First, think of at least one unforgivable action. Count the emotions that rise up from that thought. How many of those actions and emotions are you willing to forgive and release? Forgiveness is a principle that can take a lifetime and beyond to accept. If forgiveness was meant to be easy, everyone would suffer victimization and emote naiveté to the crushingly natural ebb and flow of life.
We all experience an inevitable small death every time we forgive one another. Imagine for a moment, the transformative energy of self-forgiveness. In my personal practice of forgiveness, I visualize a very literal shedding of skin. I see the toxicity of my ancestors’ trauma falling away and feel the souls of past lives, simply becoming thin air. From the spirit of protection, my body begins to reject that which no longer serves me and rely on that which does. There is just something about standing on the foundations of sustenance that brings greater completion. That sustenance could be safety, freedom, love, etc. The list gets longer these days.
Rue harps on about an occasion where she soberly threatened to kill her mother with a piece of glass, deeming the thoughtless moment as unforgivable and reflective of her weakness in character. “Forgiveness is the key to change,” Ali advises. Ali emphasizes the frightening impact on a world without forgiveness.
“That punishment is way too harsh, and also way too easy … people keep doing sh*t that we deem unforgivable and in return, they decide there’s no reason to change. So now you got a whole bunch of people running around who don’t give a f*ck about redemption.”Ali
He reminds us that the unforgiving and the unforgivable remain static, each refusing to take the first step toward recovery. It is true that forgiveness is to be earned, but even the most heinous crime can be the first breakthrough toward rehabilitation. Breakthroughs often ultimately lead to a spiritual revolution for heightened collective consciousness and liberation.
Trouble doesn’t always last
Heartbroken, Rue asks what to do about Jules. She admits that she still blames her for relapsing. Ali turns to the tip-counting waitress, played by Marsha Gambles, and asks how long she has been clean. She proudly replies, “17 years…by the grace of God.” He asks if she ever considered dating while beginning her process of sobriety. She states simply that she had the desire for both, but could only dedicate energy to one, and sobriety had become a priority. For anyone who doesn’t have much hope, she recalls a sentiment from her grandmother: “Baby, trouble don’t last always.” She says she did not absorb the gravity of this statement until she was ready to accept a full commitment to sobriety.
Rue continues to peel back layers, disclosing her perspective of the fissure with Jules. A night of making out and exchanged “I love yous” leads to her assumption of clear commitment. As result, Rue feels betrayed when she finds out (in the season one finale) that Jules is also in love with another woman. We question Rue’s reliability as a narrator when she lies about getting matching tattoos. She arrives with a dark truth: “I really don’t plan on being here that long.” Here, Rue is grappling with her existence and the complexity of concepts like permanence. She says that she wants to be remembered for exhausting herself to be someone that she couldn’t become and finally, Ali revives the viewers’ hearts from the sunken earth by affirming to Rue, “I got faith in you.”
What does this episode do?
As a whole, this episode entertains with subtle nuances and climatic line delivery. It closes with Ali as the driver and Rue as the passenger fighting sleep. Labrinth’s re-adaptation of “Ave Mari floats us into an emotional transition of the unknown darkness. Viewers turn the mirror back to the individual inner child and face the challenges of all endured suffering.
Moreover, the subliminal message lies in seeking out the required tools toward redemption, forgiveness, and ultimately improved wellness. Personally, this episode reminds me of the simplicity of chaos. It reminds me that my catastrophic thought often starts as tiny grains of sand, rapidly evolving into an uncontrollable mass. Even still, it is where the shoreline is found that a collection of grain and a collection of water as large as an ocean can meet. And as large as an ocean, my power is restored. I am standing with my toes stuck to land close enough to a stream, close enough to sink in.