Sunday, January 9, 2022

REVIEW: 'Euphoria' - Rue and Jules Reunite During a New Year's Party in 'Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door'

HBO's Euphoria - Episode 2.01 "Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door"

Rue and Jules cross paths for the first time since Christmas as East Highland rings in the new year.

"Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door" was written by Sam Levinson and directed by Sam Levinson

It has been two and a half years since Euphoria finished its first season. It was known for being stylistic with its depiction of teenage life. However, it also prioritized style over substance most of the time. Since then, the series produced two standalone specials focusing specifically on Rue and Jules. Those were some of the best episodes produced because they could focus squarely on those characters and analyze their behavior in a meaningful way. Of course, it's easy for them to be introspective of their actions when they are confronted by people who don't buy into their fantasies. Rue had her sponsor while Jules went to therapy. In those settings, they faced off with adults who knew their lies couldn't be trusted. And yet, it's much more difficult for them to present with any true progress when hanging out amongst their peers once more. That too highlights just how reckless and insane these characters behave on an ongoing basis. Even though it's been years for the audience, it's basically only been a week for the characters. The specials were set during the Christmas holiday. The premiere opens with a New Year's party. It cements Rue and Jules coming together once more after their split at the train station. Their problems haven't really been solved. Rue is still using. That continues to place her into precarious situations. Fez brings her along as he meets a new drug supplier who demands everyone strip to prove they aren't wearing a wire. Rue believes she is excused from that inspection for a bit until she is forced by the man in charge who isn't joking. Of course, he just flexes having power. He isn't actually in control. That leaves Rue inspired by seeing a woman getting the respect typically associated to a man in the profession of drug dealing. Fez is annoyed by that given how scary the whole situation was. But again, that's just Rue not processing danger in a reasonable way. That's how her brain is wired. Sure, Fez protects her like family. That means something to him. And yet, he may only encourage some of these bad impulses as well. He presents the temptation to Rue while claiming to have a much deeper relationship. He is her dealer and she is his client. He was also raised in this life. It was the only practical environment he has ever known. Detailing his backstory also confirms once more just how outrageous and dumb this show can be. It's over-the-top in ways that undercut its serious and earnest depictions of bad behavior. Again, that's the style getting in the way of substance. Fez reveres his grandmother. She taught him the ins and outs of the business. She respected him as a partner. He continues to lead with that mentality. He passes it onto Ashtray. But they are continually put in situations where they either kill, hurt others severely or get injured themselves. No middle ground exists. That opportunity is certainly presented as Fez spends the night flirting with Lexi and remarking on how special she is. But he always keeps one eye on Nate. He's ready to strike the moment it becomes convenient. That's how he believes he must behave in order to stand by his friends.

Of course, some of these choices are false equivalencies. Fez brutally assaults Nate because he threatened Rue and Jules. To protect his loved ones, he takes out his anger in the same way his grandmother did. And yes, it's certainly satisfying to see Nate get some consequences for his heinous actions done to numerous people. But it still doesn't quite justify the amount of time spent with Nate. He is a monster. No amount of potential redemption can change that. At this point, it truly is just a mystery as to how many people he will take down with him. Here, it's Cassie who gets sucked into his orbit. She too is positioned as a character who can have a meaningful journey dictated by reflecting on her behavior and trying to correct it in the future. She could be on equal footing with Rue and Jules in being central to the stories. She also treats being caught having sex with Nate by Maddy as a situation that could get her killed. That possibility was much earlier in the evening when Nate was drinking and speeding down the highway. That was arousing to Cassie though. And so, she continues to make bad decisions and not learn from them. She may feel humiliated. She is put in awkward situations over and over again. She is responsible for them. That's a pattern that consumes her world. She isn't capable of breaking from them at this point. The same is true of McKay needing to flex his masculinity just in order to appease Nate's selfish ego. That too is gross. That's the point. The show absolutely wishes to provoke its audience. It wants us to be uncomfortable and concerned for all of these characters. However, that can be done while still providing depth to them. The audience needs a reason to care. It can't simply be a horror show watching the stories continue to escalate the threats. That appears to be the lesson at this point. That leads to Rue almost going into cardiac arrest because of the drugs she has taken and which is solved by taking more drugs. The redemption is suppose to come from Rue and Jules reuniting. They are hardly concerned for Nate's well-being after Fez attacks. It's not worthy of their interest. Their relationship should serve that purpose to the audience. At this point, it simply feels like the formula that must be embraced. They need to be together even though they are still making the same mistakes as before. If that's the case, it's hard to see any actual lessons from the two specials which broke down these characters and provided them with valuable insights. That may still come out eventually. Right now, the narrative is simply too chaotic and jumping from various corners to support the expansive ensemble where not everyone deserves such attention (and others still are overlooked).