In December, HBO dropped one of the best single episodes of television in 2020 in “Euphoria Part 1: Rue,” a standalone chapter forced into existence by the pandemic that caught viewers up with the fallout after the end of the first season of the Emmy-winning drama. The yin to its yang premieres this weekend in “Euphoria Part 2: Jules,” another hour that distills some of the themes of the show into a two-hander that examines some of the same ideas but with the distinct, full voice of Hunter Schafer, who plays Jules and co-wrote the episode with creator Sam Levinson. It’s tempting to pick out commonalities between the two hours, but what’s more interesting is how much Schafer and Levinson differentiate the stories of Rue and Jules, making both characters richer by these two hours that will have to tide fans over until the full second season later this year. Jules’ chapter is vulnerable and heartfelt, a raw emotion compared with Rue’s constant obfuscation and denial of her own feelings.
Much like Rue’s chapter, most of this hour unfolds as a two-hander, this one between Jules and a therapist played by Lauren Weedman. After a tone-setting intro in which memories of her time with Rue play out in Jules’ tear-filling eye set to Lorde’s “Liability,” the conversation really kicks in, increasingly interrupted by flashbacks to her time with Rue, her continued infatuation with “Tyler” (Nate’s online persona), and even drama with the return of her addict mother into her life, revealing more of what Jules was going through in season one. There are times when this chapter feels like it’s trying to do too much in terms of its narrative construction—the joy of watching Zendaya and Colman Domingo bounce off each other purely in conversation for an hour was one of the strengths of “Part 1”—but the inconsistency captures where Jules is at in her life, her feelings going a hundred miles an hour since the break-up with Rue. A first meeting with a therapist is often about throwing it all out on the table, and Jules reveals a lot about herself through the stories she chooses to tell about the connections between her & Rue, her & her parents, and her & her online partner. How are these connections different? How does Jules hold back or give of herself differently in each of them?
“Part 2” starts off with Jules discussing gender as a construction, telling her therapist that she’s considering going off hormone therapy. How much of our identity is what we choose to present to other people and how much is internal? The discussion turns to when people instantly judge others based on how they look and how Jules has conformed to a self-formed perception of femininity for so much of her life. The theme of image vs. reality continues into memories of Tyler, the online paramour who turned out to be Nate (Jacob Elordi), and how much that passion became real to her, but was never real in a physical sense. All of this is prelude to a discussion about how Rue tore down all needs for concerns about identity and judgment, really seeing Jules in a way she hadn’t felt before.
As she was in the first season, Schafer is emotionally raw in a way that feels completely genuine. She nails all of the emotional backflips that she’s still processing without sinking into melodrama. Weedman is good but not given the kind of juicy part of her own that Domingo was in the first hour, and that hurts the process a little bit, but Levinson and Schafer compensate by opening up the episode more to flashbacks and other characters, including John Ales as Jules’ father and Elordi. There are revelations in the final scenes about Jules’ mother and even an encounter that might make people want to go back and watch Rue’s hour again in a new light.
Taken as a whole, these two hours deepen the relationship between Rue and Jules in a way that wouldn’t have been possible as merely two episodes to start a second season. They have their own space and room to breathe. These standalone chapters capture the passage of time in a different way and allow deeper analysis of characters than a traditional season would have allowed. Sam Levinson never wanted to have to make these episodes, but the truth is that his show is much better for having to do so.
“Euphoria Part 2: Jules” is now on HBO Max and will air on HBO tomorrow night.