‘Euphoria’ special episode takes Jules (and us) to therapy

A promotional poster for a special episode by HBO's 'Euphoria' (2021) is pictured. via IMDB

Content warning: This article mentions struggles with gender roles, gender identity and addiction.  

Season 2 of “Euphoria” (2019–) was due to begin production just days before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place in California and across much of the world. This left fans, actors and production staff holding their breath for the next time they would hear from Rue (Zendaya), Jules (Hunter Schafer), Nate (Jacob Elordi) and the rest of the characters whom they had come to tenderly understand. The show’s lead producer and writer, Sam Levinson, filled this hiatus with two “bridge” episodes focusing on the two main characters of the show: Rue and Jules

There is a marked shift from the choppy, non-chronological timeline of the first season to the calm stillness of the hour-long special that intimately explores the psyche of Jules. For some, it may be a shock. However, the slower style is refreshing and allows for reflection and introspection on the events of the first season. While Season 1 of “Euphoria” was criticized for romanticizing its crude and graphic depiction of teen life, Jules’ therapy-session episode cannot be mistaken for glamorization.   

With her new therapist (Lauren Weedman), Jules delves into her relationship with femininity, hormones and how much men have affected her perception of self and womanhood. These are universal themes that are powerfully explored through the eyes of a transgender teenager. Her journey of conquering femininity is turned into an exploration of how the idea of femininity conquered her. And by doing so, the show explores the nuance of trans identity in a way that is seldom portrayed on television, especially in regard to teenagers.  

Jules’ femininity had always been scripted around a male gaze. This special episode shows how Jules’ attraction to Rue challenged this for the first time — Rue saw through the performative facade that Jules had constructed in reaction to the world around her. The episode allows us to look back at how Jules’ pursuit of male approval caused many of her problems in the first season — from unnerving encounters with Nate’s father to her passive relationship with Rue. In this standalone episode, Jules begins to explore femininity on her own terms for the first time and leaves us with enthusiasm for the future.   

The episode continues with the artistic decision to remain in moments of discomfort. In the first season, the scenes did not cut away from the graphic, explicit encounters of its high school subjects. In the same spirit, this episode refuses to cut away from Jules’ tears, discomfort and deepest fears while sitting in front of her therapist. It forces us, as viewers, to reflect, and it serves as catharsis. After all, Jules is not the only person who has struggled with gender roles, family and addiction, among other issues; in Jules, viewers might see themselves. 

For the first time, Jules addresses her relationship with her mother (Pell James). Through this, we see the parallels between Jules’ mother and Rue. It is not uncommon for people to find romantic partners similar to their primary caregivera trend reflected by Jules’ romantic entanglement with Rue, whose sobriety weighs heavily on Jules, yet is a topic with which she adamantly refuses to engage

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Jules says to her therapist multiple times over the hour-long special. It reminds us of how much she keeps hidden. That being said, Jules uncovers herself for the first time in this episode, giving us her take on the events of the first season.   

This episode shows us that, under the show’s sometimes jagged presentation, these are still teenagers grappling with their nascent identities. Within them, we can all see a part of ourselves, which Levinson powerfully communicates through Jules. There is something in this episode that almost everyone can relate to.


Summary

'Euphoria's' special Jules episode shows a more authentic teen experience which is not often captured on the screen but to which many viewers can relate.

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