Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: The second ‘Euphoria’ special improves on the first

<p>Actresses Zendaya and Hunter Schafer lean on a beam during filming for the show &quot;Euphoria.&quot; The show, which has one season released in 2019, has been releasing special one-off episodes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic focusing on individual characters like Zendaya&#x27;s Rue and Schafer&#x27;s Jules. </p>

Actresses Zendaya and Hunter Schafer lean on a beam during filming for the show "Euphoria." The show, which has one season released in 2019, has been releasing special one-off episodes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic focusing on individual characters like Zendaya's Rue and Schafer's Jules.

My awful habit of forgetting to watch TV I’m interested in resulted in me putting off watching “Euphoria” for a long time, and I only got around to checking it out late last year. I really enjoyed it and especially liked how stylish it was. The camera was constantly moving and the shots were way more creative than what I was used to seeing on TV shows. 

I had heard two special episodes were shot during quarantine, and I finished watching the first season right before the first special came out in December. And while I know this isn’t exactly a popular take, I didn’t like it very much. The episode is entirely dialogue, and anyone who has watched “Euphoria” knows dialogue was never the show’s strength. 

So, to be totally honest, I was not very excited for the second special that came out Jan. 24. I figured it would be basically the same bad dialogue for another hour, with the only difference being this episode followed Jules instead of Rue. 

Thankfully, I was wrong. 

[Related: Black Voices: Zendaya won an Emmy — will this propel more awards for Black artists?]

The second special episode of “Euphoria,” shot during quarantine, is co-written by and stars Hunter Schafer as Jules Vaughn, a transgender high school student in California. The episode shows her in a therapy session where she reflects on what has happened since the end of the last season when she ran away from home. 

What surprised me off the bat was how much better the writing was for this episode. While it was very similar to the first special in structure and content, everything felt a lot more human. This one was less preachy and actually captured the energy of a therapy session in a way I haven’t seen before. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Schafer is the reason the writing improved so much. This is the first time she’s helped write an episode of “Euphoria,” and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the best writing the show has seen yet. Whereas the last episode felt like it was constantly talking down to the audience, this one felt like it was trying to engage in conversation. Schafer’s personal experiences as a transgender woman clearly informed the story and the dialogue, and it’s a huge improvement over anything that has come before. 

While I’m on the subject of Hunter Schafer and how she’s awesome, I might as well throw out that her acting was the best she’s done so far. I always thought she was good in the rest of the series, but she was often overshadowed by Zendaya’s talent and starpower. Now that she’s on her own she’s able to open up layers of the character we’ve never seen before, and her performance makes the episode all the more emotionally devastating.

The episode was hindered by one thing, and it disappoints me to say that it’s Sam Levinson’s direction. Levinson, the creator of “Euphoria,” has done a lot of strong work in the past, but his strength has always been in building the show’s huge, stylish setpieces, not in directing the quiet dialogue scenes. Since he’s always had to make up for lackluster writing, he didn’t know when to sit back and let Schafer’s dialogue do the work. 

That being said, the dialogue is strong enough that it was able to outweigh the weaknesses in Levinson’s direction. This episode actually gave me a lot of hope for the future of the series. Maybe the writing in the second season will be as good as Schafer’s was in the special. It could be what pushes “Euphoria” from being merely good to being genuinely great.

I would recommend the second special episode of “Euphoria” to any fans of the show, but if you haven’t seen the first season yet you’ll probably want to catch up before checking this out. All of “Euphoria” is available on HBO Max.

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