[Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for Euphoria, Special Episode 2, "Part 2: Jules."]
It is hard to open this review of Euphoria's second special episode, "Part 2: Jules," with a concise, sharp observation that will get you hooked. This is mostly down to the fact that I am still overwhelmed by it, but my state of being overwhelmed is not actually a bad thing. After watching the 48-minute episode centered on Jules (Hunter Schafer), I suspect this is how I am supposed to feel; I'm meant to feel like she feels here.
Like "Part 1: Rue," we rejoin a central Euphoria character who is processing. Processing events, processing the feelings that arise from it, processing the personal crises of varying sizes that come from those feelings, and on and on it goes. Even through the most optimistic lens, seeing the path to healing after what Jules went through in Euphoria Season 1 can be tough. We watched as a trans teenage girl worked to understand the new parameters of her gender. Throughout Season 1, Jules was wrapped up in dangerous situations with older men who would use her as she tried to re-form her identity into the woman she thought she should be; got swallowed up by an online flirtation that turned rancid and threatening when the truth about who she was talking to was revealed; and was caught in the riptide of a flourishing half-friendship, half-romance with Rue (Zendaya), whose sobriety soon depended on how present Jules was in her life — a burden Jules wasn't ready to shoulder. Season 1 ended with Jules trying to convince Rue to run away with her, something Rue couldn't bring herself to do. Now, in the weeks after that decision, Jules is still processing everything and doesn't know where to begin.
"Part 2: Jules" is set primarily in a therapy session. Jules has been brought home by her father after her attempt to run away and is now beginning therapy to work through the reasons behind her decision. If there is one thing both of these special episodes get right, it's showing the importance of teenagers having a shoulder to lean on when it all gets to be too much. A non-judgmental adult who can help sort through the larger-than-life feelings is often so essential — and is sorely needed to bring some grounding to a show which often backgrounds adult characters. Having an adult to ground Jules (in this case it's Dr. Nichols, played by Lauren Weedman) when she is in a place so high up in the stratosphere that she has nothing to hold on to is a smart move in structuring this episode. It also helps pull out all the issues Jules is processing, however fragmented they may be. Jules needs the guidance of Dr. Nichols because, as "Part 2: Jules" illustrates through a litany of extended flashbacks and dream sequences, our young Euphoria protagonist is caught somewhere between fantasy and reality at some personal risk to her wellbeing.
Not only is Jules trying to make sense of the events we saw in Season 1, but she is also having a serious identity crisis. What she has gone through has raised concerns around who she is and wants to be as a woman. The question of detransitioning is raised by Nichols but it's unclear how Jules feels about that process. The conversation Nichols and Jules have about Jules' transition and her desire to possibly rework various aspects of that transition as she re-evaluates her female-ness is handled honestly and sensitively because this is a sensitive and serious issue. I suspect this beat is one that Schafer, who co-wrote this special episode with Euphoria creator and writer Sam Levinson, had serious input on. I also wish this part of Jules' journey in this therapy session had been explored more thoroughly, truth be told.
The topic of detransitioning opens the door for a variety of tangents for the episode to explore. All of these tangents, including detransitioning, keep leading Jules back to this question of who she is, who she wants to be, and who she wants to be for other people. Running away and leaving Rue, who she seems to truly love, has broken Jules open. As we learn more about where Jules' head is at — be it learning more about her mother, who has something in common with Rue, or about the relationship between Jules' sexuality and how that makes her feel about her gender — we see just how much she has been silently working through. She has been in desperate need of emotional and mental catharsis and nobody has been able to give it to her until now, in therapy.
Overall, "Part 2: Jules" is a success. If the purpose of these two Euphoria special episodes is to help bridge the gap between Seasons 1 and 2 while also providing more depth for two central characters in a bottle episode-like structure, then "Part 2" succeeds (maybe even more than "Part 1"). While the use of a therapy session as the means for exploration of a character's psychological and emotional terrain is a frequent television device, it feels well done here. We needed so badly to get closer to Jules in Season 1 and here we're allowed to do it. The exploration is enhanced as the episode veers and spins off into flashbacks set in Jules' reality and dream sequences set in her subconscious. The overall effect is something akin to magical realism and perhaps the closest we get — if you're an adult watching — to returning to the mindset of our teenage years. Most importantly, Schafer's performance is simply riveting. She gives a stunning, raw, and varied performance here as she lays herself bare for us to watch. Playing Jules is Schafer's biggest and only acting role to date; here, as both the star and co-writer of the episode, Schafer ascends to new creative levels that challenge her and speak to her sharp, nuanced instincts as a performer. The overall effect is marvelously, well, overwhelming.
Euphoria: Part 2 - Jules is now available to stream on HBO Max. This special episode will also air on HBO on Sunday, January 24 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
Just in time to catch up before 'The Matrix Resurrections.' comes out
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