In the second Euphoria special, this one centering on Jules — played by Hunter Schafer, who also co-wrote the story with director and creator Sam Levinson — the show unfortunately returns to its visually and narratively ostentatious roots. The first of the HBO series’s between-seasons holiday specials, which came out in early December, was a much-needed departure from the show’s typical approach. Focusing on Rue (Zendaya) merely having an emotionally expansive conversation with her sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo), in a diner around Christmas, the episode was buoyed by its own simplicity and the sincerity of Domingo’s performance. This uncharacteristic shift allowed Euphoria to slow down, and allowed us to take in the shifts in its characters.
“Fuck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob” takes a markedly different approach, aligning it more with the creative highs and lows that characterized Euphoria’s first season. The episode moves between fantasy and reality in ways that muddle the emotional points Levinson and his collaborators seek to make, rather than being a revelatory window into a character that sometimes felt like a cipher. To make matters more confusing, the episode moves around wildly in time in order to understand Jules’s perspective on events from the first season. The narrative is anchored by Jules’s therapy session with Dr. Mandy Nichols (Lauren Weedman), and while it’s only their first session, it runs the gamut through a host of topics, displaying a lack of focus that makes the episode land with less impact than it should.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t any worthwhile, intriguing threads within the episode. It opens with Jules evoking wide-eyed terror while being asked, “Where do you want to start?” With only an empty answer in response, the therapist changes gears. “Why did you run away?” The episode then launches into what can best be described as a pretty visual recap of Jules’s life, homing in on her relationship with Rue especially, all seen in the reflection on her eye as the colors shift corresponding to the memory at hand.
The first movement of Jules’s conversation with Dr. Nichols is the most revealing, detailing Jules’s relationship to femininity, being trans, and her own body. “I think I’ve framed my entire womanhood around men, when in reality I’m no longer interested in men […] What men want is so boring and simple and not creative. How the fuck did I spend my entire life building this,” Jules says. She’s spent her life “trying to conquer femininity,” but she worries instead the opposite has happened: Femininity has conquered her. Jules also notes that she’s thinking of going off her hormones. She motions to the implant in her arm that stops the kind of things “men don’t find desirable,” like her voice dropping or balls growing bigger. She holds complicated feelings about the “irreversible metamorphosis” of puberty and how it could separate her from her understanding of femininity.
It’s in this context that Jules, intriguingly, notes her love of the ocean: “I want to be as beautiful as the ocean.” Not just because it’s beautiful but because it’s strong as well; you can’t separate this strength from its beauty. Shots of Jules lying on the beach as a wave roars over her on the shore or she traverses the water under a smudge of moonlight are intercut with the therapy session. For Jules, being trans is “spiritual” on a certain level, and she never wants to stand still in her understanding of this. This provides the episode its richest thread, one that I wish Levinson stayed with more, uncovering Jules’s relationship to desire, her body, and gender with a bit more gravitas, a bit more curiosity. The episode is doing too much for this aspect to resonate fully — it has to quickly move onto the next thread, the next idea, the next moment aiming toward visual bravura.
It’s important to understand that this episode shirks stillness, instead relying on visual tricks and intense imagery — like brief flashbacks to Jules as a kid in the mental hospital — to grant it energy and movement. It’s as if Levinson & Co. are too afraid to slow down and simply exist in the room with this therapist and this patient. I get it. There’s a difficulty to pulling off a therapy session on television. Even the best of actors can be undermined by the focus and ingenuity such a narrative setting requires. The terrain of Jules’s face is in fact important to how this episode plays out, but Schafer’s acting can’t sustain such attention. While there are certain sparks to her performance, she can’t quite shoulder all that this episode asks of her.
Rue is of course an integral touchstone in Jules’s conversation with Dr. Nichols. They keep returning to the wounded territory Rue represents in Jules’s life in order to understand what led to her decision on the train platform in the first season’s finale. “Most girls when you first talk to them, they automatically analyze and compare themselves to you. Then they search for where you fit into their hierarchy and treat you accordingly,” Jules says. It’s a bit of a pat understanding of women, but her following line gives this train of thought an intriguing bramble: “It would be a sensual experience if it wasn’t so terrifying.” Rue, it should be axiomatic at this point, isn’t like “most girls” in the show’s understanding of what that means. “No girl ever looked at me the way Rue did” — Jules felt that Rue saw the real her, the one hidden under layers of pretense and borrowed sensibilities. But this truth is complicated by how the episode also tries to dovetail into Jules’s relationship to ShyGuy118, a.k.a. “Tyler,” who she learned was in fact the utterly truculent bullying terror Nate.
Jules struggles to resolve the knowledge of who her online paramour turned out to be with how she felt during the process of getting to know him under the cloak of his anonymity. “I feel like real life is such a letdown,” Jules notes, mentioning how much “more open and honest and vulnerable” people can be online instead of off. There’s something dishonest about this distinction between life lived online and off by a teenage character, even if I get what these artists are aiming for, because, let’s be honest, at this point these distinctions are porous, if not entirely nonexistent. Online life isn’t any more a haven from bigotry or an entry into more honest communication than life lived in the material world. (It’s moments like this that highlight the chasm between Levinson and the characters he’s writing about.) During the conversation with her therapist about Nate, although she never says his name directly, it’s intriguing how Jules draws a firm line between who Nate positioned himself as online and who he really was. “I feel I got to know him better than I got to know Rue,” a pretty damning statement I was surprised to hear her say. She goes on to mention that their sexting was “genuinely the best sex I ever had” because it was “pure fucking imagination.” Visually these sequences give way to heated images in which the hush of darkness is cut through by the glare of a camera light as Jules takes pictures of herself for ShyGuy118 wearing cerulean lingerie. Hair swinging. Hands in her mouth. Body arching in various poses. She’s primed to induce lust (which is always a weird undercurrent given the character is supposed to be 17), but watching these images with the knowledge of ShyGuy118 being Nate gives them a queasy undertone. This gives way to Jules in her imagined New York apartment being swept into the arms of a fantasy version of Tyler — with some typical full-frontal nudity — not the real man he proved to be, before giving way to a memory of Rue saying that this man could very well be lying about who he is. Which of course we know is on point with regards to the situation.
Jules understands that the person she thought she was talking to doesn’t exist, but even then she says, “I’m still in love with Tyler, and I don’t know when that’s going to change.” The imagery of the episode gets ragged and disturbing at this point: Jules having sex with her imagined Tyler is intercut with Jules masturbating on her own and Rue popping up with a forlorn glance. But then it’s Nate who is on top of Jules, harshly telling her, “Don’t look at my face.” There’s a violence to this moment and what follows. I couldn’t tell exactly how this weird mishmash of Jules’s nightmares and fantasies was meant to be read.
It’s a bit more clear, thankfully, what the creators are intent on saying with regards to Jules and Rue’s twisting relationship. Sure, there is a dreamy montage of Rue and Jules together — dancing framed against a window pane of pure amber light, Rue giving Jules a shot of hormones. Sure, there’s plenty of imagery of Rue looking directly at the camera, communicating how she looks at Jules with a comforting love. But from the jump Jules makes clear her worry that so much of Rue’s sobriety is dependent on her own availability and presence in her life. Jules isn’t exactly sure of her place in Rue’s life currently, as Rue has been ignoring her attempts at reaching out. Earlier in her conversation with Dr. Nichols, as Jules describes how Rue can see the real her clearly, she compares how Rue sees her to the way a mother would see a child, with such unconditional love before you’re anyone really at all. It’s a curious comparison given Jules’s fraught relationship with her own mother, Amy (Pell James), that figures into the episode heavily.
Jules’s relationship with Amy is complicated by her mother’s addiction to alcohol. In flashbacks, her father tries to engender a conversation about how her mother has grown recently, being nine months sober and eager to make amends. Jules isn’t interested. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop her father from having her mother over in hopes of making this forgiveness possible. Jules has a heated conversation with her father. “She wants forgiveness?” she asks angrily. Her mother overhears everything and leaves before Jules can come downstairs to offer a fake apology. A week later, Jules — decked in her Romeo + Juliet angel Halloween outfit, placing this firmly in the events of episode six — overhears her father discussing her mother’s disappearance and hospital stay due to a relapse. The episode draws a link between the complexity of Jules’s relationship with her mother with that of her dynamic with Rue. I can see what Levinson and Schafer are going for with this approach. But there’s so much going on in the episode that such revelations don’t have room to breathe. While there are intriguing ideas nestled throughout, nothing feels wholly developed enough to get under your skin in the way it needs to be to reach success. Instead there was a hollow feeling at the pit of my stomach after watching this. Despite all its intensity, it didn’t leave much of an impact.
The episode ends soon after Jules leaves the therapy session. She’s back home in bed and is greeted by Rue at her door. Rue was on her way to meet Ali and found that she couldn’t help but visit Jules when she passed by her home. “I really missed you,” they say to each other. Jules tries to apologize for what happened regarding their separation at the train station. But Rue is so overcome with emotion she leaves with only a “Merry Christmas” hanging in the air between them.
The way this reunion plays out is odd. It doesn’t have the emotional weight and force you’d expect. Schafer plays it almost as if no time has passed between them, which feels less like a way to speak to the natural bond between the women and more a miscalculation on the part of the actor and director. I couldn’t quite tell if this was another fantasy of Jules’s at first. At this point I think this reunion did in fact happen, it’s just played at the wrong tenor, so it comes across as feeling a touch uncanny and disconnected from the full emotional weight the moment deserves. This second Euphoria special seeks to detail the impact of the stories we tell ourselves on the shape of our own lives. Jules’s relationship with her body, desires, romances, and family prove to be fertile ground in this manner. It’s a shame “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob” is unable to allow these ideas to fully bloom.