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Unpacking That Disturbing Euphoria Special Episode Sex Scene

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Euphoria special episode “Jules.” 

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Euphoria is a series that made its mark by pushing boundaries. It’s the show that has a history-making amount of full-frontal nudity within one of its very first episodes. But, December’s special episode “Rue” — a heartstring-pulling yuletide dirge about the pain of addiction — was light on the explicit sex scenes that many expect from Euphoria. 

Friday night’s special episode followup, “Jules,” more than makes up for its chaste predecessor. “Jules” is dotted with glimpses into the sexual and romantic fantasies of its titular character, Jules Vaughn (episode co-writer Hunter Schafer), and her two-season 1 love interests: the imaginary Tyler (here embodied by real-life adult film actor Jayden Marcos) and the very real, very heartbroken Rue Bennett (executive producer/Emmy winner Zendaya). 

Many of the hookups in “Jules” are sweet and sensual. But one towards the end of the episode is not. Instead, it’s an anxiety-inducing experience that needs explaining. While you might get caught up in the operatic background music and horror undertones, the intense fantasy is all about capturing Jules’ complicated feelings for Rue, Tyler, and the person “Tyler” really ended up being, the monstrous Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi). 

To understand the sex scene, you have to take into account what comes directly before it. In therapy, Jules talks through her feelings about Tyler, the imaginary boy she fell in love with over the internet and via text. For most of Euphoria season 1, Jules has no idea that Tyler is actually a persona crafted by her abusive classmate Nate. “Whoever I was talking to didn’t exist. How could none of it have been real? It felt so real,” Jules says to her therapist Dr Nichols (Lauren Weedman). “I’m still in love with Tyler. And I don’t know when that’s going to change.” 

In her fantasy world, which is a little love nest of a New York apartment, Jules tries to focus on Tyler. Except, she realises there are no photos of them as a couple in the bathroom. To add to the eeriness, Tyler keeps disappearing in the darkness of the space. There are, however, pictures of Jules and Rue on the mirror; the image of Rue also flashes through the empty room. 

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These realisations take Jules into the actual fantasy sex scene, which eventually feels violent. In the fantasy apartment, Jules and Tyler have passionate sex. But, Jules is unable to fully enjoy the encounter because Rue is wandering away from her, lighting a joint. Jules reaches out to Rue, calling for her, but Rue ignores Jules and locks the nearby bathroom door. In a later scene, Jules explains to Dr. Nichols that she has a recurring nightmare where Rue locks that same door and dies of an overdose in the bathroom. Considering the pills Jules has just seen in the bedside drawer during her sexual fantasy, it seems likely she thinks Rue is about to die due to her hookup with Tyler. 

As sex with Tyler intensifies — with the pair moving to the floor — Jules is still unable to connect to her partner. Instead, she continues to grasp desperately for Rue, who is in the bathroom. It is only when Rue lays down next to Jules does she seem anywhere close to orgasm. Jules and Rue reach for each other one final time, creating a shot that is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” 

Unfortunately, this positive development is ruined when Tyler morphs into the person he really is: Nate, a frightening predator. “Don’t look at my face,” he says above Jules, covering her face in a motion reminiscent of his father Cal’s (Eric Dane) habit of stuffing his hand in the mouth of a sexual partner. In response to that terrifying moment, Jules screams in horror on the floor. At the same time, Rue drops to the ground behind the bathroom door, fulfilling Jules’ nightmare. The underlying dream logic seems to be that Jules is afraid of her toxic connection with Nate ultimately harming herself and Rue. 

Throughout this entire fantasy, real-life Jules is masturbating in her bed at home. It is unclear if she climaxes, particularly since the intrusive appearance of Nate could have made the entire fantasy seem unsafe. Remember, Jules never says that she loves Nate, despite his identity as “Tyler” — she solely carries a torch for the Tyler of her imagination. The only thing Jules can say after the mental experience is, “Rue.” 

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As we learn by the end of “Jules,” that same word — “Rue” — is likely the only thing ringing in Jules' mind as the episode closes. Dr. Nichols may actually just help Jules exorcise the ghost of Tyler after all.

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