Euphoria’s very first episode of 2020 is big. It’s not physically expansive, hosting just two scenes over an hour run time, but it is emotionally as vast as the ocean heroine Rue Bennet (Emmy-winner Zendaya) references in the chapter. The episode — officially called “Euphoria Special Episode Part 1: Rue” — grapples with religion, the theory of redemption, familial trauma, and even American history. As Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) tells Rue towards the end of the installment, “You gotta believe in the poetry. The value of two people sitting in a diner on Christmas Eve talking about life, addiction, loss.”
Euphoria believes in the poetry. Still, such boundless contemplation over the many questions of the universe may leave viewers confused about what, precisely, is the ultimate meaning of “Rue.” For that, you need to pay attention to one specific line in the first half of the episode about why Rue is still alive despite the constant fatal horrors of the world. In the face of all that darkness, Rue is still here.
Over the first 20 minutes of “Rue,” the eponymous character admits one of her darkest secrets: Rue, who has an addiction to prescription pills, doesn’t want to get sober. She says the biggest obstacle in her road to sobriety is her inability to accept the second step of battling addiction, which is believing “that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” Besides Otis Redding and a mack truck, Rue refuses to think that a true higher power — like God — is real, let alone that it has the capacity to “restore” her. Rue is convinced that there is no order to the reasons why people, including her late father, die (she’s wearing his hoodie for most of “Rue”). The underlying suggestion is that Rue cannot understand why she is still on the earth while her dad, who had the “purpose” of raising her and her little sister (Storm Reid), is gone.
“Why is one person’s purpose greater than another’s? Why are some people struck down while others live?” Ali asks. “Why are you, Rue Bennett, sitting here when other 17-year-olds — 17-year-olds who are better, kinder, who are more respectful than you aren’t sitting here?”
It is this question that plagues Rue in every moment of her life. It is this question that leads Rue and Ali to the diner table on Christmas Eve. Because, Rue is unable to fathom that she is worth rescuing when so many people she believes are “better” are no longer alive. We see the shadows of this panic in multiple places throughout the episode. It’s there when she says that her worst heartbreak — Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer) abandoning her at train station at 2 a.m. in Euphoria's season 1 finale — is the universe’s “punishment” for Rue “being a piece of shit her entire life.” We see it when Rue begins to break down considering how she wants her family to remember her when she dies: “As someone who tried hard to be someone I couldn’t.” That imaginary someone is a person who is as “good” as all the ghosts in Rue's mind. And, most importantly, Rue's fear rears its “degenerative” head, in Ali’s words, when Rue admits her most devastating thought at the episode’s 48-minute mark.
“I just don’t plan on being here that long,” she whispers.
No matter how much we’re rooting for Rue as an audience, she can’t imagine going on much longer. “Rue is in a very vulnerable place. She’s trying her best to convince herself that she has something figured out,” Rue's portrayer Zendaya explains in the post-episode featurette. “Rue does not have it figured out. Rue does not know what she’s doing.”
So, Ali attempts to set her straight, pointing “Rue” in a fundamentally hopeful direction. After Rue suggests that she is past redemption for threatening to kill her mother (Nika King) with a knife (which can be seen via flashback in second episode “Stuntin' Like My Daddy”), Ali challenges her. He tells Rue that defining herself as a “piece of shit” is “superficial” and “way too easy” of an excuse to avoid the daunting task of self improvement.
“It allows you to keep doing exactly what you’re doing, because ‘you deserve it.’ There’s no hope. You’re 'beyond forgiveness,'” Ali says. “This is why the world is the way it is. People keep doing shit that we deem unforgivable and, in return, they decide there’s no reason to change.”
It’s this previously unseen mental trap that has kept Rue from recognizing that she is worthy of saving herself, higher power or no higher power. This diner conversation finally gives her the keys to allow herself out of this life-threatening metaphorical cage.
During Rue and Ali’s initial conversation about the “better” teens who aren’t celebrating Christmas Eve on this fated day, Ali tells Rue that neither of them will ever understand the “why” of destiny. “But here we are. So what now?,” he asks. At last, Rue’s answer might actually be hope.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.