This highly anticipated, highly criticized season of Euphoria has been burning through characters and story lines so quickly you could almost forget Zendaya is at the forefront of the show. However, last night returned her to the spotlight to remind us how insanely talented she is in what was maybe the most devastating, most intense, most delightfully stressful episode yet.
It begins claustrophobically inside Rue’s home, where a sudden and gutting intervention is taking place. Finally, Rue’s mother and sister know the truth, and they confront her about it. Rue responds with anger and blames her mother. “You know what’s a shame? My dad’s dead. Kinda keeps you from admitting what a shit fuckin’ mother you are,” she says. “You hear that, Gia? I don’t want to put too much pressure on, you’re probably gonna have to be a fuckin’ neurosuregeon or maybe an astronaut because if not, then Mom is 0 for fuckin’ 2, and that means that it might actually just be her fuckin’ fault.”
As Gia begs her sister to stop, it seems as if everyone is shoving everyone until Rue’s mom kicks Rue out of the room and Rue begins kicking the door over and over until it breaks. “Where are my fuckin’ pills?” she yells, her voice cracking. “What did you do with the fucking suitcase?” Rue trashes the place, out of rage and panic, as her sister and mother cower in the room next door. “You fucking hate me? So do I. You wish I was different? So do I,” she yells. It’s violent and terrifying, and these are the moments that remind me both how talented Zendaya is and, in a show that can be outrageous, how realistically grounding she can be. Finally, she breaks down sobbing and apologizes for scaring them — and then begins to yell again until we hear Jules’s voice call out from another room. They flushed the suitcase’s worth of pills. It quickly becomes clear that Jules and Elliot were the ones who ratted on Rue about the drugs — and that they’ve been listening to everything she has been screaming at her family. Zendaya’s face contorts into a look of embarrassment we know all too well: the look of when friends witness something too real, something you don’t want them to see.
Rue painfully lashes out at Jules and Elliot, cruelly pleading with them to leave her alone. “You’re dead to me,” she says to Jules, who painfully answers, “I love you, and I want to help you.” After the reality of her words to Jules sets in, Rue agrees to go to the hospital with her mom. “I was about a month away from killing myself,” she reveals once she’s in the car, before she bolts out and we spend the rest of the episode following Rue running around town trying to evade the withdrawal she knows is coming.
Even after the long-awaited reveal of Maddy finding out about Cassie and Nate, it’s Rue who steals the attention. Well, it is Rue who finally makes Cassie’s worst nightmare come true when, while everyone is in the Howard household for a continuation of Rue’s traveling intervention, Cassie sweetly gives Rue advice to take her sobriety one day at a time. “Hey, Cass. Can I ask you something?” Rue responds. “How long have you been fucking Nate Jacobs?” As quickly as she was willing to encourage Rue, Cassie throws her under the bus, saying, “Why would you even believe her? She’s a drug addict,” between fits of nervous laughter and devastating sobs. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for all season long, and as quickly as it happens, it’s over and we’re following Rue running away once again.
The entire 54-minute episode was a reminder of what first drew us into the series: Zendaya’s shatteringly good portrayal of addiction. Brutally honest, and very up close, this episode felt like rock bottom for Rue, and Zendaya executed it so damn well. As an actress, she cares about Rue so much I can’t help but feel the same.
“In an interview, I was asked about Rue’s journey this season. I guess this is what I hope we hold onto and are left with in the end,” Zendaya wrote in an Instagram post before the episode aired. “I care about her deeply. I also care about the people who care about her, because I think many of them share her story of addiction and sobriety, and many of them share a lot of her emotional disorders, and I think it’s important that we continue to have that love for her.”
Although season two has garnered quite a bit of online debate and discourse, primarily around the dislike of creator Sam Levinson, there is zero debate as to how well Zendaya both continues to play a complicated character I do care about, even though I probably shouldn’t, and portrays the complicated truth of addiction and young adulthood. When are the Emmys, again?