Part 1: Rue, Otherwise known as “My Favorite Christmas Special Yet”
The Euphoria of my time was Skins, a British show centering teens with drugs problems and the lives that led them there. It featured Tony, the leader, Syd, the unfuckable virgin, and Effie, the train wreck delivered to us in season two who set the pace for women hurting everywhere. She was our Rue, our Jules, someone to look to in bad times and project on in good times. Addicts and fuck ups on screen seemed to handle it better than you. They make it fun. They make it sexy. They make it a hole to fall in when no one else can catch you.
Rue’s special follows the 1981 comedy My Dinner with Andre format. Seated across from Ali, Rue’s sponsor introduced to us in S01 E03, the two maneuver reasons why Rue relapsed. As if expecting the fall, Rue had pills set aside as a “safety,” a habit to return to when anxiety became so overwhelming she’d rather sink than wade. When you can no longer breathe, it holds your hand. Eventually, it consumes you whole.
For me, Effie was that rock, bobbing and weaving through the tide. I grew up watching her lean into partying through high school until it bled over into my life. She turned to pills and I turned to the pantry, snorting Hydrocodone while people prettier than me had a good time on screen. Romanticizing the idea of being someone not held back by anxiety, I lived through a group of high schoolers in another country thriving in University. Euphoria has glitter. Skins had glam.
As the episode progresses, Rue opens like origami. We get to the root of her problems and why exactly, she chooses drugs over sobriety. Without addiction to distract her, she discusses how sobriety ties her to the looming thoughts of suicide, a reason she doesn’t want to stray from pills and self medication. Coming clean requires one to emerge from the comfort of a blanket worn from time, one you’ve snuggled up to alone at a party when you’re smaller than a crowded room. Rue’s understanding and subsequent default to this state is telling of a young addict’s journey, where giving up is the only way to fuel the monster growing strong with each roll of a dollar bill. It is self serving, the idea you are beyond redemption. Ali points to this after Rue reveals she has no plan for the future because she wants no future.
“You think you are beyond forgiveness,” he says. “That is why the world has gone to shit.”
Unlike Rue and Effie, I had no one to project my pain onto in high school. I was devastatingly funny and drop dead gorgeous yet, despite this, my crush never seemed to notice me. Just as Effie put all her pain on to Freddie in a way she expected him to fix it, Rue channels her anger into Jules, a conduit for problems within oneself. The two never realize how pain is only curable by one, the constant in the equation. With nobody to turn to, I internalized everything myself, as someone with insecurities does at 16. If I lived this life alone, I could solve it alone. Time proved this wasn’t true, that the hardest part to sobriety is finding the will to see it through. As Ali says,
“The longer you do drugs the more you’re gonna lose. Not just love but the things you value in yourself.”
Ali is not remiss to noticing how addiction destroys one’s life. Sitting opposite Rue, he represents how no addict avoids consequences despite the years they’ve put behind them. In a beautiful parallel to sell the point, Jules sends Rue the song Me in Twenty Years by Moses Sumney, an on the nose message that illustrates Ali as a mirror. Like every addict, Ali has his moments, admitting he relapsed after twelve years for a year and a half because “he forgot how bad it is.” Ten years later, I still struggle with self medicating. It’s pretty when you’re young and ugly when it stays. You miss what makes up the fabric of time as you lose yourself in the wrinkles:
“You care about the big things but it’s the small things that make up the poetry of life.”
This story is repackaged and repurposed and the message is often lost on youth. Watching Effie, I fell victim to something that already lived inside me, unlocked by forty minute episodes with incredible production. Watching Rue, I see Gen Z celebrate life through “Euphoria” themed parties, the epitome of suffering, another trap being laid. Behind the smoke and mirrors is something insidious. You buy into the beauty without realizing the pain, a slippery slope between distinguishing the two. As wonderful a show as Euphoria is, Rue’s episode encapsulates that addiction is two sided, lows exist among highs.
Unlike Skins, which leaned heavier on abuse as the only means of reconciliation, Euphoria finds a way to tell the story as one of caution. I grew through phases of my life bent over toilets alone to snort whatever drug set aside for me as means of coping, had ex boyfriends lay Molly before me because lines were cool. In this episode, there’s only transparency, that on a Christmas morning both Ali and Rue are alone because they’ve pushed loved ones away. Eventually, the party ends. Eventually, you’re all you’ve got when everyone is gone.
At 26, I recognize the slope that sent me downhill, the idea that being the protagonist comes with hardship. In reality, living already exists along trauma, the negative with the positive. There’s no need to fuel anguish with pills, flames rise no matter how much kerosene you spill. The strongest spit when they’re punched and sit when they’re tired.
It’s a matter of fighting instead of floating.
Rue’s episode is exceptional television that works not only because of the constraints Corona has given us, but also because for so many people, living has become unbearable. We have time to sit and process an hour long episode when now, more than ever, we need to believe in something greater than ourselves. Something that exists outside our apartment windows that will be rewarded in time if we have the will to power forward.
“Your only hope is a real revolution, an inside and out revolution but you have to commit to it every day,” says Ali as he breaks from Rue in the Diner to step outside. “See it through. One day you might succeed.”