A remarkable hour of television, “Trouble Don’t Last Always” strips Euphoria bare for a special episode in which Colman Domingo delivers the small-screen performance of the year.
This recap of the Euphoria special episode, “Trouble Don’t Last Always”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the first season finale by clicking these words.
Euphoria is, at least to me, about excess and indulgence. It’s about shots of liquor and lines of crushed pills and the worst impulses of oversexed teens writ large. It’s neon and smeared lipstick and the grainy phone footage of motel liaisons; music too loud to hear the lyrics, mirrors too cracked to see their reflections. A part of me expected “Trouble Don’t Last Always”, a Christmas special no less, to be all this and then some, where the only trees are the ones you smoke and the only baubles are the ones your eyes resemble afterward. And yet it was none of this. In it, Rue (Zendaya) and her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) sit in a diner on Christmas Eve and just talk. They needle cold pancakes with cheap cutlery, laugh and cry. The conversation lasts an hour, give or take, and then it ends, and you get the sense that neither of them will be quite the same for having had it. I suspect much of the audience won’t be either.
Rue has relapsed, and it doesn’t take long for Ali to tell. He wasn’t privy to the hazy, idyllic fantasy that opened the episode, with Rue and Jules living the life they might have done had Jules not left Rue behind, but even that ends with the snorting of a crushed pill. Rue can’t hide from Ali, or herself, or her impulses, and all of these things become the topics of the conversation as it veers down and then tries to reverse out of the dead-end alleyways of self-loathing and despair. Rue is on the verge of that untethered, euphoric state that won Zendaya a deserved Emmy, and Ali is trying to lend her enough clarity to see that a downward spiral has no floor. It’s the show’s essential conflict between sobriety and, yes, euphoria, in its most distilled form.
For a while, before it coalesced into something more meaningful, Euphoria was an entirely sensory experience. It lived in an uncanny valley where everything was slightly too real rather than not quite real enough. Every color was gaudier, every angle sharper, every note harsher. “Trouble Don’t Last Always” strips all that artifice away, in part because it was shot and produced during a pandemic, but also because it wouldn’t have worked otherwise. The show’s creator, Sam Levinson, wrote this Euphoria special episode to live up to that distinction, to be special, and it achieves that by letting its guard down. In the same way as Rue’s arrogant posturing is a façade to hide her deep-seated existential terrors, the show’s stylistic flourishes are a distraction. They had to be pared down to almost nothing to let the truth amble, squinting and self-conscious, into the light of examination.
This is, and it can’t be stated insistently enough, a remarkable episode of television. It contains multitudes despite nothing happening in it, and you could teach a seminar on actorly nuance based on Colman Domingo’s face alone. Zendaya is excellent too at gradually unfurling the parts of herself she has kept most tightly bound and clenched, but Domingo, who was underused in the first season, dominates here with several riveting, minutes-long monologues that lay bare his entire backstory and philosophy. Now and again, Domingo seemingly breaks the character of Ali, but never leaves the context of the scene; he’s so thoroughly entwined with the fiction that his own truths are bleeding into it, and he manages to locate what’s both bleakly funny and achingly sad about their predicaments.
Ali and Rue are addicts. Always will be. They were born with, as he puts it, a couple of wires crossed, and it’s impossible to untangle the fizzing circuitry of minds as lively as theirs. But by being honest, with their selves and each other, they’re taking a careful step towards learning how to live with their truths. In an hour, it feels like they’ve talked about everything they could, and yet barely scratched the surface of what they needed to say. But it’s a start. And that’s better than an end.
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