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Euphoria: Zendaya’s Emmy-Worthy Performance and Rue’s Crash and Burn

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussion of substance abuse and mental health struggles.

If you haven’t seen Season 2 of Euphoria yet, spoilers are ahead!

On February 6, Zendaya made her mark on HBO Max’s hit series Euphoria and brought forward what fans believe is an Emmy-deserving performance. “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” the 5th episode of the series’ second season, appears to be a negative climax for main character Rue’s journey toward recovery. Throughout both Season 1 and 2, she rides a rollercoaster of recovery and relapse, training herself to desire sobriety but ultimately failing time and time again, oftentimes putting herself in dangerous, life-threatening situations to get her fix.

This is not the first time Euphoria viewers have been subject to the horrors of substance abuse, but it certainly is one of the most intense. Rue’s connection to drug abuse is surprising, as she considers herself a child of a “good life.” She notes in Season 1 that she has no past traumas that would cause her any sort of mental illness, yet she noticed herself feeling empty, distracted, and ultimately unhappy. Being diagnosed with a slew of illnesses, including OCD, ADD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, Rue eventually feels too “slow” with her prescribed medications and begins taking her sick father’s meds to make herself feel better. However, her good feeling never lasts, and Rue finds herself in an unhealthy, yet unstoppable cycle of drug abuse.

After her father’s passing, Rue’s mental condition gets worse, as she begins to rely on drugs as a source of happiness and resorts to stronger substances as they become accessible to her in her high school years. Her episode 5 breakdown is a culmination of trial and failure, hope turned to despair, and feelings of betrayal by people who truly love and care about her through Rue’s eyes. She has an angry, violent breakdown and tears apart the house searching for drugs when she realizes her mother knows about her relapse. She lashes out and berates her friends for telling her mom, and eventually settles down and cries, realizing all the hurt she’s caused. However, this sadder, mellow state does not last for long, as Rue hops out of the car on the way to the hospital for treatment and runs through incoming traffic to get away. Experiencing withdrawal, she stops by friends’ houses as an excuse to search and steal medications, eventually resorting to robbing a house of both money and jewelry. Evidently showing withdrawal symptoms, Rue catches the attention of the cops on the street and goes on a neighborhood chase while limping, even running onto incoming traffic for a second time in the episode. After a difficult encounter which leads to a morphine injection, Rue finds her way home and is met with her mother calling her name.

Euphoria has been criticized by many, including D.A.R.E., for seemingly glorifying drug abuse. However, Euphoria places viewers in a very realistic, hard-to-watch scenario. In Season 1, fans root for Rue and her journey to sobriety. Sure, she struggles to stay clean as any person struggling with abuse may, but her plot armor as the main character and narration of the series encourages fans that she will succeed and one day be okay. Like her mother, sister, and friends, we as viewers hurt when we see Rue fall apart, and have to face the uneasiness, awkwardness, and trepidation the characters face on and off-screen as they confront her, try to help her, and fear for her life.

I personally do not see Euphoria as a story of glamorization, but rather as a story of action and consequence, cause and effect. We have front row seats to Rue, a character we have fallen in love with since 2019, ruin her relationships, her home-life, and her health with disregard for everyone and everything around her. We see her break through doors and into houses, scream at her mom and torment her sister, and verbally assault, lie, and steal from her friends just to feel something. Rue ruins everything and hurts everyone around her, and ultimately hits rock bottom, as she can be objectively considered the most hated person because of her actions.

And yet, nothing Rue does is actually out of spite. The pain she enacts on others is a projection of the pain and confusion she feels inside herself. She feels broken and unredeemable. Her heart yearns for her father and for a meaningful life that has only been filled with the emptiness her illnesses convince her mind to feel. As time passes and memories fade, Rue’s pleasant memories become associated with the highs of drug usage, and her happiness ultimately becomes dependent on it as it’s all she’s ever known. We watch her succumb to her mental illness and dependency, constantly refusing the help that is given to her and associating herself with those who intend to take advantage of her unhealthy behaviors. She is far from a perfect, let alone good-natured, main character.

However, Rue is not unfixable. We see it when she sobs on the hallway floor after breaking her sister’s door open with her head, when her adrenaline and mania-like behavior wears off and she walks home. She is sorry. She is sick of hurting her sister and her mother, but she doesn’t know how to stop and is scared of the uncertainty and difficulties that lie on the path to sobriety. How can you be happy when the only thing that makes you happy is no longer there? Like many of us feel, Rue fears change, and finds stability in her stagnant behaviors, as toxic and harmful they may be. Although Rue certainly may not reach sobriety by the end of the season, she is still worthy of being loved. Rue is still searching for meaning, and when she finds it she will likely come out stronger than ever. As Zendaya says herself, it is her greatest hope is that “she has a redemptive quality still, and that we still see the good in her even if she can’t see it in herself.” Rue has everything she needs to begin to heal, she just needs to take her first, truthful steps into the unknown.

Joan Tejera

U Conn '24

Joan is a junior at the University of Connecticut studying as a Computer Science and Engineering major. In her free time, she loves playing video games, listening to new music (constantly updating her Spotify playlists), and cooking & baking heart shaped things.