Essays · TV

Rue’s Epic Drug Odyssey Marks an Important Character Shift on ‘Euphoria’

The latest episode sees Rue embarking on an epic, inverted hero’s journey.
Euphoria Season Episode Rue
By  · Published on February 7th, 2022

Rue (Zendaya) is trapped in a vicious cycle. It’s the same one she’s been entangled in since the beginning of the first season of Euphoria: she uses drugs, she hits rock bottom, she considers getting clean, she momentarily gets clean, she relapses. And then the cycle starts right back up again. As far as addiction goes, this is a tale as old as time. It’s painful to watch, and in the world of this series, it’s dishearteningly familiar and agonizingly inevitable.

The latest episode of Euphoria (“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”) sees Rue at a new low when she wakes up one morning to discover that her girlfriend, Jules (Hunter Schafer), and best friend, Elliot (Dominic Fike), told her mom (Nika King) that she’s been using drugs and that the three flushed Rue’s suitcase of pills down the toilet. Rue’s reaction to this revelation is one of unbridled rage: she physically attacks her mom; she vandalizes her house; she tells Jules that she never wants to see her again.

In a sense, the entire essence of Euphoria is a fantastical spectacle of Rue’s addiction, made sense of by way of her own narration of it. Oftentimes after she does a line of opiates, for example, the world around her glows with magnificent, luminous colors, as euphoric beats swell in the background. Without this fantastical alternate reality that Rue spins for herself, she likely wouldn’t be able to justify her drug use to others — or to herself.

But in Season 2, Episode 5 of Euphoria, pretty colors and seductive synths won’t cut it anymore when it comes to depicting Rue’s addiction. As soon as she discovers that her suitcase is missing, she knows this has become a whole different ball game. Physically debilitated by withdrawal and feeling extraordinarily angry and betrayed, she has hit rock bottom harder than ever before. So what is there left to do now?

“Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” follows Rue over the course of 24 hours. After an explosive fight with her mom, her sister, Gia (Storm Reid), Jules, and Elliot, she agrees to go to detox. But on the car ride over, she changes her mind and leaps onto the highway with two goals in mind: find drugs, and hide from her mom. The next 40 minutes see Rue on a wild odyssey through the streets of Los Angeles. She attempts to rob her friend Fez (Angus Cloud), wreaks havoc in her friend group by telling Maddy (Alexa Demie) that Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) has been sleeping with the former’s ex, breaks into a wealthy couple’s house, leaps over fences in an epic foot-chase with the cops, and narrowly escapes being sex-trafficked by dead-pan drug-lord Laurie (Martha Kelly).

Indeed, we’ve seen Rue’s addiction push her to extremes before — from stealing her sick dad’s pain pills before he died to almost breaking down Fez’s door. But this is the first time show creator Sam Levinson has given Rue an After Hours-esque hero’s journey of sorts that sees our protagonist actively dodging obstacle after obstacle after obstacle.

Is Rue’s hellish night more than just a random series of unfortunate events? Given the way she has narrativized her addiction in the past, I’d be inclined to posit that none of her actions are totally random. Indeed, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” finds parallels to the most classic of heroic tales, namely Homer’s Odyssey. Like Odysseus’ men’s realities being skewed by the Lotus flowers in the epic poem, so is Rue unable to see beyond the influence of opiates. Similarly, Odysseus and his army venture into the underworld for directions home, and in a like manner, Rue takes to the underbelly of LA for her next fix.

Most significantly, Laurie locks Rue in her apartment, just like the mystical Calypso imprisons Odysseus on her island for seven years. Of course, Odysseus’ tale wouldn’t be complete without him returning home to his wife Penelope, and at the end of this episode of Euphoria, a door opens in Rue’s house — presumably she, like Odysseus, has returned home. But obviously, this isn’t your average Odyssey homage. Rue isn’t vying for prosperity and nobility in her night out, and instead of looking after her army, she hurts each and every member of it. But why does she do this? And why did Levinson think to give Rue an odyssey in the first place?

It has already been established that Rue is losing the narrative thread of her life. This is shown in the stark tonal disparities between “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” and every episode of Euphoria that came before it. This day-in-the-life is not embellished with neons, nor is it sprinkled with the show’s signature fun, comedic, or romantic cutaways. Instead, we’re forced to watch an hour of Rue sweating and shaking and vomiting without respite, surrounded by bland monochromes uncharacteristic for the show, and lit with oppressive, bleak shadows.

And so there’s really nothing left for Rue to do, now, than try to relate her struggle to a narrative that makes sense to her. And what makes more sense than the classic hero’s journey? So she sets out to overcome an array of hurdles, engaging in theatrical parkour almost like she’s in a video game, and doing everything else in extremes. She could have waited until she was in a safer place to jump out of her mom’s car, for example, but she decides to do so on the busiest stretch of highway. And that isn’t even the last time in the episode that Rue leaps across traffic. Likewise, Maddy finding out about Cassie and Nate’s covert affair was bound to be the most dramatic moment of Season 2, so it only makes sense that Rue chooses this specific night to drop that specific bomb.

All of this has the effect of Rue giving her addiction more of a purpose than it being merely something that her mind and body cannot stop her from doing. In a strange way, this is perhaps the most empathetic depiction of Rue the show has seen yet — it shows that she is running out of options, that she’s wildly desperate, and that she’ll go to the most extreme of measures to stop her pain from resurfacing. The moment she stopped being able to justify it simply sitting in her room, she went outside and created an epic adventure of which she was the hero.

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Aurora Amidon spends her days running the Great Expectations column and trying to convince people that Hostel II is one of the best movies of all time. Read her mostly embarrassing tweets here: @aurora_amidon.