Euphoria’s sophomore season has largely been an examination of Rue Bennett, expertly executed by Zendaya, and her descent into addiction. With each passing episode, viewers have been transfixed by the extreme lengths Rue is willing to go for a fix, but this hits an apex in episode five. Premiering on Sunday, the episode features an explosive opening sequence followed by an all-night foot chase—which includes robbery, several physical fights, and a car crash—that solidifies Zendaya as a dramatic actress to be reckoned with.
Season two, episode five opens with Rue frantically looking for the suitcase of pills she acquired from that drug dealer who sounds like she’s been on expired Quaaludes for the last thirty years. What follows in the next ten minutes is a tirade that any family or friend of an addict will likely find eerily familiar. Between anger spikes amid outbursts of tears, Rue begs her mother to tell her where the pills are, unable to admit what the absence of the pills really means—that she won’t be able to pay back the drug dealer the $10,000 she owes. Her mother, who’s desperately trying to ground Rue in reality and convince her to go back to rehab, is helpless against the tornado Rue quickly becomes. Rue kicks in her sister Gia’s door, hellbent on destroying everything in her path as she knocks furniture over and brushes items off the tops of dressers. There’s screaming and crying and rhetoric that goes straight for the jugular. Rue stoically tells her mom she’s a bad mom, repeatedly, and then seconds later crumples on the floor crying, apologizing for what she’s just said. To say Zendaya has the range would be putting it lightly.
The intense and heartbreaking scene culminates with Rue’s mother getting her in the car to go to the ER, only for Rue to jump out of the vehicle into oncoming traffic and embark on a foot chase that takes her all over her own neighborhood and beyond. She visits Fez, Lexi, and Laurie’s homes, desperate for someone to help her withdrawal symptoms and provide some semblance of solace. In each of her visits, between two of which she robs a wealthy couple’s home and is chased by several police officers, Rue leaves further destruction in her wake. Fez has to physically carry her out of the house after she tries to steal drugs from his grandmother. At Lexi’s, Rue reveals Cassie’s secret relationship with Nate in front of Maddie, prompting an instant blowout between the now-former best friends. At Laurie’s, she begs for forgiveness for not being able to pay back the full $10k just yet and scores some morphine; hours later, Rue wakes up in a bed at Laurie’s, surrounded by other drug dealers with guns, and just barely escapes before dawn.
For a show that’s lauded for featuring a sea of dicks, glittery eye makeup, and prescient commentaries on toxic positivity, this chaotic episode highlighted the ugliness behind addiction that we often don’t see on screen. Rue’s family is exhausted and at a loss for what to do other than the only thing they can do. Her mother and sister drive around, seemingly all day and night, desperate to find Rue and bring her home. Because that’s what family does, even when you don’t like the person you’re looking for. We’ve long known that Rue isn’t the most likable person, but at this point she’s entirely unrecognizable. Through her addiction, she’s taken on an ugliness we’ve not been exposed to. She is fundamentally changed.
What fully sells this transformation is arguably Zendaya’s mastery at physicality. Through long tracking shots of her running for what feels like hours, Rue escapes the cops, barking dogs, birthday parties, and cars in her mania. Amid her running, she jumps onto a burning barbecue, over a card table decorated with food trays, and leaps fences like a D1 track star. Each scene was more exhausting to watch than the next. I kept thinking that Zendaya must’ve been covered in bruises after this episode, only to see that she posted a scar and a shiner on her Instagram Story from her time filming that proved just that. Her commitment to Rue cannot be understated and did not go unnoticed: Twitter exploded on Sunday night with calls for Zendaya to get another Emmy Award for the episode.
Euphoria is far from a perfect (or even overly realistic) show, but its willingness to take on addiction from the angles that it does is edifying for anyone who has not seen what it looks like to be in the mud with an addict. It’s a messy, nonlinear, Sisyphean journey. And while it doesn’t seem like Rue has any path upward from where she’s at now, she’s got one thing going for her that’s certain: In Zendaya’s hands, we’ll see the truth no matter how ugly or heart-racing it can be.