If there is a central protagonist in the sprawling ensemble of HBO’s “Euphoria,” it is Rue. Played with raw sincerity by Zendaya, the character embodies the most vulnerable, resilient, and traumatic parts of the show. A teen addict is a whole other beast from an adult one. With Rue, we see this particularly in her role as the unreliable narrator.
The Story Rue Tells Us
If there is one thing the show has established about Rue’s identity, it is that she has no qualms about lying. As an addict, she lies constantly. Whether to family or friends, to herself or to us, Rue is not walking a path of honesty. And more so, she does not want to be on any such path. She makes up excuses in split seconds, little fictions to justify an action or an outburst. Is it any surprise then that we question the truth of her narration?
Most episodes of the “Euphoria” perform deep-dives into the characters’ backstories. They are all narrated by Rue and expose complicated histories to us. But we have no insight into how she knows these things, or whether she actually knows them at all. For a character who has spent years as an addict, it is likely that her memory and observational skills have been erratic. It is easy to question how much of her narration is fabricated, exaggerated here and there, with Rue filling in the blanks with her own imagination.
If an audience chose to watch the show without her narrations, it might be that we witness a very different host of characters. Characters we don’t fully understand, or empathize with. Teenagers and adults who display what they want to display, without any knowledge on our part of where it is all coming from.
Rue – The Addict
While “Euphoria” spends a lot of time on Rue’s addiction, both her struggles to stay clean and her escapades while high, it is rare that she articulates why she returns to the drugs. Through her own backstory, we see the first time she took pills, and how it was a direct consequence of her father’s illness and death. But we are not invited into Rue’s vulnerability as often as she tells us the story of others’ vulnerabilities.
It is telling how this unreliable narrator shifts focus from herself and onto the cracks in those around her. She is certainly observant, resourceful, and smart when she isn’t high. So it follows that some of it seeps through the haze of the drugs, as displayed when her outbursts against other people come laced with the truth. Perhaps, as the drug addict is ignored, the drug addict sees all. And what she doesn’t see, she fills up with her own spurts of imagination.
It may be said that it is her imagination that makes the stories colorful. It could be that what she fills in are the parts we enjoy most.
The only people who seem to get through Rue’s unstable shields are the ones removed from the school. Rue’s mother, and even Fez, her dropout drug dealer, were touched. She has the space to be honest with these characters for individual reasons, and we see that they are the only characters to snarl in her face as she snarls back. Narrator or not, these are the characters that don’t have time for her stories.
In “Euphoria” Season 2, we see Rue fall harder and faster into the spiral of drugs. We watch her experiment, overdose, and nearly die in the premiere episode. Her ideas are wild, ridiculous and with no regard to personal safety. She lies far worse than she did in “Euphoria” Season 1. Her outbursts are no longer forgivable, and she seems intent on destroying the circle of trust around her. This is now a teen who has had enough, but can never get enough. And so she explodes in the faces of those who hold her accountable.
As we get more backstories in “Euphoria” Season 2, and see the plot delve into the characters who used to stay in the background, we hear more of Rue’s narration. Perhaps with a growing mistrust of her stories, and perhaps with faith in her imagination, but certainly with the knowledge that Rue is no truth teller.
“Euphoria” is a 2021 Coming Of Age Drama Television Series created by Sam Levinson. It is streaming on HBO Max.