RECAP: ‘Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys’ shows the start of a dark descent for Rue

Boyce Rucker, Staff Writer

This review contains spoilers for episode three in season two of “Euphoria.”

When we entered the new season of ‘Euphoria’ weeks ago, we saw the characters setting themselves up for chaotic endeavors and self-destructive tendencies, as the show is known for. This week, such chaos and dysfunction continues for the characters. However, the pandemonium becomes ever more apparent as we refocus our attention towards Rue (Zendaya) for a majority of the episode. The last few episodes’ major focus toward storylines involving characters like Fezco (Angus Cloud) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) pulled us away from Rue for a bit, as it seemed like she was just in a repetitive state of being high all the time. “Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” is a darkly comedic yet tragic episode that reevaluates key characters as victims of their own circumstances and surroundings while alluding to their destructive outcomes.

While trying to form a friendship between Jules (Hunter Schaefer) and Elliot (Dominic Fike), Rue pursues a new business opportunity that has a few deadly and difficult drawbacks. Cassie obsessively adopts a new routine as she works to become the perfect woman for Nate (Jacob Elordi) as Maddy considers getting back with him. After Nate claims that Fez has Cal (Eric Dane) and Jules’ videotape, Cal decides to make his move against Fez.

Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys (Euphoria, 2022). (Sam Levinson/IMDB )

Cal is the focus in this week’s backstory opening. Set during his senior year of high school, we follow young Cal (Elias Kacavas) as he begins a sexually energetic relationship with Nate’s mother Marsha (Rebecca Louise). Cal soon becomes conflicted however as he grows closer to his best friend and wrestling teammate Derek (Henry Eikenberry). As the bond between the two friends grows, it culminates in a night filled with passion and eroticism where the two fully open up to each other. This newfound romance is short-lived though, as Cal receives a phone call from Marsha with the revelation that she is pregnant with Nate’s older brother Aaron.

The opening succeeds in making us more empathetic towards Cal this time around. Who we previously thought of as a creepy and weirdly unnerving man is now seen as a confused individual, who is a prisoner to his own decisions. Like most of the characters, Cal is marked by tragedy, his in never being able to reclaim the sexual freedom or vulnerability he had during his night with Derek. Graduating high school provides a freedom in itself that Cal was able to top off with he and Derek’s relationship, but it is squandered soon after by Marsha’s pregnancy, which still confines him to a marriage at a young age and becoming a father.

Dominic Fike in Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys (Euphoria ,2022). (Sam Levinson/IMDB )

In addition to his father’s strictness, it seems as though his potential future with Derek was doomed from the start. Consequently, this has led to Cal living most of his adult life as a closeted man, who likely looks to recapture his earlier sexual experiences in the partners he engages with in his recorded videos. Like Nate, young Cal holds athletic spontaneity and has a seemingly constrained relationship with his own father, but he does not exhibit Nate’s more psychopathic tendencies. A greater tragedy lies in how Nate himself is traumatized and shaped by Cal’s attempts to recapture the euphoric feeling he lost way too soon, contributing to a cycle of trauma between the father and son. Cal’s origin story is one of the most significant in the show so far as we discover the tragic layer beneath a questionable character.

In the present day, we see Rue making the most erratic decisions as drugs continue to dictate her lifestyle. Her first scene shows her dancing throughout the house with a pillow, obviously high, prompting her sister Gia (Storm Reid) to ask if she’s high. We then cut to a fourth-wall breaking classroom scene, the same as season one’s d–k pic lecture, where Rue acknowledges her own relapse with a slideshow of drugs, before enthusiastically teaching “How to Get Away With Being A Drug Addict.” We see this play out when she uses weed as a “cover drug” and suggests the idea of trying it to Gia, resulting in a tense argument that’s resolved when Rue gaslights her by saying that she would commit suicide if she weren’t on drugs. 

Zendaya in Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys (Euphoria, 2022). (Sam Levinson/IMDB )

Rue’s streak of despicable and self-destructive behavior continues when she visits drug dealer Laurie (Martha Kelly) and proposes a plan to distribute a luggage case full of drugs worth 10k, while citing her 3.95 high school GPA as assurance. This results in her berating Ali (Colman Domingo) for inquiring about the luggage case after she brings it to a recovery, weaponizing their discussion from the Christmas episode special. Aside from the dire consequences involved if she does not generate profit for Laurie, Rue continues to show her death wish by trying fentanyl patches at the end of the episode.

While the episode gives us time to reconsider our feelings on Cal, it also does the same for Rue. We always knew that Rue was a drug addict headed towards a dark descent unless she cleans up her act, which seemed possible as long as she was with Jules. As the season has shown so far, Rue almost seems incapable of giving up drugs. Her drug habits and the toll it is taking on her are amplified given her crudeness and spiteful nature through the episode. In “enter euphoria,” creator Sam Levinson states that he wanted to see far he could “push [Zendaya’s] likeability.” Zendaya’s acting prowess and star power is what attracts a lot of us to the show. This episode seems like a test to see if we can overlook the performer’s popularity to realize the character’s incendiary acts. Zendaya’s portrayal of Rue this episode is another one worth Emmy buzz as she mixes original dance choreography, comedic timing, inner turmoil and detestable spirit to remind us of Rue’s defining qualities as a character we cannot expect to continuously grow without downfalls.

Sydney Sweeney in Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys (Euphoria, 2022). (Sam Levinson/IMDB )

The comedic elements make some of the darker story beats stand out more and liven the mood quite a bit. Although moments like Rue’s gaslighting Gia while breaking the fourth wall, Cassie tailoring herself for Nate and Cal’s encounter with Fez and Ashtray are fueled by anxiety, it would not be wrong to laugh at the hilarity behind each instance. The shared confusion between Cal and Fez as Ashtray beats Cal over the head repeatedly with a shotgun is a surprisingly funny interaction. “Euphoria” makes their conversation a bizarre one in which Fez’s outspoken confusion meshes well with Cal’s frankness and own inner confusion. Small character bits, like Fez’s mistakenly referring to Jules as “Jewel” and Cal’s near-stoicness whilst being beaten bloody make the confrontation worth it for all the laughter it brings. Other worthy highlights include Maddy and others assuming Cassie is auditioning for “Oklahoma!”  as she wears a plaid dress, while on the verge of nervous breakdown, and Fez’s bluntness when refusing to give Rue product to sell when she initially approaches him.

“Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys” does not offer more development on positive things like Fez and Lexi’s relationship, but it does shed a light on the tragicness that ultimately defines its characters, particularly Rue and Cal. As Rue is always on a constant bender and on the precipice of self-destruction, her routine and lifestyle seems like it will get more shakier in the coming weeks.

This review is the third of a weekly schedule that will recap each episode of “Euphoria” for the current season. Come back every Monday to read our take on this season!