By Idy Barry
Jules is not a villain, she’s a teenage girl. Spoilers ahead for Euphoria Season 2.
Jules Vaughn in season 2 of Euphoria. (Eddy Chen/Instagram).
When season one of HBO’s Euphoria initially aired, I didn’t feel much of a connection to any character. It wasn’t until two bridge episodes were released between Season 1 and 2 that I had a deeper understanding of the show and its characters. The episode that resonated with me the most was “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob,” featuring Jules Vaughn, played by Hunter Schafer.
The release of this special episode allowed the audience to see Jules from her own perspective, rather than from Rue, as narrator. A deeper dive into Jules’ motivations, specifically her need for validation and relationship with her addict mother, made it hard for me not to empathize with her character.
In the wake of Season 2’s finale, I can say I’m surprised at the direction Jules’ character went, but even more at the general reception of Jules online. Scrolling through TikTok the day after an episode was released, I couldn’t believe the amount of negativity towards her. She seems to always be a target for criticism, even for how she cheered for Lexi in the finale. While criticisms are warranted, it’s important to note that Euphoria is a nuanced portrayal of deeply flawed teenagers in an even more flawed society. Of the main cast, few are inherently bad people — Jules included.
One of the most toxic elements of #Rules (Rue + Jules) is Rue’s dependency on Jules in terms of her sobriety. In Jules’ special episode, she expresses how this responsibility affects her negatively when she says: “I’d just, I’d feel, like, this weight. Like, this massive weight on my shoulders, and I’d think, like…Like, what if she relapses, you know? Like what if she relapses ‘cause I’m not there?” This pressure, to essentially be responsible for a life (at a point in which she is still coming into her own), is immense for a teenager. In their first interaction in Season 2, Rue tells Jules she relapsed right after Jules left town in the Season 1 finale, confirming her fears. Having a loved one who is also an addict can be extremely difficult, especially at a young age. You don’t want to hurt them or make them feel unsafe; however, it can also be your burden to help them recover. This is especially significant with Rue and Jules, considering they met right after Rue left rehab.
"Hunter Schafer and Zendaya (who plays Rue Bennett) behind the scenes of "Fuck Anyone Who's Not a Sea Blob." (Letterboxd).
We follow Rue, as narrator, throughout the series, which frequently results in biased representations of events and characters. From the moment Rue meets Jules, she sees her as perfect and puts her on a pedestal. We, as an audience, rarely see Jules’ struggles and point of view because Rue can’t see that side of her. It's a lot easier to find flaws within a character who the narrator constantly describes as “perfect.” I also find that, regardless of Rue’s behaviour, the audience takes her side because they identify more closely with her point of view as the main character. So, when Rue is mad at Jules, everyone else is as well.
While many people found reasons to dislike Jules in Season 1, Season 2 seemed to add even more fuel to the already burning flame. I remember fighting for my life on Twitter and TikTok, defending her each Sunday night after an episode aired. When I look at the characters in Euphoria, I try not to view them from a binary point of view. They all make decisions for their own reasons (whether they are explicitly stated or not). Yet, this isn’t always a true justification. For example, I think Cal Jacobs’ backstory, as shown in Season 2, does not justify any of his past and current actions on the show. Yes, even him leaving his family.
In terms of Jules, the most frustrating actions of hers this season was her relationship with Elliot, and telling Rue’s mom that Rue was not sober and using drugs. To be frank, Elliot’s existence on the show irks me. I didn’t find him very likeable after the first episode, and his commentary on Jules’ sexuality was strange. However, he did expose the cracks in Rue and Jules’ relationship that were bound to be revealed in due time.
Jules and Elliot (Dominic Fike) in Euphoria S2E03.
After she meets Elliot, Rue is using more than ever before, especially after she gets a suitcase of drugs from drug lord Laurie. Rue feels like she’s on top of the world with a girlfriend and unlimited drugs, so she begins to neglect Jules. Even when they are together, Rue is too preoccupied by her high to be satisfied (both sexually and mentally) by Jules. In Jules’ special episode (and throughout Season 1 in general), it’s obvious that she seeks affection through male validation. She says herself: “I just, like, I look at myself, and I’m like, how the fuck did I spend my entire life building this. Like…Like, my body, and my personality, and, like, my soul around what I think men desire? It’s just, like…it’s embarrassing. I feel like a…a fraud.” Enter, Elliot. Jules is in a relationship in which she feels unwanted and disconnected, and Elliot offers her what Rue doesn’t. I am in no way condoning cheating and infidelity. I do think it’s important to consider how Jules could have made such a decision.
When it comes to the situation of Jules “snitching” on Rue to her mom, I was surprised at the amount of backlash towards Jules. I mean, people were even saying that she deserved to be yelled at by Rue as harshly as she had. Whether it was wrong of Jules to do is not up for debate — as Rue said, it saved her life. If Jules went straight to Rue, Rue wouldn’t have listened. She needed a full-blown intervention. When Rue yells at Jules and preys on her insecurities, all Jules can say is “I love you.” This made some fans more annoyed with her. How could Jules love Rue if she betrayed her? Jules had no responsibility to tell Rue’s mom, but she simply didn’t want Rue to die. She has seen the dangers of addiction through her mother, so it makes sense for her to do what she can to stop it from also happening to Rue. This scene in particular isn’t about hurting someone’s feelings out of spite or maintaining a relationship. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made in order to save a life. A lot of the discourse about the scene is over-reactive because many of the show’s viewers prioritize the dramatics of the show and its relationships.
Again, Jules is a teenager navigating life in modern society. A lot of us can relate to that — figuring out who the hell we are, what we want and need, etc. Jules has done nothing worse than what other Euphoria characters have done.
I will say that I am always partial to Jules Vaughn, simply due to her special episode. I find many aspects of her character relatable, and I empathize with her situation. That episode in particular was co-written by Hunter Schafer. She said in an interview with Lorde for The A24 Podcast that many aspects of Jules are derived from Hunter’s experience coming of age as a trans girl. While this story is fictional, I can’t help but remind myself that these situations (drug addictions, abuse, etc.) happen. Which is why I try to stay empathetic towards these characters because, like real people, they make mistakes.