Previous years Malcolm & Marie taught us a few things. First, Sam Levinson is not artistically equipped to produce a nude, dialogue-driven dramatic feature. Second, there was the question of whether he had heard the two arguing before. And third, Zendaya is not particularly well-suited to performances that involve raising voices above mumbling.
Unfortunately, these shortcomings find themselves in this week Happinesswhich according to Rue encountered a scandalous withdrawal case. At the beginning of the episode, our protagonist is finally arrested after Jules informs Rue’s mother Leslie that she is using. The fallout from this reveal is something we’ve seen before in season one. There was a lot of cursing, shouting and crying. Rue kicked in the door and assaulted her mother. Gia is traumatized. There is mention of Rue’s father to remind us that her problems are partly related to his death and then flashbacks. Yadda yadda yadda.
After weeks of watching Rue brood and shrug at someone else’s movie, maybe Levinson will finally give her some super story. (After all, Zendaya didn’t get a second Emmy for making funny faces for the camera.) However, what should have been a jarring moment is overshadowed by the overall bad construction of the scene, from its dialogue to its pacing to Zendaya’s attempt to appear menacing.
Apparently, Levinson has a penchant for attracting madness in his work. But he still hasn’t mastered rhythm or found a movement that feels natural for these protracted depressions. Likewise, he seems to have instructed Zendaya to simulate the Tasmanian Devil for this entire 12-minute scene. This animated psychotic performance ends up being quite amusing and makes me question why Gia and her mother couldn’t pin this tiny girl to the ground. When things sometimes settle down for Rue or Leslie to say something hurtful – like when Rue eerie insinuates that her mother is responsible for her father’s death from cancer – these stabs extremely lame.
Beneath all of Rue’s hysterical words, there is a terrifying revelation that Leslie and Jules have escaped Laurie’s suitcase. I think the scene would be less sloppy if Rue was primarily reacting to this news. It felt unnecessary for Jules and Elliot to be present for her to scream as well. Who cares about Rue severing her relationship with Jules when the possibility of her being sold to human traffickers looms in the background?
The rest of the episode is equally sloppy and awkwardly paced. After draining all of her (current) energy, Rue agrees to go to the ER for rehab, but Leslie actually plans to test her into rehab. When Rue realized this, she drag a Lady Bird and jumped out of the car, ran through an intersection and disappeared into a residential area. After falling asleep in an alley, she wakes up in more pain after withdrawing and decides to go to Lexi and Cassie’s house to raid their drug cabinet.
When Rue arrives, she is greeted by Lexi, who, again, has nothing important to say other than to observe that Rue looks terrible. Cassie, Maddy and Kat were also there but immediately went to another room without even inviting Rue to join them. If there’s any question as to whether Rue is really part of the central group of friends on this show, the answer seems to be no.
Rue ends up in the bathroom, where she can’t find the medicine she needs. When she returned downstairs, Leslie was waiting for her in the living room with the others, who looked like they were being forced to interact with Rue against their will. This is another moment when the episode descends into total mayhem. For some reason, Levinson decided to expose Cassie and Nate’s love affair right in the middle of Rue’s interference. After Cassie innocently encouraged Rue, Rue countered that she and Nate had “made love” when they saw them kissing in his car a month ago.
“For some reason, Levinson decided to expose Cassie and Nate’s love affair right in the middle of Rue’s interference.”
You’d think this reveal would get its own theatrical moment, as most of the season has been spent in this love triangle, but instead is woven into a scene primarily about Rue. Also, it’s odd that Rue is the one dropping this bomb off everyone, considering the extent of her contact with the three people involved. Maddy wasn’t even allowed to leave Cassie entirely, because they were being asked by the adults in the room to discuss the matter.
Amidst the chaos, Rue escapes and goes to Fez’s house to get drugs. Again, we’ve watched Fez and Rue fight over drugs before. This time, he grabbed her and threw her out of his home in a way that didn’t match his tender, caring attitude toward her. She went to another block and spotted a car leaving the garage and sliding through the front door before it turned off. She encountered a growling dog and had to hide from her landlord when they returned but managed to escape with some money and jewels.
As if Rue hadn’t gotten enough exercise in the past 24 hours, Levinson gave the police a chase after several officers questioned her on a street corner. This convoluted sequence is like an obvious spin-off to an episode that doesn’t really know what it’s about. The fact that she was able to do this in such a state of extreme impairment was truly mind boggling. At one point, she even fell over a glass table and immediately bounced back like John Wick.
Finally, she reaches her final destination of the night at Laurie’s house. This scene offers some respite from the mess of the rest of the episode, thanks to Martha Kelly’s chilling performance. Rue gives Laurie the jewelry and several thousand dollars she stole and explains that she doesn’t have the rest. This is where some of the holes in the plot start to appear. While we hear Rue’s pitch about how she plans to sell the suitcase, it’s never clear if she’ll actually go through with it or how she’ll pay Laurie back. Her reaction to her mom getting rid of the drugs was like she was about to sell them, but we haven’t seen a single sale. Is she going to use that whole suitcase for herself and steal the money from somewhere else? When is the money actually due in this timeline?
Laurie was a surprising mother and nurturer to Rue, sharing her own experiences with drugs, giving her baths and injecting her with morphine. However, she oddly tells Rue that “as a woman” she can profit in other ways, reminding us of her original promise to sell her to some people are bad when they make the first deal. When Rue woke up the next morning, she left Laurie’s apartment despite her loud croaking parrot and jumped from the balcony. The last scene we see is Leslie sitting in her house and the sound of the door opening and closing.
All in all, this whole hour is a tireless attempt to give Rue more storyline and wrap up some loose ends. At this point, there were many grounds that Rue’s problems were related to her father’s death. And I’m not sure we need more flashbacks to remind us every time she turns around. Addiction to drugs is naturally a cycle that repeats itself. But if Levinson is going to entertain from it, he needs to find more creative ways to portray the experience.