HBO's 'Euphoria' Special Gets Existential in a Striking Late-Night Diner Chat

In the first of two special 'Euphoria' episodes, Colman Domingo's Ali delivers frank truths about addiction, recovery, and revolution.

euphoria, colman domingo
Colman Domingo | HBO
Colman Domingo | HBO

When Euphoria creator Sam Levinson approached Colman Domingo with the idea of doing a special episode featuring just his character Ali, a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, opposite Zendaya's Rue, he was not expecting two people sitting alone in a diner, talking. "Of course, I thought, okay, the way the show operates is 178 scenes, wild camera moves. I thought it was going to be like two addicts in Fantasia," Domingo says. Instead, he got a monologue-heavy script that he said left him "shaking." 

"This is in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of people marching the streets and Black Lives Matter, this is right after George Floyd's death," he says. "I felt like it was pulsing through my body, everything that was written in those pages. I thought, This is the time to say those things." 

Domingo's character appeared throughout the first season of Euphoria as a counselor to Zendaya's teenage drug addict, but this hour-long installment—the first of two, the second airing on January 24, titled “F–k Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob,” that's all about Jules—filmed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic while Levinson and his crew were waiting to start Season 2, delves deeper into Ali than ever before. He reunites with Rue after her relapse in the finale, precipitated by her girlfriend Jules (Hunter Schafer) leaving her at a train station. As he talks with her about the tricky road to sobriety on Christmas Eve, he reveals more about himself. He has a family, an ex-wife and two daughters. He himself has relapsed. He converted to Islam. 

According to Domingo, elements of his and Rue's conversations were originally interspersed throughout the upcoming season, which production was drawn to a halt after a table read right before lockdown. The special was the first experience Domingo had shooting under COVID-19 safety protocols. "It was a very quiet set, actually; it was a very careful set," he remembers. "I like to think that because we were all—crew members and cast—away from the work for a while, we looked at this as something precious."

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The centerpiece of the episode is undeniably a five-minute monologue from Domingo about revolution. He starts out talking about how gratifying it felt to see the Nike store with Black Lives Matter messaging emblazoned on its walls, and then how that curdled when you realize the callous capitalism behind that appropriation. He eventually tells Rue that any true revolution is spiritual. 

"I wish I had written those worlds because I really felt like this is such an examination of our culture," Domingo says. "When he says to Rue, 'You're sick,' I think he meant the 'you' which is a very large 'you'—meaning any viewer, meaning anyone who digests capitalism, anyone who digests TikTok and social media to really examine it and look deeper. I wanted to give it that gravity and that gravitas as well." 

Levinson based Ali on a real person, but Domingo has been consistently researching the role, speaking with people in recovery, including his own brother. He read his sibling the Nike speech over the phone. "[He] said, 'man, that's going to be a gift to any person in recovery,'" Domingo says. The actor, who also stars in Netflix's upcoming Ma Rainey's Black Bottom opposite Chadwick Boseman, uses the world "gift" a lot when referring to this project. It's appropriate given the season, which he sees as a melancholy time. 

"I think it was the Christmas gift that we didn't know we needed at the end of 2020," Domingo says. "We've been asking everyone to sit at tables across from each other and have difficult conversations about politics, about race, you name it. Now we're giving you a prime example of two people who have questions on the most difficult of holidays. It's dialed up, but all you can be is honest and that's the way you have progress."

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.