When the first season of The End of the F***ing World dropped on Netflix, it quickly became a cult sensation, despite many people being initially put off by the idea of a black comedy about a psychopathic teen boy luring a teen girl on a road trip with the intention of murdering her.
You couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters — even James (Alex Lawther), the “psychopathic” weirdo, but perhaps especially Alyssa (Jessica Barden), the prickly, loud-mouthed, opinionated, vulnerable, impulsive, caring, complicated heroine who is one of the best-written female characters in recent years.
Despite how incredible Season 1 was — or rather, because of it — another season of the show felt unnecessary.
While open-ended, the final moments of Season 1 were an exquisite completion of the character arcs of James and Alyssa. Where could they possibly go in Season 2 that would be anywhere near as satisfying as that final line, that final shot?
Time To Breathe
For writer Charlie Covell, the answer lay in the future, with Season 2 picking up two years after the Season 1 finale.
“I wasn’t interested in carrying on directly after Season 1 — I felt the characters and the story needed some time to breathe,” she tells Junkee. “I wanted Season 2 to feel like it had grown up a bit, for it to mature with the characters.”
The time jump allows both the audience and the characters space from the explosive Season 1 ending. We pick up with Alyssa in a very different place — literally, having moved away from her hometown with her mother, but also psychologically. Gone is the brash, argumentative give-no-fucks attitude; Alyssa smiles politely, does as she’s told, goes with the flow, and generally, just tries to get through the day.
For Jessica Barden, this new side of Alyssa was appealing to play. “Alyssa seemed to represent someone who always knew what to say and how to respond, but what happens when that person is struggling and how do you escape the persona you have given yourself? I think a lot of people feel like that.”
Consequences And Trauma
While Season 1 saw Alyssa and James trying to escape the immediate consequences of their actions, Season 2 is about dealing with the far-reaching consequences. The kind that don’t go away so easily, and that can’t be fit into a neat narrative arc.
“Season 2 is hugely about PTSD, and trauma that isn’t necessarily immediate — but buried,” says Covell.
“I think Charlie wrote Alyssa perfectly, especially how someone like Alyssa would respond to a trauma,” adds Barden. “It was not the most expected storyline to come from the series, but one that I think was important to show.”
Where Season 1 explored the way these characters found solace and hope in each other — the way they rescued one another — Season 2 focuses on the way you actually have to save yourself.
The addition of new character Bonnie feels a bit jarring at first, but her own story of trauma dovetails well with the main plot.
Like James in Season 1, Bonnie is haunted by her past, and it’s caused her to lash out in violent ways. Her desire for vengeance drives much of the tension in Season 2, and though her arc doesn’t land quite as powerfully as James and Alyssa’s, it does drive home the different effect the same events can have on people.
Like the rest of the characters on the show, Bonnie is complicated, and she stirs up complicated feelings in the audience. That’s part of what makes The End of the F***ing World so wonderful.
What About James?
The elephant in the room amongst all of this, of course, is James himself.
The last we saw of him in Season 1, he’d apparently been shot by police. A lot of fans feared he was dead. The beginning of Season 2 leaves us hanging — we don’t discover what happened to him until well into the second episode.
Without spoiling too much, his fate ties beautifully into the themes of trauma and grief that recur throughout the season, and his narrative concludes in a way that is sure to leave fans satisfied.
For Covell, a happy and hopeful ending was vital. “Because otherwise it’s so bleak! No, seriously — what was important for me was to suggest, tentatively, that there was a happy ending,” she says. “I think hope is important, particularly the way the world is at the moment.”
That’s one thing both seasons have in common: in addition to the incredible performances, writing, soundtrack, costuming, set design and all the rest, of course.
For a show titled The End of the F***ing World, it leaves you feeling remarkably warm and content. Which is, frankly, pretty damn necessary.
The End of the F***ing World is currently streaming on Netflix.