Everyone’s a sucker for a British coming-of-age story. Ever since “Great Expectations” was published in 1860 (and even before that), we as consumers have been inexplicably interested in the triumphs and tragedies of young, white, boring British boys. Stories like “Submarine” (dir. Richard Ayoade), “Across the Universe” (dir. Julie Taymor), “Sex Education” (created by Laurie Nunn) and even “Harry Potter” chart the lives of British kids who are awkward, semi-traumatized and stumble when in love.
Channel 4 and Netflix’s series, “The End of the F***ing World” seemed like it would follow these character trends, but has added new elements to the story of the young, awkward British boy: what if the boy were lost, unfeeling and murderous? What if he had deemed himself to be a psychopath, but accidentally grew and fell in love?
When the series premiered in early 2018, it opened with the lines “I’m James. I’m 17. And I’m pretty sure I’m a psychopath.” At first, I rolled my eyes, but then I watched as the story of the insufferable, unemotional James (played by Alex Lawther) evolved. When he meets Alyssa (Jessica Barden), in season one, he plans to kill her. Instead, she is so annoying, obstinate and equally unbalanced, that she changes him. They run away, they blow things up, they pull off crimes and unarmed robberies. They kill a man in self-defense, get into too much trouble and end up nearly dead. In the process, James opens up. He realizes that he is not as unfeeling as he had originally thought; that he is capable of love, sacrifice and emotion. At the end of season one, the two heroes are separated and broken yet again.
More than anything, viewers should watch the second season of “The End of the F***ing World” as a study in personal growth and character development. While James and Alyssa have grown from the previous season’s premiere, season two also shows the world of pain that they have left in their path, and must now contend with.
The character of Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) is introduced as an emotional casualty of James’ and Alyssa’s crime. As a victim of manipulation by the professor killed in the previous season, Bonnie hunts Alyssa and James with the intention of killing them, but the two teenagers are none the wiser. They treat her kindly and worry about her well-being. In a way, the writers have transferred James’ and Alyssa’s anger into Bonnie’s character, to prove how damaging and blinding fury and vengeance can be.
Overall, this season of “End of the F***king World” gives audiences even more reason to watch the series. The first season shares the story of two juvenile delinquents who fall in love, run away and self-destruct, but season two shows people torn apart by circumstance, lovelorn and experiencing symptoms of PTSD, but still trying their best.
“I used to feel like I knew myself,” says Alyssa in an early episode. “But for a while now, I don’t feel like I’ve been properly in my body.” While undergoing this depression and shift in her life, Alyssa still holds a job, gets hastily engaged and tries to live her life with the knowledge that she’s lost her former love. Season two proves that even the worst among us can change, and that everyone is worthy of redemption.
The ensemble cast of “End of the World” continues to be brilliant in season two. Old favorites such as James’ funny and empathetic father (Steve Oram) and Alyssa’s over-the-top and vain, but ultimately caring, mom (Christine Bottomley) make an appearance again, but this time their relationships with their children are stronger. Alyssa’s fiancé Todd (Josh Dylan) and her aunt (Alexandria Riley) provide comic relief, as well as a voice of reason as Alyssa acts out and makes rash decisions.
While this season is a dramatic comedy, it is written about and for people in pain. Even during dramatic, violent scenes, a melancholy soundtrack of oldies scores the series. Notable tracks include the classic song “Smile” (composed by Charlie Choplin) and the doleful acoustic tune “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian.
In this season’s arc and dialogue, there is so much more clarity and truth than in the previous season. Characters aren’t blinded by love or hate because they won’t let themselves be: they see where the extremes of either emotion can lead them. “End of the F***ing World” season two is a triumph. It is not only visually beautiful, it is also sad, realistic and extremely exciting. Equal parts banter, romance and suspense, season two is the balm needed to heal the wounds of season one. While it’s fun to watch characters be rash, awkward and murderous, it is even more exciting to watch them self-reflect, heal and realize what is hurting them.