The End of the F***ing World is an eight part comedy drama which is as compelling and unsettling as its title suggests. Its exploration of the lives of two 17-year-old teens in the form of wannabe murdering-psychopath James (Alex Lawther)and social misfit Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is a worthy analysis of society’s flaws and its impact on the young.
What begins as an impulsive decision for the duo to go on an adrenaline filled adventure in the suburbia of rural England soon turns into something much more sinister and thought provoking as the series goes on. Based on graphic novel authored by Charles Forsman, the British television series is as moving as it is darkly humorous, as to all intents and purposes, it highlights the repercussions of a society that does not have a place individuals with deep seated personal traumas.
From having the protagonists names stamped in red block capitals across the screen during their introductory scenes to the internal monologue narrated over their morally ambiguous actions, the series brazenly does away with the conventional rules of visual storytelling. In its place, it produces something that is as distinctive in its execution as it is emotionally raw in its content.
Boldness is not just reflected in the quality of the writing itself, but in James and Alyssa’s actions as an impulsively rebellious duo; despite their inherent differences as individuals they are able to bond over their dysfunctional lives and, more importantly, their desire to do something about it.
James’ physical assault of his father and the theft of his car is the beginning of such a domino effect – one that sees our protagonists confront various things that no young person should have to witness nor be part of, from facing the threat of sexual violence to becoming unwilling participants of outright bloody murder.
Saying all of this, you would be forgiven if you were initially turned off by the abrasive disposition of our leading pair, as they come across as little more than paper-thin caricatures of the typical, westernized teen during the series’ opening installment. It is not until the third or fourth chapter in that we get an idea of just how embedded their childhood traumas are in their fragmented sense of self worth and how this all plays a role in their subsequent actions.
This fault may be in part down to the limited run-time of each episode, which all clock in at a mere twenty to twenty five minutes! Yet perhaps that is the point; to spend too much time in a world consumed by so much darkness, hopelessness and despair may very well be too much for the average viewer to abide by, and after seeing the whole series through until its arguably morose ending it is easy to see why.
‘The emotional side is meticulously handled, never compromising its cool tone or threatening to turn into mawkishness. Sentimentality is repeatedly undercut with a gag’
This is where the subplot featuring the characters of DC Eunice Noon (Gemma Whelan) and DC Teri Darego (Wunmi Mosaku) come in. The two are fast on the track of the blood-trail that James and Alyssa are leaving in their wake – but not without their own romantic entanglement to contend with. While the ‘will they/won’t they’ dynamic between them adds little traction to a plot that will propel towards its endgame with or without the answer to their predicament, being privy to these scenes is like being administered an ample dose of anesthetic. It’s enough to be able to contend with a series that is already submerged with so much uncertainty and pain while not mollycoddling the viewer from the grim reality of James and Alyssa’s lives.
However the most notable element in this pair’s partnership is their conflicting reactions in how to approach two potentially emotionally volatile teenagers. In a sequence worthy of a sociological debate all by itself, subtle questions are posed as to how civilised society is expected to handle the cases of these mentally troubled individuals that also present a danger not only to themselves, but to other members of society as well.
Do we shoot first and ask questions later? Should we always value the safety of the victim over the perpetrator? How exactly do we find a balance between punishment and rehabilitation?
These are just some of the themes rooted in the series’ epicentre, and ones that reflect a very real moral dilemma in the wider world at large.
Furthermore, the series’ genius stroke lies in its propensity to not yank at the viewer’s heart strings as much as it gently tugs at it like a hungry child pulling at its mothers sleeve; an arguably appropriate analogy going by internal struggle our protagonists face in their own childlike attempt to find their footing in an unjust world.
This all appeals to our sense of morality and our innate desire for a hopeful outcome, even if such a thing is a naive inclination to yearn for.
‘Their best shot at normalcy was surrender, and these kids were never going to surrender, just as they never were going to accept normalcy’
Even ignoring the ominous sounding title, it is telling that James’ narration is nearly always in the past tense whereas Alyssa always speaks in the present; She embodies a youthful soul living completely in the moment and is entirely unapologetic about it. From toying with the idea of getting romantically involved with James to her efforts in locating her estranged father, she plays an active part in her destiny.
In comparison, being more wizened to the brutal ways of the world and the way in which its judicial system works, James is consistently burdened with the knowledge that it must all come to an undignified end – even if he avoids facing this truth for as long as he possibly can.
In this way The End of the F***ing World is relatively deceitful in its prophecy of doom, as what begins as a tale of hopelessness and gloom gradually turns into an anecdote of how an unrequited affection between two people can outshine even the most bleak of circumstances. Those rare, beautiful moments where James and Alyssa get a recess from being fugitives of the law, and relish being unperturbed, care-free teenagers is as satisfying to watch as it is undoubtedly is for them to experience.
The show is a fundamental lesson of the importance of character and psychological liberation. What we as individuals allow to happen to ourselves will continue – unless we do something about it. James and Alyssa’s attempt to find their own sense of normality in a world that has failed them time and time again is a thrill to watch from its start until its heart-stopping conclusion.
Did you know?
Though they play 17 year olds on the show, stars Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther are actually 25 and 22 years of age respectively.
As the show progresses, and James becomes more human and less psychopathic, his clothes shift from very dark to very bright, associated with his change in personality.
The end result in the TV show and the comic contain substantially different endings in regards to the characters and their fates, as detailed here. Would the alternate ending presented in the comic have taken away from the ambiguity of the TV show? Perhaps. Especially if the rumours of a second season happen to be true!
The End of the F***ing World is currently available for viewing on Netflix
Emotional support helplines:
Samaritans :116 123
Rethink Mental Illness advice line 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 09:30-16:00; local rate)
Sane Line:0845 767 8000
Mind also has a useful guide of support and services, which can be found by clicking the link right here