Image courtesy of TV Guide
No one was sure whether the gunshot at the end of season one was fatal, but the cliff-hanger wounded me, if not James. Time had healed the wound of not knowing, but now The End of the F***ing World is back with answers in a further eight episodes, an easy pill to swallow. Except, you’re not really sure if you were supposed to take two pills or whether one would have done the trick.
The season begins with an introduction to Bonnie (Naomi Ackie), who ticks off the show’s main character requirements: deadpan dysfunctional teenager with a vengeance. As the show reveals her connection to James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), we get that lovely ‘Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit’ feeling— a promising start to the second chapter. This time around, Bonnie takes over the role of menace to Alyssa, as James settles into not-being-a-psychopath. It’s good, although strange, to see James mature, feel pain and let himself be weak in this season.
But Alyssa is herself a menace of her own: she continues to engage in selfish escapism, as an attempt to cover up more pain and trauma. This is a little tiring because we get to see little of Bill, played by Josh Dylan, with whom Alyssa toys with. He’s treated like necessary collateral damage, which makes Barden’s character less likeable.
The show moves on, while the characters struggle to, and instead of revelling in the euphoria of spontaneity and rebellion, it deals with the fallout of the pair’s escapades. The comically deadpan interactions still prevail, especially with waiters and shopkeepers (with whom the show seems to be obsessed). But mostly, the deadpan interactions reveal how empty Alyssa has become in her distance from James. While this allows for a rich emotional portrayal, it makes for some pretty boring to watch dialogue. So much is said inside their heads, and the narration is oftentimes an underwhelming addition, unlike in season one, where the dramatic irony of hearing James’s murderous intentions gave the show much of its “eff’ed-up” flare. You know, that and the rapist they killed.
But if you need a solid reason to continue watching the show, then watch it for its unmistakable style. The American, comic-strip aesthetic still prevails, along with its astounding use of soundtrack, which adds to its edginess. And they didn’t even have to shove in an overplayed Billie Eilish song, can you believe it? The original soundtrack by Graham Coxon, in all its Indie Rock glory, serves multiple purposes: it adds a sense of danger here, deep existential dread there and covers the whole thing in a thick coat of poignant vulnerability.
The show stops being so much about wreckless rebellion and slowly sinks into an acceptance of the mundane, and that you can’t live your life escaping from it forever. You have to return, and this season is about returning and trying to patch yourself up and moving along. The season ambles along with its wounded characters, retiring from its nihilistic frenetic past and settling into nihilism. But fear not, there are still some suspenseful and harrowing bloody moments between beautifully raw scenes.
The overall comforting feeling of the season and its general emotional impact was, however, diminished by a lack of direction and insubstantial gore. Much of the action focuses on a small detail that didn’t add much to the narrative or contribute anything to the season’s end; all it did was give the story “something to do”. The gory scenes, too, felt like just something to throw in, because that’s what the show is known for, but they weren’t integral parts of the story. At one point, the show pulls a cheap stunt to get some more Tarantino points in and it made me so angry, I couldn’t fully take in the beautifully tragic scene that followed it.
But beyond everything that sounds good on paper (the show’s maturation as it deals with pain and trauma), there’s just something missing from the experience of watching the season that made it so exciting to watch the first time around. Perhaps it’s okay it was less of a thrill ride: afterall, the season is about the aftermath of traumatic events. I just don’t like that I felt almost as disengaged from the action as Alyssa, James and Bonnie were.