The End of the F***ing World – Season 1

The End of the F***ing World – Season 1

Runaways and Strangeways are Here to Stay


Quirky, brimming with adolescence and set to a killer soundtrack, The End of the F***ing World is as good a way as any to kick off your endless TV binges of 2018. It’s unlikely to stick in your mind much afterwards, but it’s quite breezy and remarkably tender for a show about so much dark shit.

Rating: 7/11


Television loves psychopaths, even if it doesn’t always seem to get how they work. Dexter is a prime example, which starred a self-proclaimed unfeeling husk of homicidal impulses who, nevertheless, seemed to have a lot of unchecked emotions (not to mention a super annoying Ghost Dad in tow). From Bates Motel‘s Norman to Hannibal‘s titular cannibal, it’s clear we enjoy orbiting around characters who reject the norms of the civil contract. On a vicarious level, it’s fun to watch them kill and dismember with relative impunity, and it’s easier to deal with because they don’t even feel bad about it afterwards.

But The End of the F***ing World does something a little bit different with its resident psycho, James (a brooding Alex Lawther). At 17-years-old, he’s convinced that he has no capacity for feeling beyond the urge to kill. He’s inflicted this upon scores of small-to-moderate sized animals; in the process, he’s grown ambitious. Now, he wants to murder a human being. Specifically, his new girlfriend Alyssa (Jessica Barden, marvellous). Thus, a rocky, untenable dynamic ensues: while Alyssa’s just happy to have found someone to go along with her breakneck pace, James is slowly working up the nerve to slit the poor girl’s throat. That’s gonna make for a pretty rocky “How did you two meet?” story down the line.

The thing is, TEotFW is very clever about the way it telegraphs to us that James doesn’t actually have the stomach for killing on this grand a scale. From all his grisly visions of bloody carnage – framed in the epileptic rhythm of a waking nightmare – to the suggestive memories of James’ traumatic childhood, we come to understand that his outward lack of feeling is merely a façade. Having steeled himself against some truly horrendous shit that he witnessed as a kid, James copes through the rejection of emotions and their resultant pain. Of course, the logical end to that choice is to end up committing one of the most emotionally draining actions a person can (i.e. murder) and brush it off. This rigidity informs his whole life: his distanced social standing, his non-relationship with his dad and even his masturbation habits.

Likewise, Alyssa’s foul-mouthed, devil-may-care verve masks a well of insecurity. Abandoned by her father and left in the care of a woman who doesn’t even bother to put up photos of her around the house, Alyssa is confronted by some hardened truths early on in life. Her stepdad frames her every action as either something to be criticised or leered at pervertedly, and the dullness of adult existence has already begun to seep into her adolescent bones. For her part, she deals with this shit directly, in opposition to James’ passive violence. At a diner, she feels patronised by a waitress, so she calls her “a cunt”; later, she muses that it might be better if she became an alcoholic because “You’ve always got something to do.” If James’ approach to hardship is quiet precision, Alyssa’s is senseless noise. Honestly, how are they not gonna fall in love?

I mean, it helps that Lawther and Barden have fantastic chemistry. The former plays his part, largely, like a sullen, half-awake ghost, who’s always surprised that other people can actually see him. Barden, meanwhile, is a livewire, a tornadic force that insists upon every course of action she’s taking with her utmost until it occurs to her to completely switch directions. What’s charming and – from the perspective of the performances – quite impressive is witnessing how these two impact one another throughout the course of the season’s eight episodes. James finds his voice and purpose around Alyssa, and you can see it in the way Lawther’s eyes start to develop a franticness, with his tightened posture suggesting an ocean of anxiety. And Alyssa, in James, finds stillness, the possibility of contentedness in one person or place that reflects wonderfully in the way Barden’s guarded actions melt into a rhythmic sway, while her speech patterns become less choppy and more deliberate.

What’s unfortunate, if rather inevitable, are the sophomoric aspects of the show, seemingly inherited from its adolescent slant. At the beginning, the voiceover – as is its primary function – allows us to form a decent inner perspective of each character and dumps some exposition on us that would’ve been a lot clumsier spoken aloud. That said, it’s a device that always works better for establishment purposes and, over long term use, it tends to become achingly redundant (e.g., James’ voiceover informing us that Alyssa doesn’t have a lot of respect for other people’s property as we watch her break into someone’s house and neck a bottle of vodka. Uuum, no shit, James).

Additionally, the plotting leaves something to be desired. When we’re first thrown into the premise of a psycho runaway and his oblivious girlfriend, there’s a real sense of danger and uncertainty. By the third episode, though, everything starts to play out in the manner you’d basically expect. There are some interesting detours along the way – including a hilarious sojourn at a fuel station with a tragically over-eager teenager – but a lot of the story becomes predictable in a manner that flies in the face of the initial setup’s audacity. This is especially true of the cat and mouse story between James and Alyssa and two feuding detectives, which fizzles out with the damp indifference of someone pissing on a campfire.

But, flaws aside, The End of the F***ing World succeeds in terms of its lead characters and their rocky growth more than anything else. Oh, shit, as well as a goddamned inspired soundtrack that I almost forgot to mention. Veering back and forth between moonlit doo wop (“Have You Ever Loved Someone“), whispery indie tunes (“We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow“) and iconic ballads (“Oh Daddy“), the music of TEotFW sets the scene as much (if not moreso) as its dreary cinematography and offbeat script. But such a madcap collection of songs serves more of a purpose than simply lending style to the show. The musical eclecticism fits perfectly with James and Alyssa’s reckless abandon. It’s the sound of two kids who have no idea what they’re doing out on the open road, with nothing but each other and a radio dial.

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