YOU’RE SO COOL
Netflix’s ‘The End of the F***ing World’ Is Back for More Blood-soaked True Romance in Season 2
The streaming crossover hit staged a perfect, poetic end to its Bonnie and Clyde teen romance. It rekindles the magic again for a second season—but was it really necessary?
The End of the F***ing World, the British dark comedy that accumulated a cult following after debuting on Netflix in 2018, did not need a second season. The first season ended on such a poetically ambiguous note, sacrificing closure for emotional impact, that it seemed impossible to follow up without undermining the gut-wrenching stakes of the finale.
After watching the second season, premiering on Netflix on Nov. 5, I am still not convinced that it needs to exist. But fans of the show will likely be satisfied nonetheless. It retains everything that made the first season so compelling—strong lead performances from Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden, deadpan voiceover narration that is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, and sepia-toned visuals paired with a soundtrack of mid-century rock songs.
The Channel 4 series is one of a handful of excellent overseas imports finding wider appeal on streaming platforms in recent years, along with Irish coming-of-age comedy Derry Girls and the Emmy Award-winning phenomenon Fleabag. The End of the F***ing World falls somewhere between the two, tackling hormonal adolescent misadventures like the former with the sharp, tragicomic wit of the latter.
Adapted by Charlie Covell from the graphic novel of the same name, season one was strange and hard to define. It followed a self-professed 17-year-old psychopath named James (Lawther) who sets out to commit murder and instead falls in love with the headstrong classmate he selects as his target, Alyssa (Barden). It transforms over the course of eight, swiftly-moving 20-minute episodes from a gritty teenage melodrama into a sweet, blood-soaked romance.
Both plagued by family problems, James and Alyssa steal James’s dad’s car and run away together—the first of many crimes the duo commits on the road. Their trip takes on a new sense of urgency after they kill an esteemed author-slash-serial-rapist who tries to assault Alyssa. Later episodes pay homage to the Tarantino-penned ’90s film True Romance, particularly when the pale, lanky James dons a Hawaiian shirt and Alyssa dyes her hair blond.
The first season ends with the young Bonnie and Clyde wannabes realizing their feelings for each other just as the officers assigned to the murder case catch up with them. Understanding that they will be separated in prison, James decides to sacrifice himself by taking the blame. As he runs from the cops along a picturesque beach, he narrates, “I’ve just turned 18 and I think I understand what people mean to each other.” Gunshots silence him. It is the ultimate tragic culmination promised by the show’s blunt title.
The season two premiere picks up two years later, and for the whole first episode, we are left in the dark about what happened to James and Alyssa. Instead, the series introduces a new character named Bonnie (Naomi Ackie, who has a prominent role in an upcoming Star Wars film), fresh off a stint in prison and harboring her own fair share of childhood trauma to rival that of our protagonists. She is determined to avenge the death of her boyfriend, who happens to be the professor James and Alyssa killed last season. “Sometimes people don’t see your potential, so you have to show them,” Bonnie ominously declares.
The next episode confirms that James did survive being shot, which was of course obvious the moment a second season was announced but comes as a relief anyway. “It was a fitting end. A doomed love story, a perfect tragedy,” he narrates. “And then I didn’t die.” An aerial shot of Alyssa crouched over James’ body, rust-colored blood seeping from his torso into the muddy sand, cuts to one of him alone in a hospital bed. This display of dry self-awareness from the writers makes sense with the tone of the show, which seeks to upend generic conventions at every turn, and it was enough to quell this reviewer’s fears about new episodes undoing the poignant Shakespearean ending of season one.
When we meet Alyssa again, she is preparing to marry a hunky airhead who believes Finland “doesn’t actually exist” after James breaks up with her (“You dumped me in a letter, like a Victorian”). This development seems to serve no real purpose beyond blessing us with the line, “Getting married young is one of the most renegade things you can do these days,” delivered, dripping with sarcasm, in Barden’s Yorkshire accent. It also means that she spends half of the season bossing James around while wearing a white gown resembling an upside-down meringue, the full tulle skirt getting dirtier with each episode.
The show falls into an excitingly familiar pace once James and Alyssa go on the run again. At times this can feel like a stale attempt at recreating season one, but for the most part, it works in the showrunners’ favor that they did not try to stray from what worked so well last time. Plus, the introduction of Bonnie, with her murderous intentions, successfully injects the new episodes with tension and pulp.
Whether or not the latest installment of The End of the F***ing World justifies reopening a story that would have been just fine left closed hardly feels relevant in today’s television landscape, anyway. Amidst the chaos of streaming wars and impossibly expensive hour-long prestige dramas and content for content’s sake, it is refreshing to find a show that feels distinctly original and, perhaps most importantly, clocks in at under three hours per season.