The End Of The F***ing World: Episode 2 (Netflix/BBC)
Starring: Alex Lawther & Jessica Barden
Directed by Jonathan Entwistle
Written by Charlie Covell
Based on the comic: TEOTFW by Charles Forsman
Review by: Joshua Leto
If a world leader were to say something like, “I’m a very intelligent person,” it would be laughable because it is a sure sign of insecurity. Something a teenager would say.
Episode two of The End Of The F***ing World builds on a theme in the series that our protagonists are creating the people they want to become, whether their mind and body are ready or not. This episode shows more motivation for James’s behavior, like revealing his mother is dead and not just elsewhere. And signs that he might be questioning his own motives, as when he admits sometimes he just lets things happen.
Show, don’t tell is a mantra for visual entertainment. When the main characters are teenagers, you can flip this proposition for two reasons. One, teenagers haven’t necessarily learned to filter their emotions and often say what’s on their minds. Two, when they are testing their own insecure thoughts and feelings, they simply say the opposite of how they feel.
In episode one, it seemed reasonably clear that Alyssa was frequently protecting her insecurity, reacting to those around her, including James, with blatant disrespect when she wants to latch onto them, and with begrudging respect when she doesn’t. She is rude to James and her fake friends and appreciative of her stepdad. In this episode, we see this approach start to break down. She is learning to be direct about what she wants without projecting her insecurity. James, for his part, is helping this by following her example, even when it literally puts him in danger. “Fuck seatbelts.”
Alyssa’s internal dialogue is still a little too on the nose in a couple of scenes. For example, we hear her exclaim in voiceover when her face says exactly how she feels. In the final sequence, with them together in a hotel bed, she demonstrates that she has started to learn and asks James for exactly what she needs in the moment.
One approach to early trauma is to suppress emotions so that they don’t overwhelm. This is exactly how I read James’s self-described psychopathic tendencies. When you’ve spent a decade or more pretending that the world isn’t hurting you, you get so good at holding in the emotions that they rarely come out. For James, only extreme actions can create emotions. When, in episode one, we saw joyless make-out sessions and rote masturbation, here we see him respond to sexual assault with the same shuttered blankness. It is only when embarrassed by Alyssa, with whom he is trying to get closer, that his emotions rise.
We see James’s thoughts of murdering Alyssa push themselves up while he keeps finding excuses to avoid the actual killing. The images here are less fully realized, with two generic blood spatter fantasy shots offering less of an impact than better images did in episode one. With the foreknowledge that the first episode was shot as a pilot and reshot, I chalk this up to appropriately budgeted storytelling for the rest of a mini-series based on a comic book about teenagers without superpowers.
Verdict: Watch It. Again, this episode ends with a natural cliffhanger, driven by the characters growing desires to define themselves in the world they are struggling to understand.
“I’m going to go to my Dad’s. You can come if you want.”
A track by SoKo (Stephanie Sokolinski) starts right before the credits, and its first lines bring us into both character’s thoughts:
“Give me all you love
‘Cause for all we know
We might be dead by tomorrow.”