Warning: spoilers ahead
TW: Sexual assault
After two long years, the second season of The End of the F***ing World is finally here. Following the turbulent first season, James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden) are separated and haven’t seen or heard from each other. But the story doesn’t start with James or Alyssa. It starts with a mysterious woman named Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) who’s out to avenge the death of her lover, Clive Koch, who James killed for trying to rape Alyssa. Bonnie has recently gotten out of prison for murdering another girl whom she perceived to be a threat to her romance with Clive.
Unaware of the person looking to kill them, James and Alyssa are reunited when Alyssa finds that James has been somewhat stalking her. But soon both receive bullets with their names on them, and the duo begins questioning their safety. When they pick up a hitchhiker, they fail to see that it is Bonnie, who is carefully planning their demise. In an exciting yet short eight episodes, viewers are pulled back into the chaos, romance, and nostalgic misadventures of James and Alyssa.
While hardly any progress has been made by the characters over the last two years, it would only make sense that they are where they are. After committing and witnessing a murder, James and Alyssa are left distraught and alone. The characters give a brief overview of what their lives have looked like since we last left off: Alyssa’s mom got divorced again, and they moved to a rural part of England where Alyssa now works at a diner and is engaged to a kind but dumb regular. Meanwhile, James survived the gunshot that we heard at the end of season one. Back on his feet, James adjusted to life without Alyssa and did his best to connect with his father, who eventually died of a heart attack while they were out bowling.
Season two barely gives us a new set of storylines, but the story doesn’t run dry. We aren’t dealing with the same people as before; these characters have matured and found new challenges. As messy as it was, James and Alyssa’s romance was interesting and one that felt like it was worth rooting for. They grew to understand each other in ways that were unexpected and had depth. Back in season one, we saw James beginning to feel real emotions for the first time with Alyssa; and similarly, Alyssa found solidarity in James once she realized he was protecting her and wanted to keep showing up for her.
Lawther and Barden’s characters both had major character arcs in season one, but the aftermath of Clive’s murder set them up for a more mature performance this time. The End of the F***ing World isn’t a revolutionary or revelatory departure from its first installment, but it does have a creative way of using storytelling to bring up mental health. Depicting life after trauma brought a new perspective to the show. While held at gunpoint Alyssa tells Bonnie, “We’ve already been punished, you know. I never leave that house. I never leave that room.” Viewers watch as Alyssa is held captive in her own mind, sporadically seeing herself covered in Clive Koch’s blood when she looks in the mirror.
Naomi Ackie also brought a solid performance as someone who acts on impulse and pain, much like Lawther in season one. Dealing with the overwhelmingly painful loss of her lover has put Bonnie in murder mode as she’s retreated into her mind and set out to kill her perceived enemies. Once she realizes she’s been chasing a lie, she’s confronted with the question, “What do [you] do with all the pain?” Season two leaves us with no real answers to Bonnie’s question, but it does allow us to contemplate our own state of being.
Ackie’s performance as Bonnie not only thoughtfully contemplated mental health but also doomed love. James and Alyssa’s relationship and Bonnie and Clive’s, though overall dissimilar, both depict unhealthy ways of dealing with love. While James and Alyssa’s relationship is a fan favorite, it’s hardly healthy. After all, it didn’t start getting real until after they’d killed someone. On the flip side, Bonnie was a lonely student who was taken advantage of for her vulnerability. The show’s running theme of tragic love may be disheartening, but that’s the point. By allowing audiences to see the consequences of unhealthy attachment, we might be inclined to confront the unhealthy relationships in our own lives.
At the end of the story this time around, audiences are left with a little more hope. For some, it was perfect to leave these characters with a tragedy. But revisiting their journey two years later with a more intense threat was done with caution and excellence. The nostalgic aesthetic and slow ‘60s music remind us why this show worked so well the first time. James and Alyssa’s romance never fails to remind us why we do, in fact, need people to help us get through what feels like the end of the fucking world.
The End of the F***ing World season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.