REVIEWED: SEASON 2 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: ALL 4
Back with its signature deadpan mannerisms and black comedy, season two of The End of the F***ing World is something to relish. Following up the explosive first season was always going to be difficult, or so it seemed. With a modest level of reinvention, the second season is aimed slightly differently compared to its predecessor but still hits the target perfectly.
You barely see any of James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden) in the first episode, writer Charlie Covell instead dedicating it to granting mysterious newcomer Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) a character and backstory. Far from feeling like a distraction, it is a genius opening, forcing you to relive the experiences that plague the central characters for all eight episodes, albeit from a perspective you have never seen before. It all culminates in a penultimate episode showdown that is unbearably tense, during which personal demons are laid on the table in a way that stays clear of cliches and inevitabilities. Yet for all of the dark touches and difficult subject matters, The End of the F***ing World retains that brilliant sense of humour that gives the show a brooding, quirky character. There is also the small matter of Alyssa’s marriage - but not to James, as he is painfully aware.
The End of the F***ing World repeats fascinating connections between sex and death, violence and romance, as if it wants to highlight love as inescapably destructive. James and Alyssa’s relationship takes a long time to grow and drags a few people under the bus with them. It has taken its toll on both of them, their flashbacks and torturous memories ferociously seared into their everyday existence. James and Alyssa look visibly older, worn out by the traumas they have endured. The script chooses not to dress these wounds but to leave them open, for both the protagonists and for Bonnie. Covell shows up most other British TV with the sheer quality of her writing, demonstrating sensational judgement for what is right, stylish, shocking and funny at all the right moments. The comparisons that the show draws and the way it addresses its heavy themes is an utter marvel, complemented by some skillful cinematography and beautiful presentation.
Driving everything home are the three central characters, who in their own ways are impeccable. Barden builds Alyssa’s character brilliantly, bearing emotional burdens as well as handling them with tact and ferocity. Lawther has an understated magnificence about him and is gifted with a sensational talent for line delivery, each sentence communicating so much more than the words alone. Rounding off everything is a charged, sometimes terrifying performance from Ackie as the disturbed newcomer Bonnie. Watching her story unfold feels like a train crash in slow motion, during which you almost know the outcomes (thanks largely to the reappearance of another character) but remain surprised at some of the twists. Ackie never loses this wide-eyed, disconcerting stare that communicates a growing emptiness where love for another once resided.
This is not just a fresh and richly detailed representation of mental wellbeing and romance in a deeply flawed world. It is a dark fairytale that is more likely to have its head come clean off rather than get it lost in the clouds. The End of the F***ing World is crafted and presented with gorgeous colour and detail, allowing you to soak up every part of this electrifying story. It has a different energy to its debut season, but this is still as pretty close to perfect as British TV can hope to get.