Hope and Voiceover in The End of the Fucking World

Spoilers for The End of the Fucking World Season 1 and 2.

Most television leaves you two ways. The first is hopeful about the world, believing as humans we overwhelmingly have qualities that cause life to be worth the conflict. The second is more understanding, we are all flawed in ways that aren’t pleasant to look at and that’s okay.

The most intriguing art dives into the grey, resulting in something which feels more honest. The End of The Fucking World (its two seasons streaming on Netflix) dances around the grey area of life and human nature in a way that feels odd and unique. While it may seem at first the show leans more towards the darker side of our humanity, its true greatness is in how it completely rides the line between the two commonplaces while fooling viewers initially into thinking we are all broken.



The series centers around two troubled older teens Alyssa (Jessica Barden) and James (Alex Lawther). In the first season they introduce James as a psychopath who dreams of murdering multiple people to relieve an innate urge caused by his mother’s suicide. He meets Alyssa who struggles with her own issues of depression and rage due to her father’s absence and her mother’s denial. James initially plans to kill her. Instead they embark on a journey of escape from the town they both live and fall into a raw and adolescent yet still true version of love.

James and Alyssa’s inner thoughts are often revealed to the viewer in voiceover during moments of silence between their actual dialogue. This shows the extremes and complexities of each character, along with their very human hesitation to be honest and open. This tool, while used for dramatic affect to express James and Alyssa’s twisted thoughts, also shows a mirror to audiences’ own moments of silence, times when we hold inside what we want to say and feel. As they stop lying there is no need for the narration. However, every time it seems like it will fully fade away, they lie to one another once again and it reappears.

James commits a murder of a professor who tries to rape Alyssa as he catches them hiding in his house. They transition from running away from their lives to running from the law. They find Alyssa’s absent father, his undisclosed living situation being a place for hiding. Her blind hope for a reconnection of course becomes crushed and even leads to their capture. Then James is seemingly shot to end the season.

The two fall for one another in dramatic fashion through their mutual understating of each other’s parental abandonment. While this is healing to both it results in the cliff hanger potential death of James. The first season humanizes their trauma that leads their decision making and delves into our perception of other people and ourselves. The show presents the idea that even with the burdens our lives cause us to hold, as well as react from, the true human ability to heal through connection and understanding does create hope for what we can conquer given the right circumstances and relationships.

The writers directly carry over the theme of parental abandonment to the third central character added in Season 2. Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) is held under strict and oppressive parenting as her mother tries hard to correct her mistakes of having children before a career. She keeps Bonnie on a tight leash, one which increases heavily when Bonnie’s father abandons his family due to the embarrassment of losing his job then lying about it.

Bonnie searches for fulfillment in a twisted relationship with her professor, the same one James kills to defend Alyssa. This sends Bonnie on a hunt to find and murder the two teens. Bonnie as a character dives into another area of grey. The fine line of healthy love and harmful desire, leading to denial, is examined thoroughly. Her ‘love affair’ with her professor is entirely consensual. Yet she craves his dominance mixed with freedom, control, and danger, something which turns out to be wildly problematic. She then cannot see his deeply hurtful behavior and is blinded by her love for the freeing feeling he provides. This in turn pushes her into a murderous vendetta. Like with James and Alyssa, with Bonnie we see her humanity through a voiceover from her, even though her human functionality seems deeply worrisome. Her falling in love has so many issues. Yet, her need for it is deeply relatable.

In Season 2, James survives and wins his trial of self-defense, motivating Bonnie to find him and kill him. He is pushed by Alyssa’s mother to write a letter ending the possibility of their relationship. As he recovers, he realizes he regrets that decision. He finds Alyssa and stalks her until she finds out. However, by this point Alyssa is engaged to another boy.

This all builds to Alyssa running away with James yet again post-wedding which sets up Bonnie finding them together. The real intrigue begins as the trio find themselves all together, each character battling to figure out inner thoughts and emotions while trying to piece together logical next moves.

James is initially wary of Bonnie’s character when they pick her up as a hitchhiker. Yet Alyssa wants to put space between her and James and is determined to verify Bonnie’s good character to do so. Alyssa has a consistent character trait of stubbornness and denial, qualities which leads to impulsive behavior that puts her in danger. The trio end up at a hotel/lodge accompanied by a lonely clerk. He takes a liking to Bonnie and follows her to her room. He attempts to force himself on her. As she defends herself, she mistakenly shoots him with the gun she had planned to use on Alyssa and James.

Showrunner Charlie Covell poetically parallels Bonnie’s accidental murder in self defense, with James’ murder defending Alyssa. Hiding the killing from the central couple, Bonnie then struggles to dehumanize Alyssa and James as she is forced to spend more time with them. In her head she must see them as cold-blooded killers to carry out her deed. Yet, as they have similar trauma, Bonnie begins to realise their humanity.

Whilst the three of them are journeying, James and Alyssa go through their own process of abandonment. Alyssa doesn’t know how to healthily process the affection she has for James, thus sequentially showing him love and coldness. James, due to his fear of abandonment, freezes when he wants to be straightforward about his wants and desires, causing a long drawn out process of passive aggression and frequent voiceover.

Because of this, Alyssa and James abandon Bonnie, and James takes Alyssa home. However, as he drives away he sees Bonnie heading toward Alyssa in another car. He follows her back to the diner where Alyssa now works. He discovers that she is the girlfriend of the man he murdered. But Bonnie has already gone into the diner to kill Alyssa.

This leads to Bonnie, James, and Alyssa all being in the diner alone. A cop comes in at one point and observes that Bonnie has a gun but doesn’t reveal what he knows and leaves to get back-up. She faces James and Alyssa with the gun pointed at them. James asks why she hasn’t killed them yet and Bonnie reveals she needed to hear them say they murdered her boyfriend. Bonnie has at this point humanized James and Alyssa. She needs confirmation of her own theory of their psychopathy in order to go through with the act.

Alyssa at this point comes into her own. Through her journey of dealing with her own issues she abandons her psychological tendency to suppress and becomes the most honest character in the show. She confronts Bonnie directly and fearlessly with the truth about her boyfriend, making her confront the truth she has been denying. Due to the similarities of their own trauma, Alyssa connects to Bonnie on a level that provides viewers with hope regarding the human ability to understand.

Bonnie claims Alyssa and James must still be punished for their actions, leaning on the trauma her mother engrained. Yet Alyssa retorts with confidence that she and James have been punished with the mindset of never having left that room. James asks Bonnie to kill him as he’s the murderer. But Alyssa cuts him off, saying they both did it – challenging Bonnie even harder. Alyssa suddenly has voiceover explaining the reasoning for her fearlessness: “It’s weird knowing you’re gonna die. You feel like you’re old and you know everything. So, you don’t give a shit anymore.”

The function of the narration suddenly switches from the truth underneath the lie to a further dissection of the truth. Alyssa is affected by the immediate circumstances yet has also reached freedom through the journey of the show. James too then shifts into a more honest expression of the truth due to Alyssa’s energy. The combination of this eventually disarms Bonnie right as the police arrive with back up. She tries to shoot herself but James and Alyssa save her. Bonnie’s level of depression through trauma has exceeded the level of reasoning so she needs rescuing.

In the final episode Alyssa runs back to the house where they murdered the professor without James and jumps into the pool. She revisits the space to conquer her own trauma once and for all. In her new state of mind she is handling her pain more healthily. James is terrified she has gone back to end her life as his fear of abandonment still runs rampant. He finds her safe. Then they leave together and eventually express their love for one another, though not directly with words.

James and Alyssa have made progress but still have plenty of work to do in regards being open and vulnerable with each other. But viewers wouldn’t want them any other way. When we dive into the grey area of life with people we understand and empathise with, we can figure out how to function more effectively through our own pain.

Below are three quotes by Alyssa highlighting her progression:

“Why is it the more you have to say the harder it is to speak?” – Season 2, Episode 3

“People do all types of shit when they feel bad about themselves,” Season 2, Episode 5

“The problem with a person having a lack of love is that they don’t know what it looks like. So, it’s easy for them to get tricked. To see things that aren’t there. But then I guess we all lie to ourselves all the time,” Season 2, Episode 7

The End of the Fucking World is streaming on All 4 and Netflix.

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