Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen The End of the F***ing World? Read our spoiler-free first look review here.
The End of the F***ing World’s third episode left James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden) in what deadpan James would probably refer to as “a conundrum”. They’ve got a corpse to deal with, since James stabbed and killed the man whose house they were squatting in, after he suddenly returned home, found Alyssa in his bed and tried to attack her. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, James’ dad has called the police to report him missing.
Although he often feels urges to kill, which he has been taking out on a variety of animals, James’ first experience of murdering an actual human has not met his expectations. He is visibly shaken, telling us through his point-of-view narration “it wasn’t how I thought it would be, not at all”, while Alyssa’s reaction is more practical. She takes charge when it comes to cleaning up the blood and hiding the evidence, even if, in her head, she’s simply “thinking about what people on the TV do when they’ve done this”.
From this point on, the morbid will-they-won’t-they of whether James will kill Alyssa is no more. Although the gory incident firstly divides them, as she frustratedly abandons him in a diner when he doesn’t seem sufficiently upset, it ultimately brings them closer together. What’s more, James realises that he probably isn’t a psychopath. You might think this development would lower the stakes, but no sooner has the threat to Alyssa posed by James evaporated than a new threat emerges: the police begin to pursue them.
Instead of showing us perfunctory snippets of the cops’ progress to ramp up tension, we get to spend a significant amount of time with two detectives, played by Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones) and Wunmi Mosaku (Fearless), who are fully formed, likeable characters. In fact, they prove to be just as much fun to watch as our central duo – from exchanging knowing looks when Alyssa’s clueless mum tells them that her daughter doesn’t have a boyfriend, to wryly asking a man who’s providing them with a not-very-objective description of Alyssa if he wants to give her a score out of 10. There’s also a certain low-key frisson between the pair, due to something unspecified that happened a few nights earlier, which gives their scenes an extra dimension. By the end of the series, when a faceoff between the teens and the police seems imminent, it’s difficult to know who to root for.
The chemistry between Lawther and Barden is outstanding throughout, and their gradually evolving relationship never stops being believable. Likewise, their character development feels natural, as James goes from psychopathic to sensitive and Alyssa’s hard edges soften. Before she meets her estranged father, she confesses “I’m really scared” – first, in her head and then, out loud – showing that she is no longer putting up her abrasive façade around James. As we see their relationship develop and learn more about their families, the two vulnerable teens we end up with are very different from the ones we met at the beginning. Although we were introduced to James as a dangerous monster, by the climax we’re feeling concerned that he has just turned 18 and, if caught, will be sent to an adult prison.
The End of the F***ing World might put off a few people early on with its explicit title, its initially hard-to-like characters, and its opening episode full of crude language and references to killing both humans and animals. But those who persist are rewarded, as it ultimately becomes a touching, unconventional love story about two troubled outcasts finding solace in each other. It also manages to feel stylish and edgy, without giving the impression of trying too hard, and has a soundtrack to die for.
With just eight 20-minute installments and an ending that suggests more episodes are unlikely, The End of the F***ing World doesn’t overstay its welcome. This dark, quirky series is well worth a binge-watch on All 4 and will soon be on Netflix too.
The End of the F***ing World is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch for free on All 4.