The End of the F***ing World Season 2 review: A striking, distinctive sequel
Sophie Davies | On 09, Nov 2019
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen The End of the F***ing World? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 1 here.
The End of the F***ing World first landed on All 4 in 2017, with only Episode 1 airing on Channel 4 itself. The dark comedy drama was well-received among critics, but it wasn’t until the show arrived on Netflix a few months later that it started to reach a wider audience and became a surprise sleeper hit. Following this success, a second season was commissioned, and naturally some people were concerned. After all, Season 1 had used a graphic novel with no sequels as its source material and ended in a way that many said was perfect, so where could it go from there?
When we last saw socially awkward James (Alex Lawther) and gloriously deadpan Alyssa (Jessica Barden), their chaotic roadtrip – in which James had initially planned on killing Alyssa, only to fall in love with her instead – had come to an end with them being pursued by the police and James seemingly being shot. After this ambiguous ending, which left it unclear as to whether James was dead or alive, the first episode of Season 2 boldly chooses to focus on a brand new character and doesn’t feature Alyssa or James at all.
We’re introduced to Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) at a petrol station, where she bumps into someone she went to school with and he asks what she has been up to. The answer is prison, because she “killed someone… on purpose”, and she purchases a pocket knife, saying that she’s going to kill again. He isn’t sure (and neither are we at this point) whether she’s joking, but once she returns to her car, we find out that she has a gun in her possession, along with a picture of Alyssa.
The opening episode goes on to give us an insight into Bonnie’s childhood – with a mother so controlling and manipulative that she beheads her daughter’s teddy and forces her to eat lipstick – and, eventually, her connection to Alyssa. It transpires that Bonnie was infatuated with Professor Clive Koch (Jonathan Aris), who attacked Alyssa in Season 1 and was subsequently killed by James, and she’s now looking to get revenge on the pair responsible for his death. Bonnie almost immediately proves to be a great addition to the show, and Naomi Ackie delivers a fantastically unsettling performance from start to finish.
We get to catch up with Alyssa in Episode 2, two years on from what happened at the beach. She and her mum (Christine Bottomley) have moved in with her aunt, she’s working in her aunt’s café, and she is engaged to a young man she describes as “kind of like a dog, in a good way.” But this is by no means a new, happy Alyssa. She still looks like she’s permanently mid-eye roll, and tells us via voice-over: “I don’t really feel anything anymore.” In a blackly comic moment that gives us more clues as to her mental state, she hears a customer ask if she thought about killing herself, when he was innocently just asking if service was included.
James survived being shot that day on the beach, but his life hasn’t progressed in the way that Alyssa’s has. As he says himself: “It was a doomed love story, a perfect tragedy… and then I didn’t die.” In the immediate aftermath, Alyssa’s mum encourages him to break up with her, and he then has to spend time learning to walk again. Although he bonds with his dad (Steve Oram) in the process, this turns out to be short-lived, and James soon finds himself orphaned and living in his car. He decides to track down Alyssa after receiving a bullet with his name on it in the post, so the pair are reunited and soon end up back on the run when Alyssa freaks out at her wedding. However, their relationship doesn’t instantly return to the way it was, with the image of her in a wedding dress next to him still in his funeral suit, with his dad’s ashes in tow, highlighting the chasm between them.
The show proves to be just as visually striking as it was in its first outing, with a hyper-stylised, seemingly timeless setting that feels like a cross between Britain and America, accompanied by a gloomy yet beautiful soundtrack. Alyssa’s aunt’s secluded café in the woods provides a particularly distinctive sight, glowing red in the dark when it is the location of a stand-off later in the season. Likewise, the dialogue still feels as witty and original as it did before, from Alyssa seething at James – “You dumped me in a letter, like a Victorian!” – to a disagreement over whether pharmacies sell flapjacks.
Season 2 also benefits from the characters having matured, as they are more sympathetic this time round. Where the Alyssa of Season 1 would berate a waitress, she now has a service industry job herself and rebukes James for suggesting they leave a diner without paying. Meanwhile, James is significantly more likeable now that his ‘psychopath’ phase is in the past, and he’s no longer the boy who admitted to killing animals in the opening minutes of the show. Barden and Lawther are a pitch-perfect duo, and over the course of their new escapades, we also get memorable guest appearances from Paterson Joseph (Peep Show) as a concerned pharmacist and Tim Key (This Time With Alan Partridge) as a strange hotel manager.
As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about, because Season 2 manages to recreate the magic of Season 1 and proves to be just as compelling, if not even more so.
The End of the F***ing World is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch for free on All 4.