This article contains spoilers for “The End of the F***ing World.”
A lot of the shows on Netflix don’t exactly bring attention to themselves, which is ironic considering both how much original content Netflix creates and how fiercely they advertise it on the main page. For every “Master of None” there’s a “13 Reasons Why” or a “Richie Rich.” Never heard of “Richie Rich?” Most haven’t. “The End of the F***ing World” effortlessly ushers wayward eyes with its titling, but beyond its brash name lies a confidently told on-the-run black comedy a la “Thelma and Louise” with a bit of “Heathers’” razor sharp wit and style.
Based on the comic series of the same name by Charles Forsman, “The End of the F***ing World” stars Alex Lawther (“Black Mirror’”s “Shut Up and Dance” episode) as James and Jessica Barden (Nosebleed Woman from “The Lobster”) as Alyssa. A combination of abusive treatment at home and teenage ennui drives Alyssa to befriend and run away with James, who is ostensibly a psychopath ready to graduate from killing animals.
A common complaint hurled at the otherwise critically acclaimed series is its ambiguous ending. James’ intentionally vague fate was a point of contention for fans of the comic series as it is today for the show, but one can argue that the truth isn’t as obscured as its sudden curtain call would imply. For all the differences between the source material and television adaptation (the most important of which being the depth given to characters and the detail in the two’s misadventure), their shared ending and the ambiguity surrounding it brings attention to itself for reasons other than shock factor.
James is dead. He gets shot and he dies. I say this not to dismiss fan theories about a possible continuation nor as a knowledgeable authority but as a normal viewer, just like everyone else, who fell deeply immersed in the welfare of the 17-year-old protagonists. Even if the series is revitalized with a second season and extends beyond the comics’ storyline, it would be in disservice to the show’s core ideas.
A good story will leave you satisfied but wanting more, luring you into proceeding with the narrative threads established early on. It’s what franchises like the MCU and, in a slightly different fashion, “Black Mirror” do. Either by serial narrative or a loosely connected episodic formula (think sitcoms and shows like “Twilight Zone” or “Star Trek” where viewers aren’t required to have a comprehension of every preceding episode to engage with the current), film and television create characters and places that, if successful, we want to see more of. It stands to reason that if something was engaging enough and leaves room for expansion, viewers will return, bringing in heaps of steady money for broadcasting companies.
A good story also dwindles into nothingness the moment it promises a never-ending well of content. This coaxing of fans into being laced up in the spindly tendrils of repetitious entertainment in exchange for viewership is precisely what is poisoning the industry of film and television: Franchises aren’t allowed to simply die off and usher in new properties to flourish, they languish in perpetual monotony (think “San Junipero” but less romantic and more bleak).
“The End of the F***ing World” doesn’t do that, but that isn’t for lack of quality; it’s a great story that doesn’t necessitate a long-term attachment. Great stories not only provide the desire for a continuation, but they leave an immediate impact that isn’t lessened by a halting of the story. It’s probably why you hypothesize the various ways James and Alyssa make it out happily ever after. A perfect visual representation of this refusal to fade away and stagnate like so many franchises today can be seen in the beginning of the series’ sixth episode, wherein the two have no choice but to listen to The Spencer Davis Group’s “Keep on Running” in a car they’ve just stolen. Enjoyable as the song may be for the law-evading teens, it gets old. It’s almost as if the song was purposefully chosen to fit the themes of the show!
Throughout the series, we’re reminded about the things our characters feel they lack, their problems extending beyond cliche teenage ennui. James believes himself to be a psychopath and consequently devoid of emotions. His only reason for befriending Alyssa is to assuage his murderous desire. Alyssa, on the other hand, lacks anyone to care for her — her stepfather is a creep tiptoeing into abusive behavior while her mother turns a blind eye.
In the end, James realizes he isn’t a psychopath because he discovers “what people mean to each other” before death, while Alyssa recognizes the good in her mother, the bad in her father and falls in love with a boy she just met. Careening through the outskirts of mainland Britain, their criminal romance is boldly cut short, highlighting how essential every minute of the show’s less-than-three hour runtime is. “The End of the F***ing World” derails what could have easily been a trite young adult romance into a poignant tragedy that uniquely spins the coming-of-age formula on its head.