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‘The End of the F***ing World’ Review: ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ Take Britain in a Gripping, Surprising Netflix Series

After a challenging start, this Netflix import is ultimately rewarding in its uncensored look at young love.

The End of the F***ing World Netflix Jessica Barden Alex Lawther The End of the Fucking World Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

“The End of the F***cking World” is a near-perfect Netflix binge and, in all likelihood, an intolerable traditional television experience. Through three episodes, the adaptation of Charles Forsman’s comic book series comes across as a pointless odyssey copping themes and plot points from other, better stories: That “Bonnie & Clyde” is directly referenced does little to pique interest in the lead characters, James and Alyssa, as they embark on an unprompted road trip-turned-crime spree across England.

But then it clicks: A relatively late turn — over an hour into the two-and-a-half-hour series — provides a much-needed sense of purpose, and suddenly “The End of the F***ing World” becomes a darkly compelling journey of self-discovery and adolescent confusion. James develops into more than a disturbed wannabe serial killer; he’s a confused kid trying to cope with pain the only way he knows how. Alyssa isn’t an uncaring, self-destructive disruptor, but a child acting out to get the attention she actually needs.

That their relatable motivations comes out at the same time the two alienated and alienating leads start acting a bit nicer to one another may lead to a misunderstanding: The first half(-ish) of “The End of the Fucking World” (we’re done bleeping the name, thank you) isn’t frustrating because the characters are unlikable; it’s difficult because everything feels forced. The world turns bleak to accommodate their own bleakness; bad people lurk around every corner; darkness is definitely defeating the light.

The End of the F***ing World Netflix Jessica Barden The End of the Fucking World Netflix

Once we understand a bit more about their decision-making, the show opens up and starts to flow in a more natural manner. It’s fascinating, fresh, and exposes the viewer to surprising emotional depths. The ending is almost antithetical to the beginning, in that it feels authentic and inevitable while the beginning feels artificial and quirked up. (Before you understand where the story is going, so many early scenes feel designed solely to provoke, rather than inform and drive the story.)

And that ending is already a point of controversy. The series aired in October 2017 across the pond (on Channel 4 in the U.K.), and it’s stirring up discussion in the States now that “The End of the Fucking World” is popping up in Netflix queues. Below, we’ll dig into the events leading up to a surprising, satisfying finale, but if you’re not there yet, just know this:

“The End of the Fucking World” is worth sticking with (unless you’re utterly intolerant of animal abuse, which is a persistent theme). Even if you’re not immediately engrossed — and who knows, you very well could be — keep going to discover what’s got everyone talking. Then come back and keep reading.

[Editor’s Note: The following portion of the review contains spoilers for “The End of the Fucking World” Season 1 through the finale.]

The End of the F***ing World Netflix Jessica Barden Alex Lawther The End of the Fucking World Netflix

There are a few key points of context to mention before digging into those final moments. In the final episode, it’s clear the walls are closing in on our young couple. Their sins, accidental and otherwise, have added up. There’s a dead body, two stolen cars, and a number of jilted businesses, be it a restaurant or a gas station or a hotel paid off with stolen money.

So it feels like a free-and-easy escape, or even some sort of return to normal life, is an impossibility. As soon as Alyssa asks if they’d end up at separate prisons if they did give themselves over to the cops, it’s over. The cops have already found them, and they were lucky it was Eunice (Gemma Whelen) and not her partner, Teri (Wunmi Mosaku), or other uncaring police officers, who got to them first. Their best shot at normalcy was surrender, and these kids were never going to surrender, just as they never were going to accept normalcy. “Normal” to them was terrible: It was a father who abandoned his daughter or a mother who killed herself.

So they ran, and we may never know for sure if James ran far enough, fast enough. As police drew their weapons and seized Alyssa, he kept running. One gunshot landed next to his foot, but the final gunshot is only heard. That’s the end, and we don’t know if there will be a follow-up. Given Netflix’s investment, one would think they want more seasons, but there’s no guarantee of that. Critics are already debating whether or not a Season 2 is a good idea.

No matter how you take the ending, each interpretation carries significance, which is exactly what the creator intended., The varying beliefs also reflect the developing attitudes of the series’ leads. If you believe James escaped, then you’re choosing to believe in second chances; that these kids were still becoming adults when they started down a bad path; that turning 18 isn’t the same as being a grown-up, especially in the days before you hit that pivotal age; and that youthful ignorance is youthful innocence, to one degree or another.

The belief that he died ties in with the characters’ early self-destructive desires; that the sins of the past will haunt you, even if they shouldn’t. Before they went through everything they went through, it would’ve been easy to imagine a bleak ending because James and Alyssa would’ve readily accepted one. They wanted out of their lives because they had nothing to live for. Perhaps those sins caught up to James, whether he was running as fast as he could away from them or he was accepting responsibility to save his girlfriend.

It’s also worth noting the title itself is given a whole new meaning, no matter whether you believe James is dead or not. Those final seconds earn that unique, earth-shattering sentiment many people only feel when the love of their life is threatened, if not taken away: It’s as if the world has ended, and James’ act of self-sacrifice combined with Alyssa’s wailing pleas evoke that exact feeling. It’s the ideal takeaway from “The End of the Fucking World” overall: There’s good things in this world — love, laughter, and life — even if you have to dig through the worst to find them.

Grade: B+

“The End of the F***ing World” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix. 

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