Arts and Entertainment

The End of the F***ing Trauma

Writer Julie Grandchamp-Desraux reviews Season Two of “The End of the F***ing World.”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Emily Chen

Last year Netflix released “The End of the F***ing World,” a show about two teenagers who embark on a road trip and develop a relationship after a series of problems. The show received a lot of attention and had viewers desperately waiting for a second season after ending its first season on a cliffhanger. With only eight 20-minute episodes, people began waiting for the new season the same day they started watching it. The wait was over on November 5, when Netflix dropped the show’s second season, which brought answers to viewers’ long held anticipation.

Season One follows Alyssa (Jessica Barden), a rebellious, mouthy teenage girl who decides to run away with a classmate, James (Alex Lawther), who has murderous thoughts and believes he’s a psychopath. Alyssa proposes to run away together and James agrees, with the intention to kill her. After embarking on their road trip, James and Alyssa are faced with problems that impede each other’s reasons for running away and slowly cause them to fall for one another.

The murder of Clive Koch (Jonathan Aris), a philosophy professor who seduces his female students before killing them, becomes the main focus of the plot. At one point, Koch attempts to rape Alyssa before James kills him. The murder forces the pair to spend the rest of the season running from the law as two investigators work their case. The season ends with James running from the police before the screen goes black with only a gunshot to be heard, leaving viewers anxious for James’ life.

Season Two uses its first three episodes to remind the audience of what happened in the first season and to introduce a pivotal character: Bonnie (Naomi Ackie). To me this was extremely helpful and effective, considering the two year waiting period between both seasons. After learning about Koch’s death, Bonnie, his lover, seeks revenge.

The show then focuses on Alyssa’s current life and how she deals with what happened to her and James. Alyssa’s profane language and nihilistic character keeps things humorous as she distracts herself from her traumas, specifically by getting into a relationship with the dumb, albeit sweet canoe instructor, Todd (Josh Dylan). Unfortunately, Alyssa’s relationship with Todd definitely could’ve been explored more. It was probably included to demonstrate Alyssa’s impulsivity but seems useless in her development. The show gets a lot of things right, but addressing Alyssa’s detrimental spontaneousness and recklessness was not one of them.

Alyssa’s distractions don’t last though, as she’s dragged back into her past affairs when she catches James, alive and well, stalking her from his car. Alyssa proposes to run away again, and James and Alyssa pick up Bonnie, who poses as an innocent hitchhiker.

A few parallels emerge between the two seasons, including the pair running away to ignore their problems, getting into situations where they could die, and eventually having to deal with the aftermath of their decisions. This time though, by the time James and Alyssa have reached the climax of their story, there’s no way to repress the trauma that the past two years have given them.

Both seasons are structured similarly, but what really separates them is how the characters face the issues they are presented with. In Season One, Alyssa is too busy despising her parents and running from the law to really care about being sexually assaulted. The trauma that came with this event is buried deep inside her and isn’t explored until the end of Season Two. Initially, James is so focused on killing Alyssa while also falling in love with her that he doesn’t understand the magnitude of the situation that he put himself and Alyssa in. Now that it has all cooled down, James must deal with not only having caused Alyssa psychological pain but also his own familial issues, like the death of his father.

This season spends a lot of time building up to its climax before it focuses on the much darker issues that James and Alyssa face. When Bonnie finally confronts James and Alyssa for Koch’s murder, she’s incapable of facing the truth that James killed Koch to save Alyssa from being raped. Bonnie’s inability to process her emotions drives her to try to shoot herself before James and Alyssa jump to stop her. In this scene, Bonnie’s innocence overshadows her sociopathic nature thanks to Naomi Ackie’s subtle performance. Her facial expressions and tears made me pity Bonnie as she struggles to understand why the “love” between her and Koch wasn’t actually love. Any relationship was better than the one between Bonnie and her cold mother, so she failed to see Koch’s manipulation. Everything about this scene felt perfectly executed: Bonnie’s struggle against Alyssa and James, her exhaustion overcoming her, muted police sirens in the background, and Alyssa’s narration all contributed to the sigh of relief I got after watching this scene.

Despite this, the show again manages to end a relationship abruptly. There’s no information on what happens to Bonnie once she’s arrested, she simply disappears from the show. After the main plot is resolved, the show spends its last episode addressing Alyssa’s PTSD. After going through all these traumatic events, Alyssa is left with flashbacks of sexual assault and near-death experiences. On this, she says, “You can think you’ve run away from something. But actually, you’ve been carrying it with you the whole time.”

The show does a great job of tackling PTSD and trauma by showing how it presents itself differently in different people. Alyssa acts out impulsively to subdue her thoughts. James, who’s more sensitive about his problems, carries the ashes of his father with him for the whole season and continuously asks Alyssa to talk to him about her issues while Bonnie acts out using the anger and emotions she suppressed during her childhood.

While it follows a dark and gloomy plotline, “The End of the F***ing World” uses its characters to touch upon subjects that all teenagers can relate to: rebelliousness, feelings of being misunderstood, impulsivity, familial problems, and so on. It does a great job of balancing a dismal plotline with humor to keep things light and manages to incorporate important topics such as consent, rape, and mental health into the storyline. Aside from the occasional convoluted plot, Season Two gives viewers an ending that neatly wraps up its hectic, violent, and suspenseful events.