That it was so unlikely The End of the F***ing World would get — or even need — a second season ultimately aids the series in bridging the enormous gap between seasons and eases viewers into what is ultimately a radically different, but nevertheless still enjoyably irreverent experience. Whereas season 1 was a gleefully anarchic and violent road trip that spawned an unlikely love story between burgeoning psychopath (but not really) James (Alex Lawther) and the disaffected Alyssa (Jessica Barden), season 2 is very much about the emotional, psychological, and legal ramifications of their actions. It effectively transforms the derisive dark comedy into a more introspective and mournful story, without sacrificing any of its trademark insolent humor.
Those ramifications largely concern the fallout of James and Alyssa’s dealings with Clive Koch, the college professor who revealed himself to be a serial killer, and who was ultimately slain by James, who was protecting Alyssa from Koch's violent assault. But that isn't all the new season is preoccupied with, as it also focuses on the lingering questions surrounding James’ fate, as the first season ended on a violently ambiguous note when the would-be Bonnie and Clyde finally ran afoul of the law.
It was an ideal ending for the season and the series as a whole, delivering an inevitable and extreme comeuppance for the teenage outlaws without forcing the show into the unenviable position of digging itself or its characters out of the hole it had so exuberantly dug over the first eight episodes. As such, writer Charlie Covell, working from the comic book of the same name from Charles S. Forsman, deserves no small amount of praise for delivering an arguably darker and satisfyingly reflective second season of television, one that certainly doesn’t skimp on laughs but also doesn’t feels a need to one up itself in either regard.
This works in the show’s favor as the entire approach to The End of the F***ing World season 2 is meant to address the moral implications of the chaos James and Alyssa wrought, while making it painfully clear that the ambiguity of the season 1 finale is the beginning of a pitch black story, one fittingly preoccupied with the notion of punishment.
To that end, The End of the F***ing World season 2 introduces Bonnie (Naomi Ackie), a mysterious loner with connections to the late professor Koch, and as such has reasons to want to deliver punishment unto those she deems deserving of it. As if announcing how different season 2 aims to be, Covell devotes the entire first episode to Bonnie, leaving questions of James and Alyssa’s respective fates up in the air for nearly a half hour. It’s an effective turnabout for the series as Ackie brings a similarly chaotic and disenfranchised sensibility to the role, one that’s enhanced by her unsettling relationship with Koch.
The episode makes familiar use of the voiceover narration that carried so much of the humor in the first go-round. Though that it does so from the perspective of an entirely new character who, as it happens, existed in the unseen periphery of the previous season. This puts the series in a deliberately unbalanced position to start things off, leaving viewers guessing and effectively establishing the stakes for what is almost certainly the end of this darkly comedic series.
Ackie’s narration of her history begins with an account of her abusive mother who was obsessed with the notion of achievement and punishment (natch), and is delivered with a disturbingly flat intonation, one that follows the character into the present day, as she seeks out those responsible for murdering her murderous boyfriend. In effect, Bonnie becomes an amalgam of James and Alyssa — or their respective worst traits. This allows Covell some leeway in navigating the thorny briar patch of the where the show went in the first season, and where the story hopes to go, particularly in terms of exploring the notion of consequences and perhaps opening the door for some sort of redemptive arc for all the characters still involved.
The End of the F***ing World takes an interesting approach to its second season by not only adding to the cast with Bonnie, and subtracting from the cast, as a number of main characters are missing or, like Gemma Whelan’s DC Eunice Noon or Wunmi Mosaku’s DC Teri Darego, simply no longer essential. Furthermore, Covell jumps forward a full two years in time, opening the door for a variety of new situations and characters to emerge, most notably Alyssa’s aunt and fiancé Todd, and an expanded role for Alyssa’s mother Gwen (Christine Bottomley).
It’s a big risk for the series to move things around to this degree, particularly as it fundamentally alters much of what made the series so appealing in the first place. But to Covell’s credit, she pulls it off with aplomb, delivering an unlikely second season that plays to the series’ various strengths and works to deliver an introspective accounting of the first season without repeating itself. Such a high degree of difficulty ultimately makes The End of the F***ing World a rare sequel that succeeds on an entirely different level than its predecessor.
The End of the F***ing World streams outside the U.K. on Tuesday, November 5 on Netflix.