On the tail end of 2019, mere months before what felt and continues to feel like the real thing, the second half of “The End of the F***ing World” arrived on Netflix. Two years prior, the British program was hailed as a visionary piece of character-driven fiction, and fans were ravening for another taste of the show that defines “dramedy.”
Though no less chaotic than its first, the second season of “The End of the F***ing World” establishes a noticeably different pace from the outset, opting out urgency for milder — but by no means mild — reflection on themes both old and new.
While viewers might expect to pick up where we left off — at the climax of a particularly nail-biting cliffhanger — director Lucy Forbes instead asks us to take a step back; we’ll get to that. Rather, we are introduced to a new character and easily the season’s most intriguing case study: the uncanny and disquieting Bonnie. We meet Bonnie in a fashion similar to first-season protagonists James and Alyssa: by way of an expository montage that bleeds into the first episode. It is here that her connection to our favorite duo is produced. Without realizing it, the two have wronged Bonnie, and in beginning her vengeful hunt across England, she initiates the central drama for these eight episodes.
Unfortunately for Bonnie, in the two years this season jumps, James and Alyssa have separated for reasons beyond their control. James lives with his father who, unlike his crude characterization in the previous season, is now enrolled in parenting classes and attempting to show affection for his estranged son; James guardedly appreciates his father’s efforts. Meanwhile, Alyssa, accompanied by her mother, stays with and works for her aunt at a remote café. There, she meets and endeavors to fall in love with the oafish Todd, though it is clear from the start that she means only to fill the void left by James. Thus emerges one of the season’s central themes: absence.
When James and Alyssa reunite, the moment is almost tangibly awkward. Despite the bond formed in the first season, two years have passed; though James wants to fan a weakened flame, Alyssa means to accept his absence and move on. The creators provide a naturally tense encounter rather than a melodramatic reunion, lending to their respect for realism in an otherwise frenetic show.
Bonnie’s pursuit of James and Alyssa juxtaposes this tension nicely, portraying a deranged individual whose strangeness initially serves as a source of comedy, before evolving into the portrait of a tragic character. What makes this evolution work is a superb performance from rising star Naomi Ackie. Ackie embodies the duality of her character, at times awkward and charming and at others brutal and calculating, all the while hinting at a deep-seated self-doubt.
Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden, who portray James and Alyssa respectively, once again perform with expertise. Both characters have changed since their separation, in some ways subtle and, in others, dramatic. These changes require from Lawther and Barden a sizable range of emotion, of which they execute impeccably.
All of these moving parts and exemplary performances arrive at a conclusion that is both emotional for the viewer and cathartic for the characters. Despite this second season’s occasionally slow pace, it is often more thoughtful than the show’s first half, and again achieves an impressive, though narrower, balance of comedy and drama. If you’re looking for a compact narrative that is often as grounded as it is chaotic, “The End of the F***ing World” is for you.