I started The End of the F***ing World on Netflix this past weekend, and made a half-joke, half-observation on my Twitter about how Netflix is consistently representing depression in its shows both beautifully and accurately.
TEotFW accomplishes this pretty damned well two episodes in with just a single scene. This isn’t a full review of the show- as I noted, I’m still in progress- but I’m writing this because I’m continuing to enjoy it purely on the strength of one scene and moment.
James and Alyssa ran away from home in the first episode, and in the second they’ve broken into an empty house for refuge. It’s important to note that the only comments on psychological conditions either of the two main characters may be coping with comes from the internal monologue of James who refers to himself as a psychopath, and to Alyssa as a nymphomaniac- so hardly a professional assessment.
While James does exhibit some pretty deranged behavior vis a vis cruelty to animals, my immediate take on both him and Alyssa isn’t: wow, what psychos– it’s: wow, they’re suffering from some pervasive depression.
I won’t attempt to armchair diagnose depression here, and the story certainly takes some wild turns, but there is one scene that makes the case pretty profoundly before things really hit the shit. When James and Alyssa are in the house together, you might guess at the kinds of things a pair of teenagers would do with a house to themselves.
Alyssa plays into that cliche somewhat by turning on some upbeat music and starts dancing. It’s awkward, and James stands stiffly, asserting that he cannot and does not dance. Alyssa doesn’t grab his hands, and she doesn’t tell him some other cliche, instead she tells him to close his eyes and she’ll close hers and they can just do whatever.
The dancing starts, and it’s awkward, and it’s stiff, but damned if it isn’t honest movement to the music from the characters. The song ends, and Alyssa- having experienced a moment of honesty and connection begins telling James what to do so they can hook up. James enjoys the hook up for all of five seconds before he comes back to reality and awkwardly ends it.
This scene, simply put, is sublime and my description can’t possibly do its efficacy justice because it captures two sides of the coin that is depression in one smooth scene. We see the discomfort and physical paralysis a person who is depressed can feel when daunted by “performing” like a “happy person.”
Then we see that if proper empathy and understanding is offered, as well as proper distance, a very genuine participation and envigoration is possible when James starts dancing. There’s a lot of grief given to James’ father who bluntly and ham fistedly tries to lift his son’s spirits, and James’ ever increasing ire at it. Alyssa, in one gesture, shows that rather than pulling through the threshold, sometimes proper care is just leaving the door open for the person to walk through of their own accord.
Finally, the hook up that ruins everything: it’s a common challenge that depressed people try to “follow the playbook.” We do the things that we know a happy, well adjusted person would or should do. Perhaps on one hand we do these things because we don’t want people to get on our case or worry.
On the other hand, I think all of us who cope with depression play this part in the hopes that by running the motions, we’ll wake up and find that by following the playbook it’s made us “normal” by doing things that “normal people” do. The issue is, if we really are Jame, we’ll eventually run into that wall (mental or physical- which TEotFW balances fairly deftly) that shows the error in that thinking.
Even if you’re not looking for a show that presents a very candid look at the inner workings of how a depressed mind works, TEotFW is an entertaining story with lots of great dry/dark humor. I’ll put together a full review eventually, but for now, I’m recommending giving it a try on the strength of that thesis statement it makes in its second episode.