I’ll get right to brass tacks on this: The End of the F***ing World will not be for everyone. If you like dark comedy with an excessively pessimistic view of human nature and society, then this’ll be up your alley. If not, then- I dunno, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is pretty upbeat I guess?
I already touched on what ends up being the heart of the narrative and plot in a prior post: that we’re looking at two teenagers with pervasive and profound depression and trauma who are on the run. Everything that results from that as far as story and plot goes is how well or poorly characters treat or react to people with these struggles.
If TEotFW is trying to offer a general scope of how well different members of society react to, support, and help people suffering with these conditions, then TEotFW is not at all optimistic in its view. Should go without saying, but spoilers ahead.
The pair of teenagers take off in the first place because of families that- in different ways- aren’t providing proper support, attention or care for the respective teens. In the case of Alyssa, her mother is actively enabling a destructive and hurtful environment for the sake of her own material comfort.
A random stranger, a psychologist no less, who finds Alyssa having taken refuge in his house, immediately attempts to rape the young girl when he realizes how vulnerable she is. Of the two police officers in pursuit of Alyssa and James, one of them is coldly resolute in seeing the young pair brought up as severely as possible.
James’ father is the most heartbreaking of all: meaning so damn well, but being so damned oblivious and out of his depth of what he’s dealing with as far as his son’s grief and depression. While it’s pretty obvious from the start that his father’s attempts to cheer his son with jokes and stories is superficial and abrasive, we later see his father interviewed by the police about his son’s knife: and rather than dig at the core emotional driver of why his son would ask for a machete for a birthday gift, he gives his son a hunting knife instead. It’s a pretty wonderful, tangible symbol of how poorly people who don’t suffer depression are at handling it.
It only gets worse from there: betrayals abound, and the only people who want to actually help the duo are either doing so out of guilt that amounts to too little, too late, or an inability to make a difference of any import.
The funny thing is: I don’t agree with this bleak worldview that the system is so stacked with idiots, and people who are either negligent or outright malicious. I will say that the unique elements of the show do make for a pretty interesting story. So I come down in the “good, not great” camp on this one.
Chief for me with any story, especially of this sort, is best summed up by a line from Corey Stoll’s Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris: “No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”
Maybe that’s a passe ideal, but it does hold true for stories like this. For the sake of driving the narrative drama, I feel as if TEotFW had to make its support cast intellectually or morally bankrupt and went just a bit past true life with it- but not so much as to ruin the thing. They went just too far to keep it from being the kind of profound experience a story that captured so many other great emotional beats with such clarity had the potential to be.