[Note: spoilers for seasons one and two ahead]
Jonathan Entwistle gets teenagers. Both ‘The End of the F***ing World’ and ‘I Am Not Okay With This’ capture all the frustration, melancholy, and rebellion of the transition between child and adult. It’s a difficult age to capture, despite it all being one we went through ourselves – a time when both everything and nothing made sense, when we were desperate to both stand out and fit in, and where every drama really did feel like the end of the f***ing world.
This Netflix series is a modern take of ‘on the run’ films such as ‘Pierrot Le Fou’, ‘The Sugarland Express’, and, most overtly, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. The show tells the tale of two teenagers who run away from their boring and oppressive home lives and strike out on a path of crime and anarchy. There are a plethora of shows for and starring teenagers out there including ‘Pretty Little Liars’, ‘Riverdale’ and the recent ‘Fate: The Winx Saga’. Each of these show twenty-something actors playing glamorous teens with designer wardrobes, exciting sex lives, and endless drama. They’re a fantasy. ‘The End of the ‘F***ing World’ is the grungy reality.
Teenage rebellion. We all wanted it. Maybe some of us even had a taste of it. And we probably all had dreams of breaking away from the oppressive adults in our lives and setting out on our own, to do whatever we wanted. Because surely, surely – we could do better than our boring parents, right?
This is the fantasy that both Alyssa and James entertain when they steal a car and set off on a crime spree. In true teenage fashion, the dangerous taboo is glamorized in an attempt to make themselves feel grown-up. The opening lines inform us that James believes he’s a psychopath and accompanies Alyssa in order to kill her. As confidently as Alyssa talks about sex, all her lines feel pulled from a bad porno and, when she’s given the chance to perform the act, she quickly discovers that she’s not ready at all. Like a monkey’s paw, the teenagers both get a twisted version of these wishes when they break into the house of one Clive Koch, where Alyssa is sexually assaulted and James ends up having to kill Koch in self-defense. A brutal, messy act that makes him realize he’s definitely not psychopath material. And which, for all her tough words, scares the heck out of Alyssa.
The following is not liberation, but trauma. They stumble about from place to place, looking for answers, only to find that there are none. Alyssa is not James’s answer; Alyssa can’t turn off her emotions forever. Turns out, they are destined to be as lost and unfulfilled as the adults in their lives. Or are they?
Not a single adult character in the show is a positive role model. Even Alyssa’s father, who she idolizes as a rebel compared to her repressed, weak-willed mother, is revealed to be a man-child and a sellout. It’s no wonder James and Alyssa set out on the path of rebellion; to find something different, something better for themselves. While the Season One finale gives us something dramatic and romantic, with James taking a bullet for Alyssa on a remote beach, that’s not where their story ends. The answer is not dramatically dying for love in one climactic moment of self-revelation. True rebellion against the world isn’t about sex, alcohol, or crime, all of which only bring about more consequences. It’s daring to improve; to want a better, healthier life than the one our so-called elders have left us.
This is a timeless idea, as showcased by the show’s lack of technology and vintage soundtrack. Every generation has aimed to be better than the one that preceded it, and all wind up with the same problems anyway. Being a teenager is seeing all the flaws of the world all around you, and being naive enough to think you can change them all if you just rebel hard enough. Being an adult means coming to terms with our limitations and trying to do the best we can with the hand we’re dealt. Because the real end of the world is death, and James and Alyssa don’t get the big out that their counterparts from Bonnie and Clyde did. Instead, they’re given the chance to start a real rebellion – and put the world to right the best they can.