Warning: Major The End of the F***ing World season 2 spoilers ahead.
“You can think you’ve run away from something — but actually, you’ve been carrying it with you the whole time,” Alyssa (Jessica Barden) says via voiceover in the first half of The End of the F***ing World’s season 2 finale. Thanks to Alyssa’s purposefully casual affect, this admission doesn’t sound particularly unique. But it is. With one sentence, Alyssa has summed up the entire lofty theme of the Netflix black comedy's melancholy second season.
The second half of season-ender “Episode 8,” shows us how Alyssa and her partner-in-crime/soulmate James (Alex Lawther) can finally put down all the hurt they’ve been carrying. It’s a dizzyingly intense tour through guilt, trauma, and ultimately hope.
TEOFW season 2 has two levels. The first is the flashier and sometimes funnier one: The idea that James and Alyssa accidentally allow a woman bent on murdering them — the wild-eyed Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) — onto their anxiety-ridden nostalgia road trip. That is a problem essentially solved in penultimate chapter “Episode 7.” Bonnie corners Alyssa and James with a gun and confronts them over the dark fantasy she has concocted about the death of her “boyfriend” Clive Koch (Jonathan Aris), the man the teens killed in season 1 of TEOTFW.
Bonnie has convinced herself Alyssa and James malevolently broke into Clive’s home with the express purpose to harm him. Alyssa and James inform Bonnie that Clive wasn’t her faithful and innocent lover — he was a violent predator who had raped and seemingly murdered multiple women. They only killed him in self-defense after he tried to make Alyssa his latest victim.
By the end of the confrontation, a shattered Bonnie attempts to shoot herself with the gun. Alyssa and James save her, stopping one tragedy after experiencing an overwhelming amount of darkness during the series. The beginning of the finale confirms Bonnie is alive, in police custody, and has already confessed to her multitude of crimes, including the accidental murder of a creepy motel owner.
With Bonnie’s storyline taken care of, TEOTFW’s season 2 can find a resolution for its far darker theme: the underlying and inescapable trauma of its leads. Because, at its heart, The End of the F***ing World’s much-desired comeback is about what happens after you witness the worst parts of your life. You may have physically survived them — but at what emotional cost?
We find Alyssa living an emotionless life due to her PTSD from a near-rape and the sight of Clive’s bloody death. “I’m always in that house. I’m always in that room. I can’t get out,” Alyssa admits to Bonnie during their verbal skirmish in “Episode 7.” The apparent rejection of James, the sole person who understood all those grim experiences, didn’t help (James was forced into the breakup by Alyssa’s mother). James — who was already holding the abandonment issues caused by his mother’s (Kelly Harrison) suicide — was left completely isolated in the wake of his father Phil’s (Steve Oram) abrupt death, which occurred before the events of season 2. James may be thankful to be alive after the TEOFW season 1 shootout almost killed him, yet he begins season 2 completely alone.
“Episode 8” shows us that Alyssa and James need to face all of this pain directly if they're ever going to get through it. Alyssa flees the police station where cops are wrapping up Bonnie’s case and heads to Clive’s home. James learns Alyssa has left because she wrote a note. It’s that note that trigger’s James’ worst fear. Between hearing Alyssa’s PTSD admission in the prior episode and finding out about the existence of note, James assumes Alyssa plans to die by suicide like his mother.
As the audience, we know that isn’t where Alyssa’s head is at. Instead, she wanted to be alone in Clive’s home to fully feel the emotions wrought by her memories there. It is a painful experience she has avoided for years at this point. “It’s like a haunted house, only I’m the ghost,” Alyssa says in voiceover. Then she jumps in Clive’s pool, forcing her own rebirth through water. It’s a subtle reminder that the last time Alyssa was simply happy was sitting next to that pool with James in season 1.
The most important scene of the finale puts James in the direct aftermath of Alyssa’s impromptu swim. They’re back in Clive’s home, totally different people from the ones they were the last time they were there. James admits he was worried Alyssa would do “something bad” to herself and she is reminded of how much he cares for her. Near tears, they embrace in Clive’s living room, a sad echo of their unforgettable season 1 dance party. Then they leave to give James some emotional clarity of his own.
The penultimate scene of “Episode 8” puts Alyssa and James at the underpass where the latter’s parents met. It is here they’re going to “scatter” Phil’s ashes. After a season of James gripping his dad’s urn — a constant symbol of how closely he is clutching his grief — he is ready to start the next chapter of his life. James may have to physically scoop his father’s soggy ashes out of the urn to take that step, but he does it.
These two big back-to-back moments bring us to the last scene of TEOTFW season 2, and possibly The End of the F***ing World forever. Now that both Alyssa and James have begun to deal with their core issues, they can talk about their precarious relationship. Any attempt beforehand would have been reckless, as we see with their messy makeout in “Episode 4.” Now Alyssa can confess to James she heard his earlier “Episode 3” pledge of love, and she feels the same way. James lights up, even though Alyssa doesn’t say “I love you” out loud.
“Episode 8” ends by letting the audience know that the healing process isn’t over for its heroes. They may love each other, but Alyssa needs a lot of time before entering a romantic relationship and “some psychological help,” as she admits. She also owes her mum a small fortune after her disastrous wedding. All of this is fine with James — because Alyssa loves him. She loves him so much, she holds the hand that he once plunged into a boiling vat of oil just to feel something. She loves his darkest parts, and he loves hers. That’s enough.