Be aware there are spoilers for The End of the F***cking World series and comic.
In its final episode, The End of the F***ng World reaches a tipping point. The cumulative momentum of James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa’s (Jessica Barden) increasingly high-stakes crime spree and increasingly honest emotional intimacy careens off the rails; all their small decisions have added up and now everything has changed. In just under a half-hour, we watch their bravura Bonnie and Clyde adventure come to a fittingly ferocious end, the jazzy percussive score swinging with momentum, as all of the series narrative threads crash together in a violent, impassioned, and possibly tragic finale.
With the cops hot on their trail and Leslie (Barry Ward) utterly revealed a “fucking useless dad,” James and Alyssa burry the dead dog on the beach and share one last quiet moment of intimacy. They decide to run away. Take dad’s boat and cross the channel. Start fresh. They’re kids and they’re in love, and they’re out of options. When they go to take Leslie’s keys, Alyssa finally confronts him, but he’s not only unrepentant and manipulative, he secretly calls “999” for the reward. Alyssa opens up and confesses, while sympathetic officer Eunice (Gemma Whelan) sneaks toward the door outside, hearing every word. So do the cops on the line, and on instinct, James susses out Leslie’s betrayal, confesses to all the crimes as his alone, insistening on Alyssa’s innocence, and pulls a gun. That’s when things get out of hand.
Alyssa stabs Leslie in the leg just as Eunice bursts in, telling the kids they have to turn themselves in so she can help them — especially James, who just turned 18. It’s his birthday. “I would have bought you a present,” Alyssa says with equal love and indignation. Your heart breaks into a thousand pieces. Eunice tries to reason with them, convince them that they still have a home to go back to, but once Alyssa realizes they would be separated in juvenile detention, it’s all over. She knocks Eunice out with the butt of the gun, demands the keys to the boat, grabs James’ hand, and they run to the water. But the water isn’t there — the tide is out and they’re stranded.
Eunice’s not-so-sympathetic partner Teri (Wunmi Mosaku) rolls in with a SWAT team and James realizes they’re out of options. He tells Alyssa to say she was kidnapped, hits her in the head with the rifle, and runs down the beach. Gunshots send up sprays of sand at his feet as he sprints away, gun in hand, and Alyssa screams for him while Teri restrains her. “I’ve just turned 18,” James says in voice-over. “And I think I understand what people mean to each other.” A montage of his moments with Alyssa flashes by, a piercing shot rings out, and we get a brutal cut to black. It’s the end of the fucking world.
The Netflix and Channel 4 series caught on like wildfire when it debuted last month, and fans have been debating James and Alyssa’s fates ever since. With that in mind, I hopped on the phone with series creator Jonathan Entwistle to talk about what to make of the ending and the value he found in ambiguity. For those looking for a bit more resolved version of the ending, Entwistle pointed to the source material, Charles Forseman‘s comic of the same name, which ends pretty similarly, except for a coda that removes most of the doubt about what happens after that gunshot on the beach — Alyssa sits alone in her room, runs a nail through flame, and uses it to carve “James” into her arm.
“For those have read the comic, the comic ends very definitively. And in fact, there’s a prologue to the comic that we never shot, we never wrote, which makes it unambiguous if that makes sense. And I think for us, we wanted the opportunity to be able to continue the story, because when we were writing — We started writing the show four years ago and Netflix didn’t really exist in the way that it exists back then, so when we were putting together the arc of the story and sticking very closely to the spine of the comic book, this made sense as a way to end it.”
He continued, explaining that because they wanted the opportunity to continue, the version of the finale we ultimately saw was a bit different than what they originally had on the page.
“Now, the ambiguity that we’ve got in the show is done in the edit, if that makes sense. It’s a little bit different to what was in the script, and we gave ourselves some options with the ending of the show. And in the end, we just felt that this was a nice way to leave it open for everyone, and it lets people think to themselves, “What happened?”And what’s really interesting for me is that I think I’ve read some amazing comments from people saying, “What happens to Alyssa?” And I think that that is actually a really key point for me, is that she’s so front and center in the show. Even though in some ways the show kicks off with James, it is very much about Alyssa and how she unpacks everything. This show is about Alyssa trying to find her dad, essentially. And I think that she is the one that is kind of left at the end of the show more open; more ambiguous is what happens to Alyssa.
Entwistle also pointed out a detail you may have missed,
“All his voiceover is in the past tense in the show until the final line. So a lot of people have lots of conjecture about where the story goes because James is always in the past tense and the series voiceover is in the present tense, and until James delivers the final line of the show. So you can read into that what you will.”