This Is The One Major Similarity Between TEOTFW & 13 Reasons Why

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s The End Of The F***ing World.
Today, Netflix drops its surprise gem of a new original series, The End Of The F****ing World, which follows two teens who find themselves embroiled in increasingly high-stakes crimes after running away from home. At first glance, the Brit black comedy couldn’t seem further from its streaming service home’s other big teenage series, breakout hit 13 Reasons Why. Where 13 Reasons is all wet eyes and unbridled emotions, we only learn about the inner lives of F****ing World’s leads — 17-year-olds Alyssa (Jessica Braden) and James (Alex Lawther) — through quick flashbacks and their wry, revealing voiceovers. The accents are different, the genres are different, and, the journeys couldn’t be more disparate.
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Yet, despite how often these two Netflix shows feel like polar opposites, they both share one massive similarity. The End Of The F****ing World and 13 Reasons Why are both about the aftermath of suicide.
From World’s premiere, “Episode 1,” it’s obvious a tragedy has befallen James’ mother, Vanessa (Kelly Harrison). When Alyssa first visits her the home of her new boyfriend, who claims in voiceover he only entered the relationship as a ruse to murder Alyssa, James says his mom lives in “Japan.” This is a clear lie, underscored by the flashbacks to James’ life throughout the series, which hint he’s grieving a devastating loss. We see young James (Jack Veal) staring in terror at a black-hued pond; young James sticking his hand in a deep fryer just to feel something; young James resting his head on Vanessa’s lap while sitting on a patio swing, a “menacing rumble,” as the closed captioning reads, playing in the background.
In the present, James perches on that same melancholy-inducing swing with Alyssa. “I don’t like it,” he says. Of course he doesn’t.
It’s not until “Episode 5” we fully understand what happened to Vanessa. The instalment's cold open introduces her as the kind of pale, quiet woman who’s afraid to leave the house and feed ducks with her 6-year-old son. She is the classic, passive “Birdlike depressed lady who’s too frail for this world” trope, like some Victorian era first wife trapped in the attic. Vanessa does still try to take James to feed the ducks, but can’t manage. At the pond, she gives her son a big “I love you speech” and tells him to get out of the car. When James is safely far away, Vanessa buckles her seatbelt and drives straight in the body of water, fatally drowning herself. Young James looks on in shock, frozen in his spot — he was the only witness to his own mother’s suicide.
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This life-changing event colours every single moment of The End Of The F****ing World’s present day. When we initially meet James, he explains through voiceover he believes he’s a “psychopath,” as he no longer feels anything and has a history of killing animals. Mindhunter can tell you both of those qualities can lead to serial killer behaviour. But, James isn’t a psychopath at all. Rather he’s a young man who was so gutted by watching his mom commit suicide, he built up a wall to keep out emotions. James’ problem isn’t that he feels nothing, it’s that he has the capability to feel far too much. So, isn’t blocking out every emotion better than getting crushed by a mountain of pain much larger than any 6-year-old child?
That also explains why James has an increasingly large obsession with death and originally believes he wants to kill a person. James was flung into the far reaches of that darkness in the most personal way, long before he was ready. It makes sense if he has already blocked out all emotion, he would subsequently be able to murder a cat at 15, and later rack up over 30 more kills in about two years. By being the one doing the killing — rather than an unwitting bystander — James is able to act as the master of death. If only for a moment, the traumatised teen is able to rewrite his own bleak history.
As we see through James’ TEOTFW journey, his affinity for killing wanes as his emotional walls crumble into dust. When he actually has to kill someone it horrifies him, and, by the end of the series, the idea of hurting a defenceless animal brings the teenager to actual tears.
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Although 13 Reasons Why similarly shows how teens process the grief of suicide, there is one big difference in the Selena Gomez-produced favorite. While F***cking World deals with the long-term effects of a parent’s death, 13 Reasons explores the immediate chaos following a fellow teen’s death. With Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) tapes, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn), and everyone else implicated on the cassettes is forced to reckon with how their behaviour influenced the life of someone else: the good, the bad, and the very ugly.
While suicide is a complex tragedy without one singular cause, most of the stars of Hannah’s tape certainly didn’t help her mental state. That’s why awful secrets are drawn into the light, people are consumed by guilt, and friendships end, because they had to. None of that is necessary in The End Of The F****ing World, since James, a young child at the time of his mother’s death, didn’t do anything wrong. As Alyssa tells James at one point in season 1, “It wasn’t your fault.”
Alyssa’s thoughtful assurance is the kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line that reminds us World might be a show about on-the-run teens, pitch-black humour, and young love, but, it’s also about the grief, growth, and desperation of being a teenager.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.
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