Netflix's New Must-See Show Has The Most Important Message About Consent

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Welcome to Role Call, where we call up TV’s leading ladies to talk about their most vital, memorable, and feminist episodes.
When Netflix first announced its brand new series The End Of The F****ing World, one trailer scene immediately stuck out: female lead Alyssa (Jessica Barden) playfully pulling off the shirt of her love interest, James (Alex Lawther), who’s driving through a forest. Before you know it, the giggling teens crash their car directly into a tree. The car promptly explodes. After watching the duo nearly kill themselves by simply trying to remove a single sweater, you wouldn’t guess they have much to teach the world about sex — but you would be wrong. TEOTFW gave viewers the best, most subtle scene about consent in the television landscape, which makes a lot of sense. After all, this is a show hung on the murder of a rapist.
Advertisement
While the slaying of a sexual predator is itself a bold statement, the big moment we're talking about shows up during a tiff between the central couple of Alyssa and James, a pair of 17-year-olds who find themselves in an increasingly desperate, accidental crime spree after running away from home. Alyssa, angry with her boyfriend, storms out of the house they’re squatting in and meets a guy named Topher (Alex Sawyer). She immediately brings Topher back to the house for sex. It’s up to the viewers at home to decide if Alyssa, who’s never had sex before, actually wants to hook up with her new friend, or simply wants to hurt James.
Jessica Barden, who portrays multilayered firecracker Alyssa, has her own opinion on the messy matter. “Alyssa thinks she’s supposed to have sex, but it’s actually love that she wants,” the British actress explained during a phone call with Refinery29. “She has only wanted a physical closeness to somebody and that’s why it’s scary.”
That search for love is what eventually puts a damper on Alyssa and Topher’s hookup. While Topher tries to passionately kiss Alyssa, she becomes more disinterested, saying in voiceover, “It’s no good. Thanks, James.” Physical connection might be all well and good, but she loves James, who’s quietly sitting downstairs. Finally, Alyssa pushes Topher off of her, telling him, “I changed my mind … I’m not into this.” When Topher complains her mid-hookup rejection isn’t “fair”, the teen counters with a very matter-of-fact “Yes it is.” Kick rocks, Topher.
Advertisement
The scene is the most straightforward reminder that you can rescind a hookup-starting “Yes” at any point, including when a guy is well past a vague arousal. For a show aimed at young people, who are just starting to stumble through the mess of sexuality, this couldn’t be a more necessary, realistic, and unfortunately rare message. “Hopefully the show will open people’s minds to consent and those conversations because now people feel more free to talk about it,” Barden said, stressing how F***ing World encourages open communication about everything from sex to emotional vulnerabilities and mental illness.
Barden, who’s been playing Alyssa since TEOTFW was a 2014 short film, appreciated how the scene complicates her character. Yes, the teen was right to put a stop to an unwanted hookup, but she wouldn’t have been in the unwanted situation if she hadn’t set out to use Topher in the first place. “You see men being the people who lead women on in pop culture,” Barden said. “But she did that to Topher. She uses him … Women are like men as well, we make mistakes, but then you can fix it just as quickly. You don’t have to go along with it.”

You’re either vulnerable ... Or you’re the mean girl, or the funny girl. Alyssa is all of them — she’s what we’re all like. We’re all everything.

Jessica Barden
While the Topher scene highlights how Alyssa can be “sexually aggressive”, as Barden proudly describes the teen, it also highlights how complicated she is. When you take a closer look, there are so many layers behind why she sought Topher out and eventually rejected him. “I guess the main thing that attracted me to Alyssa is, she is to me what every single woman [can be] like,” Barden mused. “Where you’re really fearless and you’re arrogant when you’re insecure, and you’re smart, but you’re also really stupid sometimes, and you’re really vulnerable.”
Advertisement
All of that may sound chaotic, but it’s also more real than many depictions of young women out there. You know, because life itself is chaotic. “A lot of the time a lot of the scripts you read, or sometimes the TV shows or films that you watch, women are only being portrayed as only being one thing,” Barden said. “You’re either vulnerable and you’re the girl who has her heart broken, or you’re the mean girl, or the funny girl. Alyssa is all of them — she’s what we’re all like. We’re all everything."
Speaking of all of us, Alyssa’s love interest ends up reminding viewers it’s equally important for young men to give consent. During “Episode 2” James is sexually assaulted by a trucker named Martin (Geoff Bell), who forces the teen to touch his penis. “We have him with the problem of masculinity, which is a massive topic at the moment,” Barden noted of the closeted gay man, who can be viewed as using assault to assert his own dominance. At a time when it sounds like another man is outed as a predator every day, the scene is especially chilling.
“Martin, he was from the army and was quite clearly a gay man. A person in the army has to be this macho guy, but he isn’t,” Barden added, observing how sexism has created the problems that led to the married guy's disturbing, criminal behaviour.
Amid these fraught times, it’s best to remember what Alyssa told James after he believed he had to allow Martin to take advantage of him: “You know that if people want to do stuff to you, you don’t have to let them.”
Advertisement
Read These Stories Next:
Advertisement

More from TV

Watch

R29 Original Series

Watch Now
Fashion
A look at the subcultures around the world that color what we wear — and why.
Watch Now
Travel
Explore the world's most most vibrant cultural and culinary centers—in 60 seconds, of course.
Watch Now
Beauty
The craziest trends, most unique treatments, and strangest subcultures in the beauty world.
Watch Now
Lifestyle
Millennial survivor-woman Lucie Fink dives headfirst into social experiments, 5 days at a time.