Psychology in ‘The End of the F***ing World’

(Mild spoilers for The End of the F***ing World follow. Duh.)

Hey guys! Did you hear about that new Netflix show?

Noooooo. Not that one.

Nope not that one either.

I’m talking about The End of the F***ing World.

If you haven’t watched it yet, take two hours out of your day and give it a go. The acting is fantastic. The jokes are perfect. It’s a love story for the ages. But there’s one thing I want to focus on in this review more than anything. Psychology.

Did they leave yet? Alright, good. Let’s get into it.

The first thing James tells us is that he’s a psychopath. Do you know the difference between a psychopath and sociopath? They’re almost the same thing. Psychopaths don’t have a sense of remorse, so they do terrible things and don’t feel bad about it. They can function in society because they’re so good at manipulating, they can mirror remorse and other emotions. Sociopaths can’t function. Their small sense of remorse makes them come up with excuses for their actions (it’s usually other people’s fault). This eventually affects them so much and to such an extent that they lose friends, family, and everything that ties them to a community.

But, neither one of those terms are used anymore by psychologists. Psychopaths, sociopaths, and psychotics are now all deemed to suffer from anti-social personality disorder. Now we learned something! Hooray!

Back to the story.

So here we have James who is a self-proclaimed psychopath. We get signs of this all throughout the show, too, at least in the beginning. He’s been killing animals since he was a little kid. When Alyssa tries to have sex with him (on multiple occasions), the only thing he can think about is murdering her. He doesn’t have remorse. He doesn’t feel bad about his actions. He does know they’re wrong, but he doesn’t feel bad about thinking the way he does.

But then all of that changes during the rape/murder scene. (Yes, I know he came into the room with the intention of killing Alyssa. Bear with me.) James is hiding under the bed, and even though he just thought about killing her, he jumps up in her defense and kills the man who is assaulting her. This says two things about his character: 1) he’s developed a sense of empathy (something that psychopaths don’t have), and 2) he’s developed feelings about Alyssa.

It may have been a little bit earlier in the series, let me know if you think differently, but the turning point was the dancing scene in the serial killer’s house. When he just sits there and watches Alyssa dance, it’s the first time that he comes across as a human being with feelings and emotions. We stop seeing James as a murderer and see him as a teenage kid who’s had a fucked up life.

I’m not saying that psychopaths can’t feel this way about people, sure. It’s a spectrum, so he could have feelings develop for one person and still be insane.

But those feelings of insanity are quickly swept away when he jumps up to her defense from under the bed. If he was really a psychopath, he wouldn’t have done that. He put himself in danger to save someone that he was just about to kill. So was he about to actually kill her? Would he have gone through with it? I’m not too sure.

Regardless, that’s a huge turning point for the character. He makes a dramatic shift from one end of the spectrum to the other, where his complete lack of a conscience is filled in tenfold.

So what is James at this point? Is he still a psychopath? Obviously not, because one of the key features of psychopathy is a lack of empathy and conscience. After he murders the…murderer…he seems to gain these traits but still maintains his inability to interact with society, and continues to blame all of his problems on his father and mother. He’s not quite a psychopath anymore because of the feelings he’s developed, but he’s not quite a sociopath, either. Although he still can’t quite function, he slowly begins to show signs that he does have social skills, that he can communicate with others, and that he’s moving away from his psychotic tendencies.

James’s final transformation is brought about by one thing – a catharsis.

When Alyssa strokes his cheek and tells him that he’s not responsible for his mother’s death, finally James is brought back onto the path of somewhat sanity. He now realizes that he doesn’t have to feel like shit all the time. He has someone who cares about him. He cares about her, too. This catharsis that he experienced helped open him up to an entirely new world of emotion and feeling.

In this final stage, he finally becomes human. This isn’t the only transformation, though. The final scene also takes place on his 18th birthday – the day that we symbolically ‘become adults.’ The insanity of childhood, in this case James’s childhood, makes way for adulthood.

I think that the writers combined the two (teenage angst and psychopathy) in the plot of the show.

Think about the time you were a teenager. I’m pretty sure that we all could’ve been diagnosed with something from the DSM during that ‘magical’ time. But no. Instead, we thought something was wrong with us. We had a set of random ass experiences, and we got through it. We evolved. We became adults. We became (somewhat) sane. (Okay, okay. We might not have exactly murdered someone in defense or stolen our parent’s car or gone off and whacked a cop in the face with a rifle, but you know what I mean.)

So was he actually a psychopath? Was he a sociopath? I don’t think so. I think he was just being a kid who had some fucked up life experiences. All he needed was someone to care about him, and someone to care about. Someone to tell him what he needed to hear, and that was Alyssa. I’m sure he’s still going to have a lot of shit to work through, but I think that whatever happens next season (if you know what happens because you’ve actually read the graphic novels, shut up), we’ll start to see James develop outside of his ‘insanity’ and into a ‘normal’ person.

As far as the overall show is concerned, it’s a beautiful coming of age tale that I’m really glad I got to experience – one that I could relate to in a small, insignificant way. I’m surprised this didn’t get made into a bigger deal as a graphic novel, but at least they made it into a series for a wider audience to enjoy. If you’ve seen this on your Netflix ‘Recommended’ I definitely suggest you check it out. It’s different, and we all need a little variety in our lives.

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