Carol and the End of the World is an oddity. Carol, voiced by Martha Kelly, is an ordinary woman with an ordinary routine. We meet her at a significant crossroads as her life and the lives of millions take a pivot. The world is ending. The planet is on a fast-track course to obliterate life on Earth in seven months, and humanity isn’t chill about it. As people embrace their hedonistic impulses and try to live out their last days in fits of glory and full abandon, Carol simply wants to schedule a cleaning appointment with her dentist. An ode to the familiar, Carol and the End of the World approaches living through or, until, the end of the world with an alternative point of view.
The animated series from creator Dan Guterman (Rick and Morty) asks us what we would do if we knew the end times, was upon us and there was nothing we could do to stop it. While so many series or films might try to capture the very best of humanity as they explore their advantageous pursuits after a lifetime of being weighed down by expectations, Carol wants just to continue her regular life. She wants to go to Applebees for Happy Hour and visit her parents. She even wants to pay her credit card bill. Her elderly parents have become nudists and taken a lover in the form of their caretaker. Her lively sister is jumping out of planes and learning how to speak French. Carol’s just existing. The series argues that this is enough.
This is perhaps one of the series’ best, if not the best, parts. It’s a celebration of our normal. Perhaps when faced with the end of the world, people will want to explore otherwise unexplored gifts or would like to learn skills and develop themselves before the choice to be anything at all is stripped from them. Even with our imminent destruction, some of us would simply want to be around loved ones, snuggle with our cats, and continue our ongoing, if doomed, marathon of One Piece.
Carol and the End of the World imbues sadness into its storytelling without making it overt or the main takeaway. In a way, Carol finds liberation through her normalcy. She is living out her last days on her terms, going on hikes with her sister and bonding with her coworkers.”This is nice,” she remarks once she slides into the Applebee’s booth with two coworkers. The sadness comes from those around her who project their fears and aspirations onto her: a blank slate. The sadness is inferred in weeping office workers who mourn the faces of coworkers they’ll no longer see, rather than fully addressing the apocalyptic demise they’re all hurtling toward. It’s in the glance at Carol’s high school yearbook where we see the only two people to sign it were her parents, suggesting a whole life of loneliness.
Kelly delivers her particular brand of deadpan energy as Carol with just the right amount of affability. We believe that she’d be likable no matter the lack of energy. She’s the right fit for a character seeking a nine-to-five job while everyone else is running amuck and embracing their anarchic liberation of the apocalypse. She simply wants her routine. Episode 2 is all about her finding toner to replace the old one in her office’s copy machine. The humor is often derived from low-stakes goals happening on top of real tension.
Episode 4 remains a standout as it explores the intricacies of sisterhood, especially the dynamic between Carol and her sister, Elena. In the series’ most introspective and revealing episode, Elena tries to get Carol to open up about herself and confide in her. Later, after the two have made it safely home and have shared small moments of beauty, we realize Elena was never pushing Carol out of judgment. Instead, the outgoing, risk-taking Elena shares that she’s always thought Carol was cool because she did what she wanted at her own speed regardless of what everyone else did. She just wanted to get to know her better.
The animation style is akin to popular Western adult animation such as Rick and Morty or Big Mouth. It works for Carol and the End of the World because it suggests a particular brand of normalcy. Despite their situations, these characters are just ordinary individuals either embracing or settling into the upcoming demise of their world. The most action and fantastical elements occur during Carol’s daydreams of a writhing cocoon. Beauty is found in the artistry through landscapes, from a hiking trip to a surfing voyage. It’s not the most exciting animation style but suits the story.
Carol and the End of the World is a delightfully strange, heartfelt story that twists our perceptions of end-of-the-world storylines. While the narrative begins to drag throughout the season, suggesting that it might’ve worked better as a film, there’s no doubt about the impact it has once we’ve reached the final episodes. Carol’s journey and its significance are tied to our realistic views of life. We don’t need to jump out of planes and see every corner of the world for our lives to be extraordinary.
Carol & the End of the World is streaming now on Netflix.
Carol & the End of the World
Carol & the End of the World is a delightfully strange, heartfelt story that twists our perceptions of end-of-the-world storylines.