**This post contains spoilers for the entire first season of the new Netflix Original ’13 Reasons Why’ **
Trigger Warning for discussion of sexual assault, mental illness, violence and suicide
Look before I start I want to say – I liked 13 Reasons Why for the most part. I thought the characters were interesting and complex and I really appreciated the nuance in each of their stories and how you end each episode confused as to why you suddenly don’t hate the bully quite as much as you feel you should. I even liked the element of having an unreliable narrator, and the constant reminders that she was “telling her own truth”, and the concept that everyone has their own truths that overlap. I thought it was a great opportunity to open up a dialogue about mental illness and suicide and I’ve had some really meaningful conversations since but the fact remains there are some issues that in combination, I can’t get past.
13. I’m not the target audience. I mean, I’m just not; much as I am engaged actively with pop culture, I’m starting to realise that some things are going right over my head and 13 Reasons Why is one of them. It’s simply not targeted at me, my memories of High school are securely in the past and even my baby sister is older than every teenager in the show now. I enjoyed the first season for the most part, but my interest in the main characters only extended as far as finding out why Tony was so invested in protecting Hannah and with that bit of curiosity satisfied, I can lay it to rest. The moment I referred to one of the characters and rolled my eyes, I knew I was doomed. I’ll accept though, this is technically more my problem than a problem with the show,
12.I found the timejumps so confusing Again, I’ll concede this is my own personal issue, but even with the useful visual cue of the bandaid/wound on Clay’s head (which my housemate had to explain to me), I struggled with the back and forth style of the show. That said, in a second season I’m not sure there would be quite so many jumps.
11.Clay Jensen is a rubbish main character. I mean, is there anything less sympathetic than seeing a white middle-class heterosexual teenage boy struggle to understand why a classmate might self harm? Or realising that someone he considers a good friend is gay when said friend has done nothing to hide it and the only excuse is his own obliviousness? While the viewer watches much of the show through Clay’s experiences of Hannah’s story and the community she left behind, I found that I spent the majority of my time exasperated at just how clueless Clay is. More often than not I cringed at his bumbling attempts at connecting with classmates and like so many others I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just sit down and listen to the tapes. Not only was he clueless, he was actually boring. Every other character in this show has some kind of hobby or interest but as far as I can tell, before he got the tapes to listen to, all Clay did was sit in his room staring at the walls. When the other characters are (with the sole exception of Bryce) complex and nuanced and interesting, pushing Clay on us as the protagonist serves only the purpose of building his missed-connections love story, and that (sorry) just isn’t enough for me.
10. In fact, I don’t care about any of the characters apart from Alex and Jessica. As outlined above, my heart breaks for Jessica and I want to know that she’s okay more than I want anything else in the show. Anything that is EXCEPT knowing that Alex is okay too . Alex is a fascinating character to me because like many of the characters – he’s really complex. The first to own up to his own guilt in causing Hannah to suffer at school, Alex is portrayed throughout the season as becoming consumed with guilt and ultimately stating that he thinks all the subjects of the tapes should be held accountable including himself. My curiosity is piqued by the cliffhanger of his gunshot wound (and how he ended up shot) which is pretty obviously going to be a major part of Season 2 but….I’d be satisfied to just know he’s alive. Justin running away? Don’t care. Marcus and Zach feeling bad? Snooze. Courtney coming out to her dad? Whatever man just cut back to Jessica please.
9. No Justice for Jessica (yet) I’m sorry if you disagree but when I saw Justin leaving home, I thought he was for sure heading straight for Bryce’s McMansion to at least give Bryce the same kind of talking to Bryce gave Clay (i.e. with his fist) but no, turns out he just wanted to cry on top of a crane or something. In the midst of all of his feelings, Jessica is totally alone and coming to terms with the person she trusted betraying her in a way that makes me feel sick to even write about. I’m curious why the writers decided to give Justin’s crying as much airtime as Jessica’s, honestly. I accept that he had no malicious intent in allowing his friend to y’know…have sex with his passed out girlfriend…but he definitely wasn’t looking out for her and frankly I support Jessica in telling him to stay the hell away from her forever. What I did like was that she is never once blamed, and there is no discussion of what she may have done to ‘encourage’ Bryce (for once no victim blaming, thank you thank you thank you) but on the other hand literally EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT BRYCE DID AND NOBODY DOES ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Toxic masculinity, amirite?
Anyway… My heart aches for Jess, I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see the entire interaction with her dad in the final episode as I could personally have really done with some closure on that story and someone just giving her a goddamn hug. Here’s hoping her military dad takes a more um…active approach to dealing with Bryce than Justin did.
8. The mystery is solved. Listen, as I just said, I care about Alex – I do, but the cliffhanger of whether or not he’ll survive and whether he shot himself or was shot by someone else is really not enough to reel me back in for a second round because a) I have my theories and b) I’ll be able to find that out in 20 seconds if the second season happens. The reason we were all here was to find out why Hannah Baker died and we did it guys – we’re free. I honestly don’t think it matters whether the school is successfully sued or not, because that’s not the point. Now a cliffhanger about whether Bryce will get a beatdown from Jessica’s dad or not – that I would tune in for.
7. There are so many other cool shows on Netflix. Guys. I mean guys come ON. Netflix is delivering the goods so I really don’t think I’d give away another 13 hours of my life when I could be watching a second season of One Day at a Time or even Riverdale, the trashy love of my life. Gossip Girl is on Netflix guys! The entire series of Lost! Sense8 is coming back! I found out the other day that the mid-2000s Hilary Duff classic Raise Your Voice is on Netflix too!
6. The ONLY PURELY DECENT PERSON IN THIS SHOW IS KILLED AND WE DON’T EVEN GET TO SAY GOODBYE. In the first instance, you could almost miss the fact that Jeff aka ‘The Love of My Life” is killed off violently in a head on collision but even once it sinks in, the fact remains that Jeff was the only nonproblematic sweet baby angel of this show who seemed to be friends with everyone and made Clay his friend and tried to help him be less of a wimpy no personality loser. Clay drops in to Jeff’s parents to self importantly let them know “Hey, I don’t think your son was drunk behind the wheel” with no prompting, probably tearing open the wounds again, and then bounces out of there with hardly a goodbye. I’m not a professional….anything but surely an autopsy would have revealed whether he had been drunk or not? Just a thought. Bye bye Jeff, you deserved so much more.
5. I disagree with the message. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and interpretation but my personal reading of the show was that it a) tells teenagers that the adults in their lives will be not only clueless but indifferent to their struggles; b) tells us that people can ’cause’ suicidality without any external force (i.e. depression) and blames a gang of teenagers for someone’s death and c) suggests that Hannah’s death is some kind of revenge plot like “Look what I did so you’d be held accountable for your actions” and buddy…that’s messed up. I’m all for addressing serious Issues through media and I think it can be a really wonderful way of starting the conversation in public spaces but handling suicide this messily is irresponsible at best, if not potently dangerous. I’ll repeat: blames a gang of teenagers for someone’s death. This show needed to make it explicit that Hannah’s classmates were not to blame for her suicide no matter what she felt or said, because that is so dangerous
4. For a show about teenage suicide, the show doesn’t address mental health issues at all. OF COURSE experiencing bullying could trigger depression or contribute to existing depression but the stance taken by this show that Hannah’s bullying was the sole cause for her suicide is reckless. I’ve rarely seen a show with such great scope to present a nuanced depiction of mental illness and then totally neglect to. Jessica’s PTSD after her assault, Alex’s anxiety around his guilt, Hannah’s depression, even Clay’s own night terrors and associated psychological treatment is brushed over and never addressed. Subtlety is only an effective literary tool if the audience knows what they’re looking for, and I think it’s a huge call to assume that every viewer is already familiar with the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Imagine if we had slightly fewer scenes of Clay frowning while listening to the tapes, and just one scene in that Communication class about “the major signs of depression” cut with flashes of Hannah displaying all the signs? How hard would that be? How poignant would it have been to see Alex having a panic attack as his anxiety clearly ballooned throughout the season, or a proper discussion of Clay’s history. I mean, since we’re mining for shock value, why not right?
3. It’s all about diversity but no representation. For a show with 2 canonically non-heterosexual characters, there sure was a lack of non-heterosexual interactions. Courtney’s closeted struggles touched me, and I found her performative hyper heterosexuality (flirting with Clay etc) poignant but on the other hand, almost the only time Tony’s boyfriend appears in the show is to play the Jealous Lover role. We see them physically interact only once and that was honestly a blink-and- you’ll-miss-it moment. I appreciate the obvious attempts to weave Tony’s sexuality into the show subtlely before comes out to Clay, but there’s a line between subtlety and erasure and all I’m saying is it would’ve been nice to see them kiss even once after that; compared to the dozen times we see Jess and Justin. The show’s depiction of LGBT characters who were also POC was something I actually did enjoy for the most part, so I don’t want to harp on this too much but it stuck out to me.
2. It’s brought the MPDG back for the next generation Throughout the series, I was reminded of something consistently and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was until the final scene. Clay drives off into the sunset with his newfound friends and I was reminded keenly of Looking for Alaska by John Green; a book adored by quirky teens back when I was one myself, and now widely referenced as Manic Pixie Dream text. Yes, just like the eponymous Alaska, Hannah Baker ultimately serves her purpose through death by providing our dull hero Clay Jensen with a purpose to find his voice; finding connections and a new group of friends; and a new determination to make the most out of life….or something like that. It’s trite and we’ve seen it before and it’s frustrating beyond belief that we’re still here.
1. Did we really need to watch Hannah die? Top of the list has to be that scene. You know the one, even if you haven’t watched the show. At the show’s culmination comes the suicide that everyone has whispered about for the previous 12 and a half episodes – as the viewer we watch helplessly as Hannah Baker makes one last plea for help and then climbs into her bath fully clothed and kills herself. Not only is this scene tragic, it is a graphic depiction of a horribly painful and messy death; and a prolonged scene at that. I was disturbed by many of the scenes throughout the 13 hours of screentime, and I know many were more than disturbed despite the trigger warnings provided – but this scene in particular upset me deeply. I’ve heard a variety of opinions on it but everybody agrees it is incredibly upsetting viewing and personally, I strongly believe it was entirely gratuitous. Worse, it was irresponsible on a number of levels -it reduced me to sobbing in a way I have rarely reacted to television, and I can only imagine the impact on other viewers. This scene alone has been enough for me to warn other people against watching it, or at least encouraging them to watch it with someone else there. To me, it was the ultimate in mining for misery and displayed a serious lack of care about the show’s potential audience at the expense of ratings. Well, congratulations everyone because you got the ratings.
For me it comes down to this: the show wouldn’t be worse off if that scene wasn’t shown, the message remains just as potent. Portraying the suicide of a teenage girl is exploitative, insensitive, and grotesque and when the risk of including it was triggering viewers to panic attacks, dissociation or worse; on balance, no ratings should be worth that.