Two weeks after Hannah Baker commits suicide, Clay receives a box of audio tapes detailing 13 reasons why Hannah chose to end her life, recorded by Hannah herself.
13 Reasons Why is a new original Netflix series based on a young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher. The series stars Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford with supporting characters played by Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn, Justin Prentice, Miles Heizer, Ross Butler, Devin Druid, Michele Selene Ang, and Ajiona Alexus. Veteran actors Kate Walsh, Brian d’Arcy James, Amy Hargreaves, Derek Luke, Mark Pellegrino, and Josh Hamilton also play supporting characters.
If you haven’t heard of this series, I’m honestly quite surprised. It took the internet by storm after its release on March 31, 2017. Due to it being based off of a popular book, Netflix binging, and the overall nature of the series, it was pretty much guaranteed to cause a stir.
13 Reasons Why focuses on what led to the suicide of Hannah Baker, as well as the aftermath of her suicide on those who knew her. It covers many heavy and important themes throughout. Normally, I’m a fan of shows that feature this type of content. I feel it needs to be addressed. I just couldn’t shake the feeling throughout this series, however, that it was being done for spectacle.
There are many positive things about 13 Reasons Why. It tackles the topics of suicide and rape, as well as topics of modern day bullying and slut shaming, and that’s just with Hannah Baker. There are other themes scattered throughout that concern the supporting characters. The performances during these tough topics are pretty good, as far as I’m concerned. It is important to note that this series features full scenes of rape and eventually shows a completed suicide. It’s doesn’t shy away at all.
I definitely have to commend Kate Walsh, who plays the mother of the late Hannah Baker. She very properly conveys grief throughout the series, and her scene in the final episode when the discovery of Hannah’s body is featured honestly made me cry. I would go as far as to say that Kate Walsh’s performance was my favorite part of 13 Reasons Why.
The overall look of the show was also pretty great. I enjoyed the difference in color to differentiate between the flashbacks to when Hannah was alive and the dreary present when she was no longer there. A lot of the scenes had some really artistic elements to them, due to the fact that so many of the main characters were artsy in some way. It has a very modern look to it, which ends up being an interesting mash up when you add in the retro tapes.
Now, the negatives.. For me, there were a lot of negatives. The biggest issue for me was how they stretched the 13 reasons why into 13 episodes. While I understand that this allowed for more character development for many of the side characters, and it was an attempt to gather more sympathy for them, it just felt like it turned the 13 tapes into more of a drawn out spectacle than it already was. It was so obviously a plot device that I couldn’t help but be frustrated with it.
Every time Clay would stop watching the tapes to go confront the subject of said tape, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and release an exasperated sigh. The drawn out nature of an already sensitive topic made me feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. It just emphasized the fact that I was sitting here, anxiously awaiting the juicy details of why and how a young girl killed herself. It didn’t matter that she was fictional. It felt dirty. it felt voyeuristic.
On top of that, it felt like it glorified and simplified suicide all at the same time. Because of the whole spectacle aspect, it felt like it was glorifying this horrible decision that Hannah had made. When you add in the information that lead Hannah to suicide, it feels like it’s simplifying it to just bullying and cyber bullying. They eventually go into some very minute details about the mental state she was in when she eventually made the decision to take her own life, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
The show focused more on the bullying aspect and often felt more like one of those old after school specials. Sure, bullying is bad, and we should all be nice to each other, but 13 Reasons Why acts like one mean thing a person says will make someone commit suicide. It makes the case on multiple occasions that if Clay had just been the one good guy in Hannah’s life, everything else that happened to her would have just faded away. In real life, it’s so much more complicated than that.
Don’t even get me started on the possibility of a season two. In the final minutes of 13 Reasons Why, it teases a potential mass shooting at a high school and has another character attempt suicide. The idea of a second season was clearly already on the minds of creators, and it has the potential to be even more of a spectacle than the first season. With the massive amount of views and critical acclaim that this season has garnered, I wouldn’t be surprised if a second season becomes a reality.
13 Reasons Why has received pretty positive reviews from critics, and a lot of the feedback I’ve seen about the series has been positive. There has also been negative pushback about the ramifications of potentially glorifying teen suicide to a demographic that is already highly susceptible.
Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the series. I probably wouldn’t recommend it. Maybe I’m not in the target audience anymore. Maybe I’m just not into teenage melodrama. Maybe it all had to do with what I felt was a grotesque glamorization of teen suicide. In any case, 13 Reasons Why exists in a televised form, and if you feel the need to watch this series that decision is entirely up to you.
Please know that if you need help, there are people you can talk to. If you watch 13 Reasons Why with your children, make sure you talk about the heavy subject matter included. Talking to someone who cares can make all the difference, and there are people who care.