*Warning: spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why seasons 1 and 2!*
If you haven’t heard about 13 Reasons Why by now, you must have been living under a rock. Season 1 of the TV adaptation of Jay Asher’s YA novel was talked about for months last year, mostly for its controversial portrayal of teen suicide.
The show did have its faults, sure. It wasn’t perfect. But I disagree with those who say the graphic suicide scene was gratuitous, and glamourised suicide. The on-screen adaptation changed Hannah’s suicide method from taking an overdose to cutting her wrists open in a bathroom. It was brutal, stomach-churning, and wraught with emotion. We saw everything. We had to sit and watch as Hannah’s life drained away from her. We had to see her parents’ reactions to finding their daughter dead in a bathtub filled with bloody water. It was visceral, sickening, and heartbreaking, and hit viewers hard with the stone-cold reality of death. And suicide is all of those things. It’s painful and lonely, and not remotely glamourous. For an on-screen adaptation that prides itself on educating and dissuading teens who may be considering a similar thing, a simple, peaceful, pill-popping and falling into an eternal sleep scene may in fact do more to glamourise suicide. These scenes often look painless and are somewhat romanticised, which surely causes more harm than a graphic scene that brings to life the harsh reality of suicide. Saying it’s too graphic suggests suicide is a simple, clean thing done behind closed doors which defeats the whole ethos of the show.
That said, I could see the logic of parents and teachers calling out the “revenge suicide” aspect of Hannah’s tapes, which laid blame at the doors of everyone who had wronged her and led her to feel this way. Whilst it didn’t appear to me that Hannah was taking her own life as an act of revenge, I can understand those who say it appears that way. To me, it appeared more that the message was that their acts led Hannah to feel hopeless and isolated in the run-up to her suicide, and her tapes were somewhat of a eulogy to make them consider their actions going forward. However, I feel the show could have perhaps tweaked it slightly to avoid “revenge suicide” and “avenging angel” accusations by having Hannah record her tapes with no intention of anyone finding them – perhaps as a way to clear her head and get her thoughts together – then Clay could be given them by the Bakers, no doubt thinking they were normal mix tapes, as a way of remembering her. Clay, being the righteous person he is, would have definitely marched to the homes of everyone mentioned and forced them to listen to the tapes.
With that being my only major qualm with Season 1, Season 2 was an unpleasant surprise that left me confused, and shocked that a show that sought to deliver such a powerful message previously seemed to have wheedled out another season only to cash in. There were some good things – the message from Clay at Hannah’s funeral that we all deal with grief differently and that’s okay, the importance of consent, and Alex realising suicide isn’t the answer to name a few. I don’t think it was the intention of the writers just to cash in with no real regard for what they were putting out there, but there was too much going on, and ultimately, the whole season was an attempt to claw open the firmly closed book that is a standalone novel.
13. The age rating
Okay, so this one has to be the one I start with. The show frequently states that its mission is to help teenagers who might be considering suicide, and everything it portrays is intended to help teens going through similar experiences to realise they’re not alone. So why is the age rating an 18?! I mean, I know why it’s an 18 – it is at times intensely graphic and horrifying – but could this have been done in a different way visually so younger viewers can watch? For a show that aims to talk to young teenagers to show them that suicide isn’t the answer, it seems counterproductive to restrict it to young adults and above.
12. The Clubhouse
The plot for Season 2 was clearly somewhat thrown together to create a new story out of nothing, and the Clubhouse was a prime example of this. Clay and co. discover that the Clubhouse is a secret popular-kids-only den on campus where drink, drugs and partying happen. It’s also literally the scene of the crime – where Bryce has sexually assaulted multiple other young women as well as Hannah. So, as a Season 1 King of the School, why didn’t Justin know about the Clubhouse? It’s implied that it’s because he wasn’t on the baseball team, but student body president Marcus Cole has been in there, as well as plenty of girls.
On top of that, Justin was Bryce’s best friend since childhood, and even lived at Bryce’s to escape his mum’s abusive drug-dealer boyfriend. They were so close that when Justin discovered Bryce’s plans to rape Justin’s then-girlfriend Jessica at a party, he let him get away with it because, as he later explains in court, he was too scared of losing Bryce as a friend. So it’s unlikely that Justin wouldn’t be allowed in, and on the off chance that was the case, he spent enough time with Bryce to realise when he was off partying without him seemingly every week, so surely would have at least known of its existence?
Perhaps Justin was lying about knowing about the Clubhouse, but again, that doesn’t seem likely. Justin isn’t featured in any of the incriminating photos when even Bryce himself is, and when they’re trying to find the box of Polaroids, they have a very short time window to get to them to try and get Bryce convicted. If Justin was willing to testify and get himself arrested to help Jess, he definitely did want Bryce to go down for what he’d done, so magically leading the gang to the Polaroids would definitely have been his next move if he had known about the Clubhouse.
11. Mr Baker
At the end of Season 1, we see Hannah’s parents differing in opinion on how best to deal with their daughter’s death. They disagree, but they remain united. At the start of Season 2, we realise they are living apart, which again makes sense – grief hits everyone differently, and whilst Hannah’s mother threw herself into fighting Hannah’s case and running the family business, Hannah’s dad needed time alone to clear his head, process his thoughts, and grieve his daughter.
However, later in Season 2, we realise Mr. Baker is actually seeing another woman, which again, makes sense – whilst he’s technically married, it seems at that point that it’s a mutual separation, and grief can push people to seek affection from others who don’t remind them of the pain they’re going through. When it’s revealed midway through Season 2 that Hannah’s dad is actually a cheater and had been seeing this woman for months whilst Hannah was alive, it completely took away from the message about grief’s effects on families. It also calls into question what we know about the character, as it’s revealed that when Hannah saw him cheating, his response was to say he’d end it immediately and to tell Hannah not tell her mum, which is a) callous to whichever other woman he’s building a relationship with, and b) disrespectful to Hannah’s mum.
The separation of Hannah’s parents was a powerful message about how grief impacts families, but with that added storyline, it looks more like Hannah’s dad was an ass who went off with another woman, got new job and left his wife to run their business alone, and built a new family to ignore the death of his daughter and his wife’s fight for justice on her behalf. Season 1 Mr. Baker doesn’t align with this character, and his Season 2 self is jarring to watch.
That’s not the only Baker this season unravelled – only Hannah’s mother stayed untarnished. At the start of Season 1, it was implied Hannah had moved schools because she was bullied, but Season 2’s relentless need to add drama tipped that notion on its head and turned Hannah herself into the bully, completely deriding the sensitive, thoughtful and kind girl her friends had sought to portray in court, and that Hannah herself had appeared to be in Season 1. Sure, she could have been kind to make up for former sins, but this addition seemed to be born purely to create drama in the courtroom scenes, with no care about the unnecessary smearing of Hannah’s character.
10. Zach Dempsey
Since Season 1 was almost identical to the standalone book, Season 2 had no source material to bring to life but still needed to ensure whatever new stories they created were still relevant to Season 1. For that reason, there was a lot of flashbacks which added things that didn’t happen in the original story line into this new plot line.
One major issue caused by this (other than the confusion of what’s a flashback and what’s an imagining by whichever classmate is lying on the stand) is that Zach’s whole story line makes no sense. Zach in Season 1 is a somewhat air-headed but well-meaning jock, and Hannah includes him in her tapes because he took away her brown paper bag notes in class, which were the only thing boosting her confidence and making her feel like she wasn’t invisible. However, Zach took her notes in a petty act of revenge after Hannah yelled and humiliated him in front of the whole cafeteria when she misunderstood his intentions for saying he wished he could have taken her on a Dollar Valentine date in the wake of being inappropriately touched by his friend Marcus on one of these dates the night before. That all makes sense, and played out logically in Season 1.
However, Season 2 then adds to Zach’s plot line with Hannah, stating that they spent the whole summer together following Zach’s dad’s death, building a close, deep and meaningful relationship that even led to them losing their virginity to each other. That wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that Hannah’s tapes implicate Zach in her suicide for taking her brown paper bag notes following the canteen incident – in February. If they then spent the whole summer together and grew really close, surely she must have moved on from that hurt? I know some things can cut deep and stay with you, but it doesn’t make sense to accuse someone of causing your suicide for an act they did before they knew you, months before they became the closest friend you had and more. It also makes her pushing Clay off when he kisses her at the party in September somewhat strange, as she does so because she has flashbacks to the way guys have previously treated her – but nothing of Zach, who seems to have treated her like a princess before a mutual, amicable break up. The lack of Zach in this scene, or his affect on her in trusting guys again, shows that this is just a thread Season 2 writers were trying to stitch into a new canvas that wasn’t only blank, but didn’t even exist before.
Season 1 Clay was shy, quiet, kind and unassuming. He was utterly broken by Hannah’s tapes, and made it his mission to avenge her by holding the others responsible for their actions. In comparison, Season 2 Clay was unlikeable, unrelatable, and to put it bluntly, a bit of an ass. He shouts at Zach after discovering he and Hannah had slept together and enjoyed each other’s company, jealously proclaiming that Zach didn’t deserve her. He pushes Jess over and over again to testify against Bryce when she hasn’t admitted to anyone apart from her parents and close friends that she was the girl Hannah mentions was raped on the tapes. Alex on the other hand, lets her make up her own mind but lets her know he’d support her either way. Considering Hannah only shared her own rape story when she knew she wouldn’t be alive to live with the aftermath, Clay really should know the terror, shame, fear and feeling of powerlessness that comes with admitting you were raped, let alone by the son of the most powerful family in town.
Shortly after this, Clay receives a Polaroid of an unconscious girl being sexually assaulted by Bryce, with the message “Hannah wasn’t the only one”. After many episodes’ worth of sleuthing, Clay discovers there’s a place the popular kids hang out called “the Clubhouse”, which he had never heard of. Then, despite the fact that clearly only a tiny, select group know of its existence, and even fewer know of the crimes associated with it, Clay says: “Why are these girls getting themselves into these situations in the first place?”, then tries to back up his claim and by showing Sheri a picture of Nina Jones (a rape victim), who looks like “she’s having fun.”
Thankfully, Sheri is disgusted, and responds, “Clay, you don’t know what was happening in this photo and you don’t know what happened after. Girls don’t get themselves into bad situations. Guys make the situations bad. You don’t know what the feels like, to be a girl in that room.”
The sudden victim-blaming after being so righteously angered about Hannah’s rape that he got himself hospitalised trying to get a confession from the rapist makes no sense from this character. He went from sweet yet tormented and determined, to blindsided by his obsession with Hannah and cynical about everyone but himself. At one point, Ghost Hannah (ah yes, we’ll talk about that later) even says: “you say you love me, but you always think the worst of me”. He judges Hannah when he finds out she lost her virginity (heaven forbid!), and it takes Justin, the supposedly dumb one said to have dumped Hannah for her reputation, to put him in his place by saying:”Do you know how many girls I’ve slept with? Like, a lot, which classifies me as a player or something and my best friends use to think I was the f*cking best. Hannah, she sleeps with one guy. She has a crush on another guy, being me, and she kisses a third, being you. Whatever, it’s all fine, right? All of a sudden, she’s a slut? All of a sudden, you don’t know who she is? You’re a dumbass.”
And that’s another thing. Clay literally hunts down Justin to force him to testify (which, in doing so, Justin gets himself arrested), and Clay knows Justin has turned to drugs to numb the pain of what he let happen to Jess. Despite Justin’s clear struggles with mental health and drug abuse, Clay seems to have absolutely no sympathy for him, even armed with his only-too-apparent knowledge of what declining mental health can lead to. I can understand him judging Justin for not being strong enough to stop Bryce or raise the alarm when he raped Jess, but even when Justin nearly dies of an overdose, Clay doesn’t show any concern, try to help or offer support.
He also doesn’t seem to care for the fact that Tony’s on probation and one more offence will land him behind bars – he asks for him to babysit Justin who’s recovering from heroin addiction and still possesses drugs, and asks him of all people to drive a heavily armed Tyler away from the school when he tries to stage a school shooting. I also find it somewhat grandiose that he told his friends, when finding out someone armed with a trunk of guns and ammo and a taste for revenge was entering the school, that they shouldn’t call the police because he could handle it alone, and then went on to say Tyler should do “what (he) gotta do” if he thought it would help more than other school shootings! Plus, surely that’s a dangerous message to give to impressionable teens – don’t call the police, just play the hero and it’ll all be fine?!
8. Mental health
Despite Season 1’s messages on how to notice depression and suicidal tendencies, Season 2 Clay’s declining mental health isn’t addressed at all. His parents gave him antidepressants almost immediately after Hannah’s death in Season 1, but despite Season 2 Clay’s antics, his parents don’t really seem to address any of it. Clay is angry, confrontational, talking to hallucinations (which Justin notices), showing up covered in scratches and bruises, and getting annoyed with the smallest things (how can anyone get so annoyed with someone learning to tie a tie?!) – all of which can be signs of depression – but no one intervenes, despite all the scenes of Mrs. Baker saying she should have noticed these signs in Hannah.
He seems unhealthily obsessed and possessive of Hannah and her memory, often lashing out at people who change this memory by telling him of experiences they had with Hannah that he didn’t know about, judging ghost Hannah, and seeing Hannah as a sort of avenging angel when he’s doing certain things. At one point, Clay even tries to kill Bryce because the Hannah hallucination keeps recounting how Bryce raped her, then he turns the gun on himself and has to be talked down by Justin – an act that, just two episodes later, is repeated with him in Justin’s place, trying to talk down Tyler from killing others and himself. Can someone really get over coming that close to suicide so quickly? In comparison, Alex, who attempted suicide at the end of Season 1, spends the whole of Season 2 trying to piece his life back together.
Tyler’s story line was stilted, jarring, and didn’t make sense. At the end of Season 1, he’s shown looking at a trunk full of guns, and taking down a photo of Alex following a flashback of a time he was kind to him at school. He then looks at a photo of Clay, implying he’s still on his hit list for his lashing out at Tyler following Hannah’s tapes. He’s beaten down, desperate, and wants to stop those who have hurt him.
However, Season 2 Tyler doesn’t seem to be on a mission to knock these people off his hit list. In fact, the hit list is never mentioned at all. Sure, he becomes bolder, more reckless, rebellious and erratic, and does take his new punk friend, Cyrus, to shoot guns to show him “what power feels like”. However, there’s no implication at any point that he’s got this hit list in his head – in fact, he’s kind to his supposed enemy Clay and they end up working together.
Then, following a horrendous incident with jock Monty, Tyler grabs his trunk of guns and heads to the school dance to gun down everyone – not just his bullies – and potentially himself. The show had obviously been building up to it, but it was a weird disconnect from Season 1’s methodical Tyler planning to hurt only the people who had hurt him (he even removes Alex after he stands up for him) to Season 2’s callous Tyler, ready to kill any innocent person in his way. I understand that after the horrific experience he had, this could lead him to desperately try to claw back power in this way, but Tyler’s character so far doesn’t align with someone who would shoot potentially hundreds of innocent people instead of just going after Monty and the bullies.
That said, Tyler does begin to exhibit signs of psychopathy, so perhaps that’s the point of the disconnect with Season 1 Tyler and his methodical “fair” hit list. He shoots a bird, and becomes fascinated by its dying body, and killing an animal is the telltale sign someone’s becoming a psychopath in TV language – you need not look further than hit shows such as Dexter and The End of the F****** World to back this up. He becomes more aggressive, particularly to his new friends Mackenzie and Cyrus. He seeks out thrills by doing rebellious, sometimes criminal things like graffiti-ing fellow students’ cars, defacing the baseball pitch, and harrassing them via dating apps and text. He becomes manipulative, uploading photos to Facebook that his friends wanted to keep private following disagreements. His sole emotions seem to be anger, rage and frustration, which are said to be more easily accessed by psychopaths than deeper emotions such as empathy, remorse, or compassion. He avoids responsibility, often blaming Cyrus when called out on something by his parents. That’s already half of this list of psychopathic traits. But was the show trying to show us his descent into psychopathy, or trying to paint Tyler as a desperate victim pushed to retaliate? Maybe both. But it’s not clear if they are trying to imply Tyler is now psychopathic, and coupled with the ignorance of Clay’s behaviour, the show has taken a strange turn in its bold addressing of mental health.
Jessica Davis had a brilliant character arc throughout Season 2, showing a heartbreaking portrayal of a rape victim trying to go back to normal following their ordeal. She goes from sleeping in her parents’ bedroom and hiding away from the world to looking her rapist in the eye as she testifies against him on the stand. She is human and relatable – she doesn’t magically turn into a strong, bold woman ready to avenge womankind overnight. She grows slowly throughout the season, learning to stand up for herself, learning who she can trust and standing up for them fiercely, and learning her limits.
Alex Standall, her former boyfriend and current best friend, is there for her every step of the way, and at the end of the season, she says they’re dating, though she “doesn’t know how ready (she) is”. She’s scared of intimacy, haunted by flashbacks, and has to recover after even just kissing a boy. However, a few short scenes after this admission to Alex, she abandons him on the dancefloor – a dancefloor he is only on to please her, since he has significant issues with mobility following his attempted suicide – to have sex with her ex in the middle of the school, which is not only a huge disconnect from her character for the whole season, but also even further jarring as her ex is the very person who let her rapist into the room with her in Season 1 and did nothing. What?!
5. Quashing the ability to talk about mental health
Due to fears of “suicide contagion”, the school bans students from talking about suicide at all, completely unravelling the whole message of Season 1, which was that Hannah should have told people how she felt, and that the one person she did tell let her down for not hearing what she wasn’t explicitly saying. Zach’s mother also tells Zach he “doesn’t feel that way” when he suggests he might be suicidal, and tells him to support his friend at a public event when Zach wants to leave because he knows Bryce to be a rapist and wants nothing to do with it. His mum seems more concerned with keeping up appearances than how her son feels, and coupled with a ban on talking about suicide at school, this could dissuade teen viewers from talking to their parents and teachers about these subjects.
It’s yet another thing on top of the ignorance of Clay’s erratic acts and emotions, Justin’s overdose, and Tyler’s rapidly spiralling behaviour that is completely ignored by a show boasting its awareness and addressing of mental health.
4. Too many issues
As a show heralded for breaking new grounds in teen drama, it’s needless to say the pressure was on for Season 2 to do the same. However, in trying to throw every possible teenage issue into just 13 episodes, none of them got the screen time they should have. There was Justin’s drug addiction, which was only brought up when convenient (e.g. when he needed to dramatically faint in front of the whole school); there was sexuality and homophobia which was touched on with Tony and almost entirely ignored with Courtney, who had a very minor role in this season; there was violence, which was often sudden and either didn’t add to the story line (e.g. the school hallway fight), or graphic and not properly addressed afterwards in the case of Tyler; there was blackmail, toxic relationships, anger management issues, rape, racism, consent, teen pregnancy, alcohol, bullying, and more, but none of these plot lines really resonated the way they should.
The eagerness to fit everything in one package meant none of the issues were properly addressed and dealt with.
3. Hannah’s ghost
Hannah Baker killed herself. She is dead and gone. However, she was a very vivid part of Season 2, and not even just through flashbacks we hadn’t seen before that were clearly part of the past. She was an active part of Clay’s current journey, talking to him, advising him, comforting him and more.
This completely defeats the message that suicide means there is no more conversation – you can’t be there for your friends and they can’t be there for you, because you’re gone. Having such an active, yet dead, character is somewhat problematic. Season 1’s tapes were accused of doing this, but at least there it’s clear it’s a recording from when the character was alive – here, it’s brand new scenes, experiences and dialogue, suggesting suicide’s not really the end.
Even if she’s supposed to be a hallucination instead of a ghost, the issue of Clay’s mental health leading him to have this hallucination in the first place is completely unaddressed through the whole season.
2. Tyler’s assault
As mentioned previously, the show prides itself on breaking ground with raw, real representations of issues teens can face. One of these is sexual violence and assault in males, which is often only addressed as the male being the perpetrator of violence and not the victim. There are shockingly few representations of men or boys being the victim in this case, and whilst the show tried to address this, the way it was done seemed somewhat gratuitous. Yes, I know – you’re probably asking me why I didn’t think Hannah’s graphic suicide scene was gratuitous, but this was. Well, I’ll tell you. Hannah’s suicide scene was something we knew was going to happen, but was still shocking and horrifying in its stark portrayal of the reality of suicide. It was messy, sickening, and heartbreaking, and since Hannah wasn’t there to show the effects of suicide, her friends and family did so instead. We were shocked, horrified, and made to face not only the reality of the actual suicide, but how hard it is afterwards for everyone involved, with the message that it is possible to get through it and move on.
With Tyler’s assault, it was sudden and horribly visceral. But let me make it clear – the scene itself is not my problem. The graphic and stomach-churning on-screen portrayal wasn’t the issue, as I know that unfortunately, there’s no “nice” assaults, and I hope the horrendous scene stops anyone even remotely considering doing that to another human being. The issue was that Tyler’s assault, his suffering, his struggle, and his decision to fight back were made in the space of one episode. When Jess was sexually assaulted, it happened mid-way through Season 1, and she spent half of Season 1 and all of Season 2 coming to terms with the reality of it, trying to move on, and realising that there was a life worth living afterwards. Her story was given respect and prominence.
However, for Tyler, it seemed to be thrown in as a dramatic trigger to force him into the school shooting he had been considering. We knew he’d been considering it from the foreshadowing in Season 1, but it felt like the writers had been focussing on all the other issues as mentioned in reason 4 above, and had suddenly gone: “Wait, Tyler’s supposed to shoot up the school, but he’s just having a bit of a bad day at this point, nothing major. How can we tip him over the edge?”
I also think that having Tyler go from victim to potential perpetrator of violence within one episode gave us no time to realise the profound effects sexual assault can have on men, and no time to feel for Tyler. I’m not saying we should only treat him as a victim going forward, but having him go from victim to almost-killer in mere minutes doesn’t give us time to process that sexual assault can impact and break men as much as it can women. More screen time was given to the fact that Tyler had an embarrassing premature ejaculation moment! This, coupled with the fact that there were no male speakers in the #MeToo scene in court, further feeds into the dangerous idea that male sexual assault should be ignored and men should “man up” and either move without making a fuss on or seek revenge instead of help. For an episode that could have offered a powerful message to a group who may not have previously felt heard, it was memorable for the wrong reasons.
1. It was a standalone book for a reason
A sequel takes away from the message that there’s nothing after suicide. The fact that Hannah’s story played out in one book was appropriate because that’s it – she dies in the book and once that book’s over, that’s the end of Hannah. The only thing left is memories. A second season, and one with a new Hannah that isn’t even just in flashbacks, entirely defeats the point of Season 1’s message that suicide is a closed book, and in Hannah’s words, you don’t get an encore or return engagements.
What do you think? Do you agree? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or think someone you know might be, please seek help. Talk to someone. You’re not alone, and you would be missed terribly.
Please visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/ for advice.