A Review of ’13 Reasons Why’user 4 months ago
**SPOILER ALERT: This review talks in detail about the Netflix Original series 13 Reasons Why and contains spoilers.**
**PLEASE NOTE: The below review will discuss themes from 13 Reasons Why, which include bullying, rape and suicide. If you are affected by any of these topics, please know there is help; http://13reasonswhy.info/
You are not alone. I promise.
13 Reasons Why, based off of the book of the same name by Jay Asher, is the story of teenager Hannah Baker’s life – and more specifically, the end of her life by suicide. The story is told through the 13 tapes that Hannah leaves behind for people who are on the tapes to listen to and discover why they are a reason for Hannah’s decision. The person who listens to the tapes and is therefore our current connection to Hannah is Clay, a classmate and work colleague that Hannah fondly knew as “Helmet”.
It’s a slow build to the tragedy at first; Hannah’s best friend Cat moves away, and Hannah goes out on a date with a boy Cat introduced her too – Justin. Justin and his friends then end up starting a rumour that Hannah and him had sexual encounters in the park, which is a lie – a lie that bolsters Justin’s popularity but leads to Hannah being shamed by her peers.
Then she loses a pair of friends, Alex and Jess when they begin dating – then when the friends break up, Jess blames Hannah for it after now-ex Alex places Hannah on a school list as “Best Ass” – which only adds fuel to the rumour fire. Then she is stalked, backstabbed by another girl, and then another friend takes her personal poetry and publishes it in the school magazine without her consent for her classmates to ridicule.
Then, the show hits a sickening climax – as Hannah reveals on the tapes that she witnesses ex-best friend Jess being raped whilst unconscious by the schools most popular student, Bryce. Justin, who is now Jess’s boyfriend, ends up complicit in it, not doing enough to defend her and then lying to her and saying it didn’t happen, continuing to be friends with Bryce and keeping Jess in his company.
Shortly after, Hannah is also raped by Bryce in an incredibly sickening and uncomfortable scene at one of his parties – which leads to Hannah writing her list and creating the tapes.
The show excels at this slow build up in a lot of ways, but the main one is portraying a realistic explanation of Rape Culture.
Rape Culture is comprised of the small, seemingly inconsequential things people do and say, from making off hand comments about a person and their perceived appearance or supposed sex life, to actively grabbing them and refusing to let go, that slowly dehumanise a person and riddle them down to someone who is “asking for it” – then if this person is assaulted, it’s a minefield of questions that serve to discredit them.
This show portrays that so truthfully – beginning with the rumours that have Hannah’s peers turn against her, having boys in her school ask her on dates and compliment her only to grope her and tell her they thought she was hot or down for sleeping with them, getting angry when she responds negatively – and then it ends in Hannah’s assault from Bryce, and when she tries to tell a counsellor, she’s asked “Well did you say no? Are you sure you hadn’t been drinking and maybe, you regret it?” (Even though the vivid scene of the assault shows Hannah struggling and trying to get away from Bryce.)
The show is also sickeningly relevant in how it treats the rapist, Bryce. Because it’s not that Bryce thinks he’s gotten away with anything – he sincerely does not see anything wrong with raping an unconscious girl, or a girl who struggled to get away and pleaded with him not to hurt her.
It is sadly understandable that he does not see the harm in what he did – Bryce is the king of the school athletes and hails from a very well off family. Friends who also called Hannah a “slut” and a “psycho”, who also made comments to and around Hannah about how she’s begging for boys to sleep with her, surround him. So to Bryce, he honestly thinks he was entitled to what he calls “just a little bit of fun.”
Ultimately, his peers do not help this – even Justin, who was witness to him raping Jess, still defends Bryce and claims Hannah is lying. Although many could say he was trying to protect Jess, he only aids in protecting Bryce and ruining Jess’s life – Jess who has memories of being raped, is drinking in school and is absolutely spiralling emotionally.
This is sadly relevant to our current social climate – a quick search will show news of young, popular and privileged men who commit horrific crimes and who, even under the circumstances of absolute guilt, are still hailed as bright, promising young men who’s athletic/academic futures have been ruined – portraying them as the tragic part of the story rather than the harm done to their victims.
However, the shows extremely brutal portrayals of rape and suicide also happen to be a downfall.
Showrunners were forewarned several times during research that it would be important to not have the rape and suicide scenes to be so graphic, as it comes with a risk of severely triggering and harming those the show claims to represent. The show still went with it, and there has been plenty of backlash to it.
Of course it is important to portray these things as uncomfortable – production companies and directors have a fairly bad reputation for playing down things like this, almost framing them as these beautiful tragedies in which silver linings can be found. The show definitely doesn’t do this, but equally, the scenes are so graphic it has created violent and visceral reactions from survivors of rape and sexual assault.
The suicide scene is also the same – it’s extremely graphic and harsh to watch, and has received backlash for being too much so, causing survivors of suicide attempts to be unable to watch due to their own flashbacks and mental attachments to that moment.
Another risk the show takes is making Hannah a Martyr and turning her story into a revenge story. While the show does its best to provide a message that suicide isn’t the answer and the harm it leaves behind, another message can be taken from it – that suicide and leaving behind the confessions in the wake will lead to a perfect revenge. If impressionable people are dealing with the same issues of Hannah, they could see the show as justifying Hannah’s death as her only option when everyone else has failed her, and that it’s an ideal “I told you so!” to those she felt were responsible.
This means they can take the ultimate message of the show as pointed at the friends of Hannah, and therefore the friends of anyone else who is in the same place mentally as Hannah was – that you people should treat your friends better, rather than a message for vulnerable people of “here’s how to seek help.”
Plenty of people suffering with mental illness have also pointed out the show doesn’t do enough to openly state Hannah has a mental illness. We witness the bullying and loneliness grow to a horrendous climax, but no one openly seems to state that Hannah could have developed a mental illness due to this, such as anxiety or depression. While it may feel to some that it doesn’t need to be stated, people with mental illness have said that it is important it’s openly talked about in order to help counter the stigmas.
The show does come to a climax, though it is not a happy, joyvial one where Bryce is arrested and spends his life in jail – instead, Justin screams at Jess in front of several students that Bryce did rape her. After telling Justin how he has damaged her by being complicate, and by protecting Bryce (regardless of his intentions), Jess heartbreakingly sobs out to her military father, “Something’s happened.”
The series also ends with Clay giving the tapes to the counsellor, Mr Porter, who also has his own tape. Clay also explains there is now a 14th tape – a tape of Bryce talking to Clay and talking very damningly about how he views sexual consent.
Alongside all of this, the show also reveals that Tyler, Hannah’s stalker, is collecting an arsenal of guns and weapons in his room, and that Alex is currently en route to the hospital with what is supposedly a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head – raising suspicions from fans that it may have been Tyler who shot Alex, as part of a plan to attack the other 13 on the tape for how dismissive they have been to him.
There is no continuation of Hannah’s story in the book, or the events that take place in it – however, Jay Asher did tell Entertainment Weekly that they would like a continuation of the characters, knowing what happens as a result of the tapes. “I’d thought of a sequel at some point. I’d brainstormed it, but decided I wasn’t going to write it. So I’d love to see it.”
However, if the story were to continue, it would be a Hannah-less and tape-less story – which could very easily take away from what made the first season so intense to watch. The shows suspense was based around waiting for Clay’s tape, and waiting for what she was about to reveal about somebody else in her life, and overall, the reasons why she decided to kill herself. Without those, the story then risks completely leaving Hannah behind, and it will all be present day.
The young cast of this show, however, are easily the best thing about it. A truly diverse cast who play engaging and interesting characters, even when you hate them, the show is great for it’s representation of different ethnicities and sexualities.
They all play their roles absolutely fantastically, and they are all incredibly difficult roles to play, particularly for Justin Prentice (Glee, Malibu Country, Awkward.) who has to play this character who has done something so heinous but sees no harm in it. Dylan Minnette (Awake, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal) portrays Clay so absolutely wonderfully, as a young man who has suffered from mental illness that once needed to be medicated and who is now desperate for the truth. His own tape reveals he never did any harm to Hannah – and that actually, he wasn’t part of her reasons, but she felt if people needed to understand her life, she needed to mention him as he was such a big part of it to her. Clay is the first in the show to fight back against the others, and the only one to confront Bryce at great personal risk.
Michele Selene Ang also portrays her debut acting role wonderfully – whilst being vastly unlikable and clearly out for herself, she does have a personal and understandable reason for fearing the tapes being released, and that is that she will be revealed as gay. Whilst the audience, and her peers, all say “well so what?” to her, her concern is that she was raised by two gay dads – and she is deeply fearful that the homophobic abuse they’ve already tolerated will only get worse if their daughter comes out as gay, opening doors for bigots to claim that it was their homosexual influence that caused her sexuality.
Alisha Boe (Teen Wolf, Days of Our Lives, 68 Kill) is heartbreakingly glorious in her role – going from a carefree, popular young student who is doing well in school and was seeming to get her friendship back on track with Hannah, to a devastated person who knows she is being lied to and knows she underwent a disturbing trauma is so hard to watch, and it’s because of the amazing work that Boe has put into the role.
The rest of the cast are brilliant – with Miles Heizer (ER, Parenthood, Nerve) as ex-friend Alex, whose list contributed to fueling the rumours about Hannah, he portrays guilty, sarcastic and angry so well. Brandon Flynn (BrainDead) also does his part so well, starting off as a charming, slightly egotistical young athlete, leading to an angry and painful spell of denial and rage, before ending the series as a devastated and apologetic mess.
Mention must also go to the incredibly talented Katherine Langford (Daughter, Imperfect Quadrant, The Misguided) – she is so incredibly endearing as a lead, and it becomes too heartbreakingly easy to enjoy her moments on screen despite all of them being tainted by the knowledge that she is dead. She plays a bright, multi-faceted young woman so well, and the scenes where she’s upset and hurt and angry are played to perfection – I can’t imagine how difficult it was to get through some of those scenes.
Overall though, 13 Reasons Why is a very poignant and important story that needed to be told. Sadly relevant in 2017, the show provides an insight into bullying, rape culture and how the two can escalate to devastating events. It’s harsh and it’s brutal, resulting in a series that is addictive, but is not entertaining at all.
Whilst I am glad I watched it and can appreciate the story it’s telling, I can’t say I’m in a hurry to put myself through how incredibly mentally draining it was and how empty and sad I felt in the two days afterwards. I am also extremely hesitant to recommend it for anyone because it’s so harrowing. As I said; check the trigger warnings (people have posted the exact times and details online) and please be cautious of your own health.
As for a second season? I’m conflicted, but overall I wouldn’t be devastated if another season didn’t come around despite my interest in what’s happening with certain characters. While I have questions, this show works just fine as a standalone single season, and it would be a shame to leave Hannah’s voice behind.
13 Reasons Why is available to stream on Netflix, though please proceed with caution if you are affected by anything outlined in this review. People online have placed exact episode timestamps for viewers describing what happens, and the beginning of each episode containing these graphic scenes does come with a warning.
Help is always here for you if you need it: http://13reasonswhy.info/
- Stunning build up, beautiful direction and cinematography choices, incredible cast who all worked amazingly together, brilliant multifaceted characters. A show with an incredibly important message that needed to be told.
- Ignores the fact that some scenes are far too brutal for survivors of these themes to engage with, isolating the audience it is representing, risks delivering a dangerous message.