Warning: Lots of spoilers!
“Hey, it’s Hannah. Hannah Baker.”
That’s how a confident voice starts off the 1st of thirteen tapes which lay out the factors that contributed to the character’s suicide. The TV show Thirteen Reasons Why, based on the 2006 book written by Jay Asher, invited a slew of controversies when the first season premiered on Netflix over a year ago. With a focus on the content of the tapes, season 1 received positive reviews from critics while the public expressed mixed reactions to the explicit portrayal of the themes of rape and suicide found throughout the 13 episodes.
These two seasons have stretched this sordid story of the real world to a point where it threatens to place viewers in a state of irrevocable depression and hopelessness.
The summer seduction to indulge in some good Netflix-binging pushed me to accept the invitation to a second season of Thirteen Reasons Why. (And now we have confirmation that there will be, in fact, a third!) Understandably, the continuation of the Hannah Baker narrative left people wondering why the second season was even being created in the first place. I was among the confused. Really… why? As the first season’s narrative pretty much exhausted the content of the book on which it was based, any future story-telling would be totally off-book. What were they going to talk about? And was it necessary?
Here come the spoilers: The first season ended on a hopeful note that Bryce Walker, the guy who raped both Hannah and her on-and-off friend, Jessica Davis, would eventually be convicted for his abominable acts. And the second season delivers on precisely that major thread. With multiple storylines running in parallel, the backbone of the 2nd season is Bryce Walker and his conquests.
The season starts off by focusing our attention on the small wooden shack hidden behind the baseball field where a plethora of distasteful acts took place between baseball players and unwilling (or under-the-influence) female victims. Depicting the baseball players throwing the polaroids into a box filled similar photographic “evidence” build the reputation of Liberty High as a school with a proud culture of rape. By the end of the season, the show does a good job of portraying poetic justice for not only Bryce Walker, but the other male ring-leaders at Liberty High School who took advantage of vulnerable girls in what felt like a long tradition of assault.
If the first season made it clear that the guys at Liberty High really needed a class in morality studies, the second season showed the urgency of this need. The show’s protagonist, likable but forever-tormented Clay Jensen, continues to hold the reigns to the development of this story. Clay know more of the truth than most of the other characters, and is, in fact, the sole person who (in a recorded conversation) attains a confession of Hannah’s rape by Bryce Waler. Yet, Bryce lies while on the courtroom stand, placing the blame on a promiscuous and willing Hannah Baker. In what is perhaps the biggest outrage of season 2, Bryce—a white, affluent child of an influential family in town is not convicted. This is the ugly portrayal of privilege at its best; even the actor who played Bryce, in an interview, revealed his frustration in how Bryce got away so easily. But, herein, the show truthfully depicts shades of the real world—especially in the era of #metoo, where money, influence, and power allow people to get away with the unspeakable.
Perhaps the most frustrating elements of the second season are those that begin to warp the viewer’s mind in our relationship and trust of the voice of Hannah Baker. A shady past of bullying, unrevealed love affairs (while we all rooted for Clay), and manipulation of the facts, unfortunately, show the very human and quite imperfect persona that we are set up to pity so profoundly in season 1.
The two seasons show an incredible development of most characters, barring Bryce Walker. We might argue that the continuation is less about the story of Hannah Baker but more about the complexity of human interactions and the depth of the characters who might have seemed superficial during the debut. The violence, oddly, escalates in this season and the sense of impending doom is even higher when we begin to see how the suicide of Hannah causes a butterfly effect in the wellbeing of major characters, and even the school climate as a whole. The shocking rape of Tyler Down—the only guy listed on Hannah’s tapes who musters the courage to reveal the full truth at court—is perhaps one of the most violently depicted and upsetting scenes on television that I have ever witnessed.
So was it all necessary? Whether you watched season 2 or not, little has changed: A high school student committed suicide and many of her friends and enemies seem to have had a hand in her doom. I would argue that, while the 2nd season was not at all necessary, it was not futile. It introduced a significant amount of depth to the serious topics only grazed in Season 1, while allowing us to dwell on the imperfection of even the most likable of characters. However, I will go on record as stating that a third season should not be made. Too late. Clearly, the creators have not listened to me.
These two seasons have stretched this sordid story of the real world to a point where it threatens to place viewers in a state of irrevocable depression and hopelessness. Unless they can end this drama with some sense of vindication that the world “really isn’t that bad,” and that justice can be served, I question if I’ll even be able to weather another “13 Reasons Why.”