TW. The below review contains topics of rape, suicide and drug abuse
13 Reasons Why returns, the tapes and the trial of Hannah Baker, the critically acclaimed series that gained a lot of controversy over it’s depiction of suicide. Starting up the new season, you are warned about the upcoming content and constantly reminded that if you do need help, please contact the right people. This is a show that has mental health at its core and for that it needs to tread a thin line between awareness and glorification. In my first season review I wasn’t sure if this season needed to happen but it did.
After the tapes detailing why Hannah Baker commit suicide, her parents take the school to court and season 2 mainly focuses on the court case but throughout the season, there are sub stories of the students of Liberty trying to get Bryce convicted of rape, detailed in the first season. Also things are not getting easier at the school and someone is trying to stop people telling the truth in court. The mystery behind the tapes and the suicide of Hannah Baker runs much deeper than first thought. Mysterious polaroids turn up, the threat of a violent attack on the students of Liberty and Clay is haunted by Hannah’s presence. Hannah Baker’s suicide and 13 tapes has opened a can of worms and it is clear that things will never be back to normal for the students of Liberty High.
I was a huge defender of the first season of 13 Reasons Why, it was important to create a discussion of mental health, whether it crossed the line with the graphic scene of Hannah’s suicide and glorify suicide through it’s suppose martyrdom status through the 13 tapes is a discussion in itself. I thought the graphic scene of suicide had to be shown as it was a powerful scene that had the raw reaction of the parents that still give me chills of that whole unbroken scene. More should of been done to warn people about the content as it could have be triggering to some people, however season 2 does rectify this and explicitly warns not to watch the show if the content is possibly triggering. Season 2 falters at some moments with an infamous scene in the last episode that for someone who defended the first season’s controversial scene, I agree that it shouldn’t of been in the episode but I’ll get onto that later.
I was apprehensive when they renewed this show for a second season, the first ended where it should of. It was a good open ending that should of been left up to the audience of what happened next. Hannah’s parents sued the school, Clay was distraught but moved on dating Skye and everyone else’s lives had changed for better and worse. The ending felt more real and the season renewal felt more of a cash grab then a point to add some weight to the story. I was interested in where they would go and how to create a brand new season that already exhausted the 13 tapes in the previous. It was logical I guess to have the next season focus on the court case. It was central and was an effective method to add further information to why Hannah had killed herself and expand Hannah’s story.
The season started off slow as it had to retread similar ground to before and we had to hear the events of the first season. The first few episodes were a really long recap of what happened before. The pace picked up in later episodes where it was less focused on the court case to try to sue the school and moved over to try and get Bryce Walker convicted for the rape of Hannah and Jessica. Season one was compelling because of its mystery and season two had similar little mysteries such as the mysterious polaroids, the clubhouse and who was trying to stop people from telling the truth in court. The mysteries weren’t as compelling as what was on the tapes but it did provide moments of intrigue. The whole story of season two was well done and some of the characters that didn’t get a chance to develop had their moment to in this season, especially the counselor, Mr Porter, Hannah’s parents and Zach. To be able to get the chance for a closer look to their reaction to Hannah’s suicide was interesting and heartbreaking. 13 Reasons Why is a fantastic character piece and it continues in this season.
The best character in this show is Clay (Dylan Minnette) not because he is the central character but for a show that wants to create a discussion of mental health, Clay is the perfect method of this. Throughout the show he is very ignorant of mental health and he is constantly being corrected, he asks questions of why and how. This is similar to the show Orange is the New Black. Someone asked the writers why the main character Piper is so boring, they responded by saying that she is the perfect trojan horse in the show. She is boring and plain as this brings a focus on the stories around her which is by far more interesting. Clay works similar to that, he is constantly asking questions and in a natural way it creates a discussion of why, how this happened and how people can help. Clay is very flawed, he maybe brave but he is rash, ignorant and angry. However he is a perfect vessel for the common misconceptions of mental health. It’s okay to be misinformed of mental health but just like Clay you should be able to be open to learn more about the control that depression can have.
The cast is fantastic, the actors that play Hannah’s parents (Kate Walsh and Brian D’Arcy James) were so good, their raw emotion was the most impactful. Kate Walsh had a larger part in this season as Hannah’s Mum. She kept her hard shell just so she could look strong but Walsh portrays an underlying sadness and frailty that I still don’t understand how an actor or actress does that but credit to Walsh. The majority of the most impactful scenes involved Walsh, it was harrowing to see her slowly deteriorate emotionally and physically from the long arduous battle to get justice for her daughter. Another outstanding performance was the school counselor, Mr Porter (Derek Luke). As one that was held accountable by Hannah on her last tape, Mr Porter is burdened with a heavy guilt that Derek Luke portrays perfectly. Just like Walsh’s portrayal, Luke’s performance was heartbreaking, Mr Porter was a man that was aware of the mistakes he made and was weighed down by the guilt of he could of done more. His testimony episode was by far the most emotional, I had to pause this episode just because my eyes were filled with tears. The episode focused on different things he could of done to stop it. The different outcomes and the what if’s. Mr Porter is a man that was fraught with failure and Luke’s performance of a character that acts strong but slowly breaks was hard to watch.
The whole cast is fantastic and I cannot fault one performance in this show. They all had moments of brilliantly acted scenes such as Alex’s struggle to walk, Zach’s hidden love for Hannah, Jessica’s dealing with the aftermath of her rape, Justin’s troubled home life and Tony’s constant anger problems. These are all heavy issues to deal with and act out and the young cast are so mature in their presentation that this is one of the best Netflix has to offer in the way of a great ensemble cast. Also the main villain in this show, Bryce Walker, is so cold and evil. In the context of the recent Times Up revolution, Bryce Walker is a perfect physical encapsulation of what is wrong with macho culture.The entilabilty and power men think they have over women is toxic and the character of Bryce is a good example of this. It was interesting to get a better look into the mind of Bryce, affected by the toxic macho culture that infects school and being able to do what he wants all the time with no consequences leads to Bryce feeling entitled to have any girl he wants. Bryce is a cold rapist that shows no empathy for what he has done, it could be argued that he believes he did no wrong and it is that notion that truly is scary about the whole event.
The season is very captivating and the unravelling of the mystery is very fulfilling. The discovery of further implications and progression of the story of the students of Liberty High was great to watch. Each character is compelling and adds a lot to the show, no character is wasted and provides different views and ways to deal with such a tragedy. I had low expectations of this season but of what I thought was futile but I was pleasantly surprised. This was another fantastic season that had a great conclusion if you stopped at episode 12…
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I couldn’t wait for the end, it was all building up to what I thought would be a satisfying conclusion. The final episode was a bit of a insult, for people who stayed for the whole two seasons, it was out of place and just badly written. A lot of news coverage has been focused on the rape scene involving a mop and it did go too far. I didn’t see the point in the scene, it could of been more effective if it made sense but it looked more like a scene that was trying to to out do the suicide scene in the first season. That sounds horrible so when I heard news of a lot of fans being angry at this scene, for once I do agree. The biggest flaw in this series was Tyler’s storyline, the rebelling was great but it felt as if the writers were forcing a gun control issue. An important issue to discuss but with the majority of the story focussing on rape, mental health and toxic masculinity, the addition of gun control seems more slapped on then key to the story. This season took on too much and I feared it would go this route even from season one. The whole gun storyline throughout season 2 was not given enough time and it was more preachy that an interesting discussion. I agree with stronger gun control in light of recent events but it shouldn’t of been in this show.
Also the resolution felt too Hollywood, everyone learned from the experience. One of my biggest gripes with film or TV, is that one resolution scene where it cuts to every character and they just describe that they are going to live happily ever after. We have just had a tragic suicide, rape, horrible violence and drug abuse, life does not work like that and it is lazy writing to resort to this scene. One of my favourite representations of death is in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode, The Body, the one where someone dies and affects the whole group. The whole episode is slow and emotional, no one learns from the experience, they don’t grow closer but they move on. Joss Whedon stated that, that is what death is like, people don’t learn from it, they take the pain and move on. The only resolution I liked was Clay’s because he accepts that he has to move on but the pain will always be there. There were some moments that I liked in the final episode such as at the dance when Lord Huron’s The Night We Met is played and makes Clay break down crying was heartbreaking. Episode 13 had moments of brilliance but was dogged by trying to get a reaction and taking on too much. If it finished at episode 12 I would of been happy by the resolution.
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Apart from episode 13, the season outperformed what I expected, the soundtrack is great, the cast is one of the greatest ensembles on TV at the moment. 13 Reasons Why is an amazing character piece that takes a raw look into the toxic nature of high school. I feel that it should stop here and if it did carry on I might not actually watch it. The story of Hannah is over and so should this show. A brilliant season of raw emotional performances that is dogged by taking on so many issues and a disappointing final episode. Episode 13 aside, 13 Seasons Why is a show that I have a strong connection with, I have become so attached to the characters that it is hard to say goodbye to them but maybe it is time to say bye. The actors here have a bright future and can’t wait to see other projects involving them. It has been an emotional journey full of ups and down and a absolute marvel in character development. 13 Reasons Why will be a show that will be talked about in years to come, an impactful show that in the end was a well written, powerful look into the impact of mental health. The story of Hannah Baker is over but the discussion of mental health should continue.
Rating – ★★★★