DISCLAIMER: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS about the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. Please read with caution.
The information in bold are ACTUAL FACTS. Please see list of citations at the end of this article for more info.
I’m probably a little late on this bandwagon, since the groundbreaking show 13 Reasons Why hit Nextflix in March. I am all for binging new Netflix shows, especially the hot ones everyone is talking about. I had heard lots of things about 13 Reasons Why, good bad and ignorant. I decided to watch it after my husband Jeff came home and said he watched the first 2 episodes and I needed to see it.
Unlike most Netflix shows, 13 Reasons Why is a show you should NOT binge. It’s heavy, deep, and it doesn’t just leave you wanting more; it leaves you devastated.
The choice to not binge was the right choice to make, instead we watched one episode a day (or 2 if Jeff saw it before me). This gave me time to truly let the things that happened sink in, to a point where I could process the gravity of what I was watching.
The show itself, if you are still unaware at this point- follows Hannah Baker. Hannah is your typical teenage girl who just happens to be caught in a hurricane of unfortunate events. One moment snowballs into a catastrophic set of circumstances that ultimately lead to Hannah’s decision to take her own life. However dark and twisted the path is to that point is something we see through a series of cassette tapes left by Hannah. There are 13 tapes, each dedicated to a person who had in some way shape or form contributed to the downfall, the snowball effect that lead to her death. Each person has to listen to all 13 tapes, and when they are finished pass it on to the next person. The main character we see the story through, is Hannah’s friend Clay Jensen. Clay is a socially awkward, shy, smart kid who befriends Hannah and ends up with a big crush on her. We see through his eyes as the show takes place between the past during the actual occurrence of events, and the present after Hannah’s suicide. Visually, the past is brightly colored, in contrast with the present which is muted, cool gray tones. In the past we learn what happened not just to Hannah, but to her friends as well.
This show touches on a world that teens live in, that we rarely have access to. In the first episode, we learn that Hannah develops a crush on a boy named Justin, who plays football. As we cycle through the show we learn Justin is a kid who comes from a broken home, with an addict mother and her abusive boyfriend. We also learn about Justin’s “friendship” with the most well liked, most popular douchebag in school ( you realise he’s a douchebag further in), Bryce Walker. In Hannah’s world, Justin is the catalyst for insighting the event that causes the snowball. Justin and Hannah go out, to the playground and playfully flirt and do what teenagers do. It’s Hannah’s first kiss, and she comes down the slide and he puts his arms around her and kisses her, while simultaneously taking an upskirt picture of Hannah without her knowledge.
The picture is then sent around the school, and Hannah is branded a slut. Even her friend Clay believes the talk, and tells Hannah sometimes its better to wait. We know from Clay’s character and situations that his comment was partially out of hurt because of his feelings for her, but also because he ASSUMED Hannah knew about what Justin did, and was ok with it. Its low key slut shaming, but its still slut shaming. This topic of sexting, slut shaming and bullying- that is just the beginning. 1 in 4 dating teens is harassed or abused through the use of technology. People slut shame Hannah. People assume she’s easy and try to force themselves on her. Hannah’s reputation falls farther and farther, and instances add up to a reputation that is based on things that are the furthest from the truth. Everyone Hannah reaches out to ultimately fails her in some way, making the situation worse than it was before. You are watching a person fall apart, piece by piece, until there is literally nothing left.
The other big topic covered in the show, aside from suicide and bullying, is sexual assault. People tend to think of sexual assault as something that doesn’t happen to teenagers, but it does. 8 times out of 10, the person who has been assaulted KNOWS their assailant, and possibly even trusts or likes them. Hannah, who is hiding out in a room because she’s had too much to drink, witnesses her one time friend Jessica being raped while she is passed out at a party. Hannah is frozen, unable to move and so affected she can’t help but throw up. Jessica doesn’t know she was raped, and instead thinks she just had sex with her boyfriend Justin, but as the show goes on you can tell Jess is going through some things, and that maybe she DOES remember, but is unsure. Things only escalate for Hannah, and ultimately she ends up being raped by the same person who raped her friend. This is what throws Hannah over the breaking edge.
The decision to show Hannah’s suicide was risky. We don’t see the television canned “goodbye cruel world” and then a cut scene. We see Hannah tie up her loose ends, clean her room, pick out clothes and a towel, get in the tub and physically slit her wrists and bleed out. It was so awful and uncomforatble (as it should be) that I couldn’t even watch the whole thing, and ended up watching through my fingers as my hands covered my eyes. I sobbed. That’s what this show does to you- it gets down to the core of these issues and makes you feel, makes you think about these things in a way that is very needed. There is nothing glamourous about what Hannah did, or what she left behind. Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for 15-24 year old Americans, and females in this age bracket, attempted suicide 3 times more than their male counterparts.
The way the show tackles the warning signs of depression, someone who is suicidal, and those who have been sexually assaulted is no easy feat, but in my opinion very realistic. A lot of people out there claim that the show glorifies these things, and those arguments are shared mostly in my opinion by people who have not seen the show. Schools were banning the discussion, people claimed it gave false glamorization, and parents were vouching their reasons to allow or not allow their children to see the show. A similiar argument arose for my first post on this blog- when Deadpool came out. Parents everywhere were argiung about weather or not it was appropriate to take their child to the movie which touted an R-rating. This issue was brought up again with the release of 13 Reasons Why. While I don’t think an 8 year old should watch it myself- I think that these topics- suicide, depression, bullying, sexual assault- all need to be addressed as early as possible. No matter how many programs you put in place in school, these things will still occur, and it is up to us, to be able to explain this part of the world to our kids and prepare them. I hope your kid isn’t the bully, or the one who is struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide- but maybe they are. Maybe they know someone who is, and starting this conversation could literally be the difference between life and death.
Clay is the one person who saw Hannah struggling, but didn’t know why or how to reach out. I could really feel the emotion after he had finally heard his tape. The infamous line in which he utters, “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her…” will hit you right in the heart. Hannah attempted to seek help through her school counselor, in a last attempt but ultimately wasn’t handled right. You can’t solely blame the counselor because what he told her was true- without any evidence, and after the fact; it is hard to prove. The fact Jessica, the only other victim Hannah knew about- had no knowledge and wouldn’t come forward- the fact that the attacker was a well known, well liked member of the school and community- and the fact he would be graduating- shouldn’t even have been an issue, but it was. Unfortunately the way this was handled is just one of the reasons why so many rapes go unreported.
There is a lot of speculation about the second season which is confirmed. Many think a second season will detract from the impact of the first, and many think Hannah’s story is over. The show throughout its first season not only shows us the story of Hannah’s death, but also shows how directly or indirectly her death ultimately effects the others who had a hand in her story. Alex for instance, who was responsible for putting Hannah on his “list” as having “the best ass”- shows many signs of depression and despondance, and attempts suicide himself. The student who spreads an intimate picture of Hannah with a girl friend of hers- is repeatedly shut out of the group despite having his own cassette in the mix- is shown in the last episode with a trunk full of firearms, insinuating that he may have ideas of terrorizing the school for being outcast. There is also a huge trial going on between Hannah’s parents and the school, which asks the question could they have done something to prevent this? The answer is both yes and no, but it will definately be touched upon in season two, as the trial moves forward. The plot of the trial is going to be just as controversial in my opinion, when you have grieving parents who feel something should have been done, and a schoolboard trying to avoid any blame.
In conclusion, I think 13 Reasons Why is a phenomenal show. It is not drama for the sake of drama and entertainment- it is so much more than that. The show is based on the best-selling book by Jay Asher, and although I have not read the book personally (I don’t think I could after seeing the show), I can honestly say that both strive to open the doors to a much needed conversation and awareness about these very hard, difficult topics. It tells a story of the pitfalls and the atrocities, but also of humanity, and connection. Clay is a kind person, and a smart kid; the quintessential goody two shoes-but even he falls victim to peer pressure, criminal actions, and judgement. Even when he is avenging for his darling Hannah, he does not always think, but acts impulsively and often retracts inwards with his feelings of depression and loss. Clay’s story isn’t just a cautionary tale, but also a reality. These sorts of things are not black and white. Suicide, depression, addiction, bullying- these things don’t look a certain way, or affect just one type or gender, or person. The worst part is that Hannah COULD have been saved, not just once but many times.
So what are you waiting for? Stop watching your reality scripted television, or whatever it is you normally watch to zone out. Grab a box of tissues, and watch 13 Reasons Why. I promise you it is something that will stick with you, and effect you on a much deeper level than anything else you are watching. I promise you that it will bring up feelings and thoughts, and perhaps start a well needed discussion with your kids, your friends or your co-workers, and isn’t that what we need? Who knows, someone close to you may be listening, or begging to be heard. Start the discussion, because it could be the discussion that saves a life.
If you are interested in supporting the fight against suicide, anxiety, depression, and mental illness, check out these campaigns that I support:
To Write Love On Her Arms
Always Keep Fighting (Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki’s Campaign)
This article was written using information from these links:
National Sexual Violence Resource Center– Sexual Violence Statistics
Urban Institute.org-Digital Abuse Through Technology Statistics
Teen Help.com– Teen Suicide Statistics