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13 Reasons Why

When the series 13 REASONS WHY was released on Netflix on March 31, 2017 it instantly became a lightning rod of controversy. 

The teen-centric drama centered around the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a student who battled bullying, harassment, and ultimately, a sexual assault. It was an unflinching, harsh examination of the high school hierarchy, and forced parents and children alike to face the ugly realities facing today’s youth. With graphic depictions of rape and wrist-cutting, it was never an easy viewing experience, but it did encourage a dialogue that was greatly needed.

The first season of 13 REASONS WHY was a well-rounded, binge-worthy affair. The young cast tackled the troubling subject matter exceptionally well, and the pace of each episode, combined with the mystery surrounding Hannah’s fate kept the viewer riveted from start to finish. The final episode was met with outrage due to its startling nature, with some parent groups calling for a boycott of the show. Rather than pulling the plug, Netflix gave the green light for season 2. 

Released on May 18, the second season of 13 REASONS WHY has once again become beacon of controversy. Emboldened by the response of its freshman venture, the show delves deeper into the murky and horrifying themes previously explored, and does so with uncomfortable gratuity. 

In the aftermath of the discovery of Hannah’s tapes, her mother (Kate Walsh) is suing the school district, arguing that they did nothing to help her daughter in her time of need. Each episode centers around one particular character and their testimony in the trial. Through their words, we learn more of the events that led up to Hannah’s demise, and the tribulations they faced both before, and after. While there are certainly new insights to be found, the hour-long episodes, particularly the first three, felt like a plodding rehash of what we had already known. In these early moments, the second season felt like an unnecessary attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the first, failing to progress the story in any meaningful way. Bryce (Justine Prentice) is still a bully, Jessica (Alisha Boe) is still devastated by what happened to her, Zach (Ross Butler) is still conflicted between loyalty to his friends and being a decent human being, and Clay (Dylan Minnette) is still in love with the recently deceased Hannah. Though she may be gone, he still converses with her on a regular basis, as her spirit remains his constant companion. 

Despite its clumsy, and at times exploitative beginnings, the second season of 13 REASONS improves as the episodes progress. By the halfway point, it is a fairly gripping drama that raises a number of important questions and concerns. This certainly doesn’t mean that it is ever easy to watch. There are a number of stomach-churning sequences and situations that will make even the most resolute viewer squirm, and there will be plenty who will be downright outraged by what unfolds on the screen. A few of these moments have been publicized already, though for spoiler purposes, I won’t reveal them here. Suffice it to say, creator Brian Yorkey felt it was important to be as graphic as possible in order to illustrate the true realities facing our children today. 

It’s difficult to criticize a show that brings bullying, abuse, and suicide to the forefront of the national conversation, particularly when there are daily stories about the horrors unfolding in schools across the country. Having said this, it’s difficult to gauge what can be considered a timely exploration, and what is merely an exploitative melodrama. This second season, at varying times, feels like a little of both. There is so much angst, debauchery, and abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, and substance) that unfolds in every single episode, it has an aura of existing as a collection of bullet points rather than a pointed exploration into the heart of these horrors. And, while the series makes the attempt to remained as grounded in reality as possible, I believe there is a certain obligation to illustrate to the kids that are watching this that there are consequences for those who harm others, and redemption for those who speak up. For the most part, this vital element is lacking in 13 REASONS, and could have done far more to bring about the vital changes that it seems to be promoting.


13 Reasons Why

RATED: Content Warning

RUN TIME: 1 hour episodes

GENRE: Teen Drama, Mystery

STARRING: Katherine Langford, Kate Walsh, Justine Prentice,  Alisha Boe, Ross Butler, Dylan Minnette

CreatORs: Brian Yorkey

Distributed by: Netflix

Jamie Wallace