A little over a year ago, I read Jay Asher’s novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. I hadn’t heard of the book until the news that it would be made into a Netflix original series. So, I read it in time to watch season one right when it released and there were areas I was happy with and others that felt dangerous. If you’ve seen or heard about the show, you are likely aware of the controversy that it brings with its existence.
The book is about a teenage girl who commits suicide. She leaves behind a series of cassette tapes, which hold recordings of the thirteen reasons why she felt driven to take her own life. The T.V. adaptation is astronomically different than the book, as so many other details and events are added in. With the tremendous popularity the show has received, there has been high praise in addition to contrasting warnings to avoid the show entirely. Before you begin watching, you need to know that this show is explicit and can be triggering. There are graphic scenes of sexual assault and suicide that you need to be aware of before making the decision to push play. Some viewers that have experienced depression, self-harm, and attempts at suicide have been caught off guard and triggered back to their old ways of thinking. This is not the intention behind the show but has been a result of its release. I feel that the first season of the show does a solid job of offering insight into what suicidal thoughts, bullying, slut-shaming, rape, and suicide look like in today’s society. However, there wasn’t enough of a focus on mental illness or an accurate portrayal of depression, which is what leads people to suicide. Many argue that this is an irresponsible, inaccurate look at a suicidal individual and glamorizes suicide, as a result. I’m glad that the show changed the way that Hannah Baker kills herself in the show, as I think the way she did it in the book would be less painful to watch and therefore more glorified to vulnerable viewers.
As for the rape scenes, I completely understand why they were triggering. I think the graphic hot tub scene was necessary because it shows young men an example of rape that isn’t the woman screaming “no” or struggling. Often times, women feel frozen in the fear of the moment and they can’t consent, as a result. If your partner does not give you a clear, verbal “yes”, they are not consenting. Too many young men are failing to realize this, so I am glad that this highly popular show used their platform to clearly show such an important message to their adolescent male audience. I hope that season one of this show positively affected young men in that way. Maybe a male viewer wasn’t clear on consent, as many teens aren’t, and future rapes were avoided by changing his viewpoint. I’m not a teen boy and cannot attest to that, but I can’t help but hope that at least one man will better understand consent thanks to this show. Women aren’t the issue in our country’s despicable rapist culture–men are. We shouldn’t be given rape whistles and told to travel in pairs and to dress modestly. Men need to be held accountable and be the focus on how to stop raping, rather than telling the victims how to avoid being raped.
Rape isn’t always a strange man jumping out of the bushes and assaulting a woman. In fact, a friend or acquaintance is far more likely to be the perpetrator of sexual assault. 93% of victims already knew their rapist. From a study found on RAINN’s website, 59% were acquaintances and 34% were family members. Also, according to RAINN, 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following their assault. For 30% of women, these PTSD symptoms are still very present 9 months afterward. 33% of women who have experienced rape contemplate suicide and 13% attempt suicide. With this being said, these statistics are not and will never be accurate because these are only from those who have reported their rapes and their experiences following their rapes. More people who are raped don’t report their incidences than those who do. If you need help after being sexually assaulted, call RAINN at 1-800-656-4673. They are a very helpful resource.
I do not think that what Hannah did was the right choice and, while the bullying and assault that she faced filled me with anger, I don’t blame any of the thirteen for her death, directly. While I understand why Hannah felt the way she did, she made the worst choice that a person can make. She could have survived, fought against the injustice, and gone on to live an incredible life. I’ve seen online opinions that feel some of Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide were “petty,” but I don’t think anyone should be able to decide whether another person should feel hurt by something that wouldn’t hurt us. Hannah was in dire need of mental health support, which she did not receive in any form and was not mentioned in the first season of the show.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens, with over 5,000 attempts each day in the U.S., this subject needed to be discussed. The author of the book, Jay Asher, said, “Suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens, and so we have to talk about it.”
Now onto Season 2. The new season dropped just two days ago, on May 18th. I binged this new season even more quickly than I did the first time around. There were things that I felt they did an excellent job with, but other things that I am appalled by and disgusted with. If you haven’t yet finished this season, feel free to bookmark this blog post for later and read on. Proceed with caution. SPOILERS AHEAD!
They continue using trigger warnings at the beginnings of certain episodes and now end each episode with resources, which is great. They opened the season with a blunt warning that this show isn’t for everyone and should be avoided by some or watched alongside a trusted adult. I appreciate the effort they make with their warnings and resources and am glad Netflix is trying to be more responsible this time around. This show isn’t for everyone and those who watched despite the warnings and were still unimpressed despite the trigger warnings and resources give should realize that they are doing much, much more than other shows and films who explore similar topics.
The build-up in season 2 was, in my opinion, rather slow. I didn’t feel invested until roughly halfway in. Hannah returning as a ghost to clear up unanswered questions was unnecessary and a little forced at times. It slowed down the plot, not to mention being disrespectful to suicide surivors who don’t get that with those who they lost. Overall, this season is, for the most part, focused on the trial between Liberty High and Hannah’s parents. Each episode is centered around one of the characters’ at a podium, answering to the two parties’ lawyers. Some help Hannah’s case, while others add to the injustice, complicating the storyline. It is told pretty equally in present time and through flashbacks to pre-season one times, which we didn’t see before and didn’t hear about in the tapes. These news plot pieces further complicate Hannah and her relationship to those involved on the tapes and in her life. The storytelling was well done, once the pacing picked up, and left me on the edge of my seat, hungry to know who had done what and how the pieces would all fit together in the end. By the end of the series, the only person I was truly happy for was Olivia Baker, who got closure and was ready to move on with her life and try to heal.
I felt that the drug abuse, within Justin’s storyline, felt glorified and somewhat underscored. I wasn’t a fan of the incessant reiteration that heroin is cheap–cheaper than Oxy and easy to get your hands on. They didn’t do an accurate job of showing a person high on heroin and the withdrawal scenes felt lighthearted. I’m all for stories about poverty, homelessness, and drug abuse, but it is dangerous to present heroin addiction in the way that they did. It wasn’t made ugly enough and I fear how young people will respond.
I did think that they did a good job with sexual assault this season, as well as giving good examples of non-toxic masculinity in Mr. Porter and in several of the boys’ relationships. In this show, we see a lot of realistic examples of teenage boy relationships and the pressure that comes with being a young man, but this season offered not only examples of the bad, but also examples of how healthy male friendships can look. Two minor examples of this can be found in Zach teaching Alex to slow dance and Clay helping Justin with his tie. This was also present everytime a male character stood up for their female counterparts instead of protecting themselves and their unjust friends. We see Clay’s inability to keep an erection with Skye, Tyler’s premature ejaculation on his movie date, and other issues that young men face with shame. They extended the theme of feminism beyond the female characters’ struggling with the aftermath of their sexual assaults by showing how men have to face societal norms and expectations, along with the immense pressure to disrespect women and keep it quiet in the name of brotherhood. This season look at sports and the unhealthy side of teams was well done, too.
Now, if you’ve seen season 2, you know that we have been presented with another graphic rape scene. This scene, in the final episode of the show, was not only more painful to watch than Hannah or Jessica’s, in my opinion, but it was one of the most excruciating (if not the most excruciating) on-screen sexual assaults that I have ever witnessed. When Montgomery and friends bashed Tyler Down’s head into a mirror, banged his head into a ceramic sink, beat him up, put his face into toilet water, and then violently raped him with the filthy wood handle of a mop, I grew nauseous and was completely caught off guard. Was that necessary? I don’t know. These are things that happen. Men are raped. Women are raped more often than men, but men are raped. This is often left in the shadows, so perhaps it was necessary to bring this issue to light, but it was brutal. It was disturbing. It was demented. I am grateful that I didn’t have nightmares about it last night, after finishing the season, like I expected to.
This brings me to my final point of discussion. Tyler had my empathy throughout the season. With each time he redeems himself and puts himself out there, he is shot down. This is not to say that he is a perfect or innocent character–we still know about the creepy, violating pictures taken of Hannah. However, this season continuously forces us to feel for him, to root for him. By the time we’re at the end of the season, we want Montgomery taken down for what he has just done to Tyler in that bathroom scene. He has been bullied and hurt so many times and we empathize with his anger and want better for him. Now, suddenly, even with all of the hints that pointed to this since the end of season one, Tyler is pulling out his chest of firearms on the night of the school dance. He loads up his car, drives on over, and proceeds by arming himself with ammunition, multiple guns, and a huge assault rifle. As he is about to enter the building of the dance, hero Clay comes out and reasons with the man who is about to be a mass shooter. So, 13 Reason Why, you are suggesting that bullying is all that contributes to mass shooters? You think it’s a good idea for a mass shooter’s peer to approach him and talk him down? You think that they should avoid calling the police on this dangerous person because he is their friend? You think that
This was disgusting Walk Up, Not Out propaganda that disregards not only gun control but also mental illness–yet again. So, if you don’t bully your peers, the mass shooting epidemic our country is facing will end? The blame is placed on others, rather than the shooter. Not only was this irreparably messed up, but it was incredibly insensitive to the thousands upon thousands of young people who have survived mass shootings and are standing up to Congress in a way that adults are failing to. My empathy lies with the survivors of mass shootings who are having to watch the pile of garbage of an ending that was just put out into the world. This was an irresponsible and disturbing look at the school shooting crisis that we are facing.
While there were some areas that this season did right, I am appalled by the ending and cannot believe the creators felt this was okay. To those who have finished the season, what were your thoughts on the new episodes?