Where do I begin with this one? If you’ve seen the show then you’ll already know that it’s very difficult to watch. There are some horribly brutal scenes and the general tone of the programme isn’t a positive one at all. After season one, I couldn’t have imagined there even being a second season, let alone it doing more damage than the first. Yet here we are, with characters that are completely broken and writing that doesn’t allow them much scope to be fixed.
I’m not going to say that I don’t like this series. I watched all 13 episodes fairly quickly, exactly as I did with season one. There is something about it that hooks you and keeps pulling you in until you reach that final episode. It’s like a quest that you have to finish and in that sense, it’s a good series.
Prepare for everything you know about Hannah Baker and her suicide, however, to be erased. Season two reveals new storylines, new feelings, new flashbacks. Characters like Tyler that have developed so much more but definitely not for the better. There is a lot going on when you strip it back down to basics and look at everybody’s story (or testimony really) in turn.
Beyond this though, I don’t really know what else to say that is positive. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it. I do. I just really struggle to engage positively with it because it does so much to make a point of showing everything and I’m not sure how much it does to show the parts that will actually be really helpful to viewers. I’ve done my research here. I’ve read Facebook, Instagram and Twitter comments to see viewers directly engaging with the content. There are definitely comments from viewers saying that the show has helped them to see their situations differently and I completely respect that. But it could and should be doing more, in my opinion.
I just mentioned the show showing everything. I’m sure that everybody reading this knows that there are some seriously graphic scenes in the episodes. In season one we saw two rape scenes and two suicides if I remember correctly. This season we see flashbacks of the rape, we see physical bullying at its worst, we see gun violence and drug abuse. It’s like the producers threw every dysfunction they could think of into a hat and then tipped it over on the heads of the characters. We are showered with it, as are they. And these are just teenagers, they shouldn’t have to be going through so much!
Now, there will be people who will counter this and say that this is real life. Some teenagers are going through this stuff. I completely understand that. I’m not ignorant to the horrors of secondary school, bullying, relationships, drug abuse, abuse in general. If you’re an inquisitive person, you make it your business to know these things. If you want knowledge in general, you make yourself aware. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to see these horrors translated visually because I really don’t.
The scene in the final episode (it’s about 34 or 38 minutes into it) is horrendous. Absolutely horrendous and I truly cannot believe they showed it. This is not me being a prude or being dramatic. I know that this is something that happens a lot in American high schools, I’ve heard of it before. However, the way that scene was filmed and put together was very unnecessary. They did not, in my opinion, need to show us exactly what was happening in order for us to understand the gravity of the situation. Anyone who needs to be visually sensitised to an act of violence like that is someone I would feel genuinely worried about.
The idea of trauma reverberates throughout season two. Everybody has experienced or is experiencing trauma – some more than others. Clay is really messed up from season one. He’s having visions of Hannah and is just generally struggling to move on from everything, which is understandable. Him dating Skye however? Not so much. To put two terribly damaged people together was just destructive. However, this was the only good relationship to be dealt with in the show. When Skye decided to leave Clay and take those first steps towards mending herself, the writers were sending out a message that things can get better. That you can be helped and once you accept that help, things will be better.
But there is not nearly enough of this! And for a programme which claims that one of its main aims is to help, I just really struggle to identify which parts of the plot and the writing in general are there to help. How is Tyler resorting to very heavy gun violence helpful? How is Clay trying to talk him out of shooting the whole school at their school dance, helpful? How is Jessica sauntering around and crying for twelve episodes helpful? How is Jessica not accepting her parents help, helpful? Having sex with Justin in the school changing rooms when she’s meant to be back with Alex, helpful? How is persistently showing Justin’s drug abuse, helpful?
And then I want to ask, how is Bryce getting away with 3 months (I think) for rape, helpful? But actually, this is one of the main ways that they do raise awareness. Because I think, this is the most realistic thing they show. That cases of rape really do struggle when taken to court.
Now, I can find a lot of un-helpful things in the programme and when I ask myself why they’ve put that in, it’s obvious that they’ve just done it to dramatise the storyline and make it more thrilling to watch. Let’s face it – season one was so successful which is why they even created a season two. With the way that it’s ended, there now has to be a season three and this all means money! Also, everybody is talking about the horrifying scenes you can expect when you start watching. Which is making more people watch it, even if they didn’t before. And I do hate saying that but it’s true. This show isn’t being made for free and they do want to make money.
I also have a few other problems to mention, mainly with the writing of the show.
#1 – Overuse of the F-word
You must have noticed that the f-word is in almost every single scene of every episode in Season 2. During almost every conversation, someone will wedge the f-word into play. They’ll say it in gest, in casual conversation, in heated arguments. And why? I reckon it’s because they want all of the characters to seem edgy and rebellious. Although the f-word is not the only swear word young people use, this script is completely saturated with it and it’s ridiculous!
#2 – Teenage girls go to school to chase boys
Name one main female character, minus Courtney, whose storyline does not involve their relationship with a boy. You’ve got Jessica involved with Tyler, Alex and Bryce. You’ve got Hannah involved with Bryce, Tyler, Zach, Clay, Alex and Marcus. You’ve got Chloe dating Bryce. Sheri at the clubhouse with Brandon and Bryce. Cyrus’s sister dating Tyler. Jessica’s friend whose name I forgot dating one guy and cheating on him with another. Not only is this completely reductionist for women on-screen – our storylines are only relevant if they involve a male counterpart. But it’s also just not true. Not everybody at high school or secondary school exists to date boys. I’m sure there was a lot more going on than just that, but for some reason all of the other stuff is not relevant.
#3 – Teenage friends are never just friends
Do you remember all of the scenes in Hannah’s bedroom or Jessica’s bedroom or just anyone’s bedroom in general? It always begins as friends hanging out and then suddenly they’re playing a kissing game and everybody has kissed everybody and it’s just teenagers having meaningless fun. Not everything is sexual or tactile. Sometimes when you hang out with a friend you go shopping or bowling or to the cinema to watch a film. You’re not always crossing a line.
#4 – Every teenager is damaged
Every character in this show is, in some way, troubled. Everyone is battling with their own problems and that’s fine. But then suddenly everyone is so damaged, that it’s actually Hannah who starts to seem like the one who, in comparison, didn’t really have any problems at all. Clay is messed up from every single event in season one – understandably. Skye is self-harming and desperately begging Clay to love her even though he’s still in love with Hannah. Bryce feels neglected by his parents. Zach is angry at his mother for never talking about his dad and therefore not allowing him to address those issues. Jessica is still figuring out how to cope with being raped by Bryce and betrayed by Justin. Justin’s mum is unfit to take care of him and is being physically abused by her boyfriend. Courtney has been struggling with the fact that she’s gay. Marcus’s parents are really religious and he feels trapped by their rules so he leads a double life.
13 Reasons Why is literally hailed for its direct address of real-life issues. I completely rate that and I think that it’s very important to get topics like this out into the open for discussion. However, it chooses to show so much of the violence and brutality in very carefully orchestrated scenes and I don’t think that’s okay. Some people will say that this needs to be shown but it really doesn’t. You don’t need to physically see what’s going on to believe it happens or even to understand that it happens. A lot can be inferred from orchestrating the right kind of scenes, showing just enough.
And in showing scenes like rape, gun violence and brutal bullying in the boys school toilets, they’ve had to put up a warning before some of the episodes saying “mature content” or “for mature viewers only”. Yet this is a show about teenagers and high school, based off a teenage fiction book. So in doing this, you’re reducing its accessibility and completely defeating the purpose of the programme. I wouldn’t want my teenagers watching some of the scenes in this show. It’s upsetting and incredibly disturbing.
Worst of all though really, is the fact that this show doesn’t really do a lot to help. It splays its cards, showing us what depression, anxiety, loneliness and fear can look like at its worst. And then it sort of just leaves you there. From season two, I expected them to show us how to empower ourselves if we’re suffering from anything similar to what goes on in the show. Yet, dare I say it, none of the characters are really empowered are they?
In fact, everybody seems to have gotten a lot worse. Jessica spends the whole season crying and staring blankly at people, not doing much of anything. And then instead of seeking the help she needs to empower herself to work through her trauma, she just asks Chloe to testify – to do what she wasn’t able to do herself, in her words. This is a huge one. I really would have expected Jessica to step up in this season and she just didn’t, not until the last couple of episodes anyway. And then she messed it all up by getting with Justin!
Clay’s mental health is getting worse each episode. With his visions of Hannah, which are very confusing by the way, he has no hold on reality. He has completely forgotten about his own life and exists only to avenge Hannah and then to deny that he loves Hannah and to battle constantly with accepting that she is dead.
Zach won’t stand up to his baseball team. He’s still doing everything in secret. Just like he dated Hannah in secret, he wants to be friends with Alex in secret. To bump fists with Bryce in the boys’ locker rooms and out on the pitch and then sneak around the back to take a breather and tell the people who care that he is a good person.
Everyone thinks that standing up to Bryce is just about calling him a rapist. Yes, he is a rapist and that is an atrocious and disgusting thing to be. But he’s also a lot more than that. He’s a bully, an abuser, a manipulator, a user. He’s a culmination of so many negative things and he shows this at various points throughout the season, yet we and the characters are only allowed to focus on that one thing – the rapes. Maybe if they had tried to find evidence to support all of the other things he is, then they would have had more of a case against him in court. Maybe they would have won.
Overall, I’m frustrated. Although I kept watching, I never actually felt satisfied with what I was seeing. This show has a huge following and is spread across such a wide platform that it really owes it to itself and its viewers to do more. In my opinion, we needed to see some more self-empowerment. Like Skye at the mental facility and Skye breaking up with Clay. Of course these are things we don’t want to see for the characters we love, we want them to be happy as quickly as possible. But if we can see that they are admitting to their issues and seeking help in the right places for them, then we have hope. And other people have hope and feel that they might be capable of seeking the right kind of help too.
We’ve also got to be careful with the way we’re painting Hannah. In season one, we may not have agreed with the reasons as to why Hannah committed suicide. We may have thought that some of them were stupid and insignificant (like I did at some points) and we are entitled to that opinion but we also can’t take away from the fact that this is how somebody felt even if it isn’t how we would have felt ourselves. We understand that. Then in season two, we get many more layers and lots of different sides to the same story. Suddenly, the writers paint a picture of Hannah as a girl that loved to date. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it’s the way they do it. They are the ones who make Hannah seem like a girl who liked involving herself with boys, fleetingly and without respect for herself. That’s damaging.
Some of the new plot lines in general were difficult to believe. Particularly the Zach and Hannah summer romance, which everybody on Twitter has gone mad for. I think it’s cute, I’m with you all on that. I just don’t really believe it. I don’t believe that she would omit that from her tapes, it doesn’t make sense.
A lot of people, myself included, are also a bit confused at the fact that Hannah actually had so many friends when she made out that she didn’t. And then I read a comment somewhere that said, that is exactly the point. That when you have depression like Hannah did, you don’t see things the way that everybody else does. So you might have a ton of people around you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll believe they’re your friends or believe that you aren’t alone. We’re now seeing different sides to Hannah’s truth and that might throw us off a little, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not the truth. I’m still unsure of what to think on this though.
I know that there are plenty of people out there who will disagree with me on this, but these are just my thoughts on the show. We can all have our own opinions on this and feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment below or tweeting me (@tanyams_) as I always put my thoughts out there on Twitter. I know already that there is a lot of discussion about this programme, as expected and that’s healthy! So definitely get involved if you’ve seen it. If you have something to counter anything I’ve said or just some thoughts on the show that I may not have mentioned here then please also let me know.
Finally, I have also left links below to some great helplines and websites for anyone who is in need of resources: