*Trigger warning for rape, suicide, and depression*
When Netflix released the first season of 13 Reasons Why, I watched all 13 episodes in a matter of days. The show was compelling, dramatic, and it discussed suicide and depression candidly in ways that other TV shows didn’t. I, like many viewers, was hooked. At the end of the season, I wanted to know more. Was Alex really dead? How would Clay reconcile his feelings about Hannah? Would Bryce ever be charged for raping Jessica, Hannah and who knows how many other girls?
The end of the first season left the viewer with many questions, like any quality TV show does. The writers left the story open for a second season and made sure that we would want to watch again. There are countless problems with this show and the choices that the creators made, but, in my opinion, this was their greatest mistake. They chose to continue a story that should have ended with Hannah’s death.
If you’ve watched the second season, you know that Hannah plays a larger role than she should have. In the first season, she was merely a figment of Clay’s imagination that would appear when he felt troubled. She represented a dissonance of emotions for Clay, because he looked to her memory for comfort even as his memory of her became more and more tainted. Now, in the second season, the show gives Hannah a voice to talk to Clay, help him make decisions, and even explain her motives as more information surfaces during her trial.
I can see what the creators of the show were trying to do. They wanted to bring Clay’s internal thoughts to life. If he was thinking about Hannah in his mind, why not bring her on screen for some added tension/drama/storytelling? The problem is that Hannah is gone. She shouldn’t have a say, because she isn’t alive anymore.
After season one, when the show faced backlash for glamorizing suicide and creating a revenge fantasy plot, the creators defended their choices by saying that they never intended to do so. They only intended to push the envelope and create a provocative show that brought teen suicide and depression to the forefront. Fine, it’s believable if you don’t think that depicting a graphic suicide and two rapes on screen is more than just provocative. It stands if you don’t think that someone leaving tapes to secretly indict all of the people who supposedly contributed to her depression and, later, her suicide is a revenge fantasy. Alright, it doesn’t really stand, but let’s pretend it does.
The moment that the creators of 13 Reasons Why decided to create a second season and extend Hannah’s story beyond her death, they discredited any statement they made about not glamorizing the idea of using suicide as revenge. The second season could have been decent. The show could have sent a powerful message about how perception is reality, but there is more than one side to every story. These events may have existed in a larger context, and Hannah wasn’t perfect, but that’s just proof that you never know what someone else is going through. These are all messages the second season could have sent. Instead, they sent the message that a dead girl could influence her friends and her trial far beyond her death, and that’s irresponsible.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of drama on television. I can suspend my reality in order to enjoy a decent plot. However, there is a line that needs to be drawn when the subject matter of a show is as delicate as the subject matter of 13 Reasons Why. This show doesn’t just tackle depression and suicide. It tackles rape, PTSD, drug abuse, domestic violence, and more heavy topics. With handling these topics comes a responsibility to depict them carefully and realistically. You can’t throw caution to the wind and suspend reality for a compelling plot line in this case. This might be a fictional storyline, but it is a reality to countless teenagers and people of all ages. It should not be taken lightly.
I won’t lie and say that I didn’t want more of the characters’ stories. I want justice for Jessica just as much as I want justice for Hannah. I want Alex to see his potential, and I want Bryce to pay for being an awful human being. But, at this point, it makes me uncomfortable to think this story might continue. I hope that this show no longer exploits real-life trauma for entertainment purposes. I hope it no longer ignores how triggering it can be to those who have experienced rape, depression, etc. 13 Reasons Why might have enough material to create another season, but I sincerely hope that the story ends here.
I know that this show has truly helped some survivors cope with their experiences, and for that I am grateful. I’m happy that it could touch some lives in the way it was meant to. I’d just like to see these topics handled with more care, and I don’t think that this show and these creators are equipped to do so anymore.