13 Reasons Why is a very controversial show. On one side it depicts some very graphic and disturbing material that has caused some people to feel triggered watching the content, but on the other it has brought the very same issues that these themes and this story focuses on to the spotlight so that people who feel like they are in a similar situation can seek help.
While you may love or hate the first season of this show, the actual adaptation of the book was handled very well. However, that was just the end of Hannah’s story so it left room to explore the rest of the lives of Liberty High’s student body and that was enough to give this show’s second season a chance.
The main story of season two revolves around the aftermath of Hannah’s death as each of the characters go through their own journeys of healing and self-discovery. Liberty High is forced to go to trial against Hannah’s parents who blame the school’s toxic environment for their daughter’s death. As various friends and peers of Hannah’s are called to take the stand, Clay begins to receive a series of cryptic polaroids that lead him to uncover a sick secret that the school is covering up. As the trial comes to a close, the various characters try to find closure, with some doing better than others, leaving Clay and his friend to decide what to do with the conspiracy they’ve discovered.
What made 13 Reasons Why have such a cultural impact was its brutally honest depiction of its themes surrounding bullying, the objectification of women, the toxic high school atmosphere, assault and suicide. Its first season centered around all of these themes and how they affected one character: Hannah Baker while touching on the subplots of other students dealing with similar situations. The protagonist Clay learns more and more about Hannah’s truths and the world she was forced to live in due to these themes and the ever-growing walls that built up around her. Season two tackles similar themes albeit it from a different angle.
The story continues to focus on Hannah Baker, but instead of how she dealt with these themes through her eyes it changes the perspective to how others perceived her to deal with (or not deal with) these problems. By doing so the focus on Hannah’s struggles with these themes is pushed to the background as the ensemble of students deal with their own issues. This allows the audience to see how various personalities would be affected by the different struggles that Hannah faced with some people more able to cope than others. Of these stories the most compelling is that of Jessica’s (Alisha Boe) struggles as an assault survivor.
Unfortunately, this season is unable to replicate the thought-provoking and deeply realistic themes of the first season’s story. The narrative becomes uneven, choppy and downright laughable at some points as the characters navigate their way throw a terribly scripted and unrealistic trial. Despite the show’s best efforts to change the focus to a topical commentary about struggles that teens face in high school, the characters are poorly written with no one ever really deserving genuine sympathy as most of these people come across as terrible individuals.
Despite all of this season’s shortcomings in terms of its thin characters and ridiculous story, its biggest offenses are some overtly romanticized and disturbing sequences it tries to highlight as its big moments of the season. (Warning there will be some major spoilers from now on). Showing that bullying and sexual assault is an issue for not only females was a strong storyline to have in this season, but it was executed very poorly. Not only is the actual assault the most disturbing scenes on any show, but the fallout sends a very poor message. The character’s solution to his assault is to go to the dance and commit a school shooting leaving the lesson that bullying can be solved this way.
Furthermore the whole school shooting storyline is handled incredibly poorly to the point that it appears it was reshot haphazardly in wake of the current wave of tragedies. Instead of call the police or get an adult, the students try to reason with the shooter believing that friendship can save anyone and in this romanticized cliffhanger it does. With a character like that who is so far gone, the ability to talk them off the ledge the way it was portrayed was entirely unrealistic and sets a precedent to students that maybe they can save someone from committing a tragedy even if they have a rifle pointed at them. It looks like Netflix found themselves wanting to change a drastically more graphic and disturbing original ending to something that would be appropriate given the current climate of society. Unfortunately, the way it is done comes across as worse than a strong and sensible depiction of the former could have been.
This season of 13 Reasons Why is a bold topical teen drama that fails to expand on the heart and soul of its source material. While the themes of its first season are still intact and its trademark shock and awe moments are still at the center of its storytelling, the thinly written characters, terribly executed trial narrative and brutal ending give this show less reasons as to why to watch than more as to why not. From its inability to make any of its characters truly redeemable people to its flat, uneven plot, this season comes across as more campy than courageous so it’s not worth the watch.
What did you think of 13 Reasons Why? Was the second season necessary? Let me know in the comments!
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