Last week I finished the second season of the controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. Like most people who have watched this season I finished feeling angry, frustrated and sad. Many times throughout these 13 episodes I yelled at the tv, or cursed at my laptop late at night, and texted my friend Rachel in all capital letters sharing my various thoughts. Unlike a lot of people I don't hate this show. I find the story gripping and the characters interesting. But there is so much more about this show that needs to be unpacked that goes far beyond a gripping story.
Now lets take a few steps back: I believe the first season was quiet good. While I would get frustrated about how this show was advertised as a tool to spread mental health awareness instead of a tool to shed light on bullying, I thought it was a well made show. The acting was good and it talked about some very real and timely problems. I finished the first season with even more of a passion to make sure that younger generations feel seen and valued. Of course the first season is not without it's problems but those have been discussed in length for over a year now. When I look at the second season however, I did not leave that viewing experience inspired to change the world and make it better, I felt far more troubled.
The second seasons picks up a short time after the first season finishes. Hannah Bakers parents are suing her high school for being responsible for her suicide/not helping when they easily could have. Each episode goes through a different character(s) testifying in order to help either Hannah's parents or the school. As I watched each episode I felt further invested into the story. I wanted to see some sort of justice come about for the many injustices that have taken place on this show. Topics such as sexual assault, bullying and gun violence are discussed and portrayed on this show (as many of you already know). I firmly believe these topics should not be avoided but I sit here wrestling with this idea that the show runners intentions have been vastly misplaced.
(Mature Content and Spoilers From This Point On)
My main issue with the second season is the last episode. As is the issue for many more individuals who have watched this show. The last episode shows the characters finally being able to have a funeral for Hannah. Speeches are made that speak to the idea of closure as well as being able to let go of people we love. The sentiments are heartfelt and important, showing the audience that there is a time and place to move forward from tragedy. There is then a sequence showing everyone resuming Hannah's celebration of life at the local coffee shop. Everyone is displaying what true community should be and you see the characters finally coming to terms with the tragedy's that have taken place. Even Jessica, a key character discusses the peace she finally feels even though her and Hannah's rapist didn't end up getting jail time. Everything begins to wrap up nicely and would've been a fine end to this series.
Then the last half hour of the episode happens. We see one of the male characters, Tyler (seen as an outcast) be brutally sexually assaulted by a group of guys on the baseball team. It is absolutely horrifying. Tyler then shows up to the school dance with multiple firearms ready to make his own justice. Luckily he is stopped by the main character, Clay. Now I am normally not the kind of person who would shy away from certain content to make a point, but in this context it just feels so wrong. Mental health experts who worked on the show even stated that trying to be "the hero" and stop a shooter in that manner is not what you should do.
Brian Yorkey, the executive producer of the show, talks about how Tyler's scenes were made the way they were in order for the audience to experience radical empathy. He said the purpose was so that whatever feelings one may have for Tyler's character that in the moment of seeing his assault, we all feel his pain therefore showing we all share the same humanity. He also talks about how not portraying X, Y, and Z in the media does not make it go away, it only means we are not talking about it. There is a part of me that could see his side but looking back on this shows second season and how it started to organically wrap up the only purpose I could see with these scenes is: shock value and making money. I feel as though my opinion was even more confirmed when I found out this show was renewed for a third season. Let us not forget that the entire first season covered the book it was based off of. There are no more books, and it feels like the story is just grasping at straws.
So much more could be said about this show and the topics surrounding it but I will wrap up with this: this is a show that has been marketed to a younger audience and that is dangerous. The ideas presented are dangerous. There are better ways to help our beloved youth and exploiting tragedy in order to shock people is not the way to do it.