The first season of 13 Reasons Why made me uncomfortable. It was not an easy show to watch, but it was well-made, and the actors did a really good job with the material. My feelings about the subject matter and the story were mixed, and are even more so now since the allegations about author Jay Asher. He denies them and says he was wrongfully accused, but like… ugh. Let’s not go there.
Based on what I’ve been reading about this season online, a lot of people agreed with me that this show had no reason to be renewed for a second season. Regardless of how you felt about the story told in season 1, the whole story was told. The narrator Hannah Baker constructed a tight narrative through cassette tapes that concluded with a gratuitous and triggering suicide scene. I really don’t know what else there is to say.
But of course Netflix saw that there was more money to be made on this concept and more wounds to be salted.
Let's break this down. Shall we? Here are some of the reasons 13 Reasons Why should not have had a second season, what Netflix tried to do to respond to that issue, and whether or not I think it worked:
1. There Are No More Cassette Tapes
So Season 1 was nicely organized, which I appreciate. Each episode was one cassette tape detailing the reasons why one person was partially to blame for Hannah Baker's imminent suicide (I know, I'm not happy about that either, but I do appreciate the organization). But yeah... there were thirteen tapes. Then she died. There are no more tapes. So how is season 2 going to recreate that same structure that was so integral to the first season?
The answer? Polaroids. Sorta. So some mystery person is giving our main character Clay polaroids that incriminate other dudes at his school, specifically serial rapist Bryce. Sometimes there is a new polaroid in the episode. Sometimes there isn't.
It seems to me like more of the organization comes from the trial that's going on throughout the season. Hannah Baker's mom is trying to blame the school for her daughter's suicide, claiming they didn't do enough to prevent it or whatever. And different kids from the school are brought to the stand to talk about their experiences at the school. These become sort of the anti-tapes. We heard Hannah's version of events but these testimonies give the subjects of Hannah's tapes a chance to tell their version of their stories.
So does this work? Obviously, it's disorganized compared to last season, and the polaroid motif is not working for me at all. As for the court testimonies, I like the idea that we learn a different side of Hannah than the one she projected through her tapes. We begin to understand that truth is a difficult thing to reach and that everyone has a different understanding of who a person was and what their relationship to that person was. Specifically, I'm talking about Hannah here. Yes, sometimes the people brought to the stand lie but Hannah omitted truths as well.
What's annoying about this though is how much it makes me hate Clay, who seems to believe he had some sort of ownership over who Hannah was as a person. Each person's story brings into question the Hannah he thought he knew, and he gets really emo about it. Like, fuck, dude, she didn't belong to you. She was a human being. Some of this was commented on and picked apart, but we're still supposed to sympathize with Clay at the end of the day, which I found difficult.
2. Hannah Baker is Super Dead
Hannah Baker was dead in Season 1, but most of the story was told in flashbacks, told through cassette tapes Hannah recorded before she died. But as I mentioned in the last rant, those are done. She had thirteen tapes and then she killed herself. There are no secret unreleased tapes.
But despite Hannah Baker's story being over, the show really needed to keep this character around, not just as a character in other people's stories of her, but as a storyteller herself because that's how the audience has come to know her and love her. And I will say this character was excellently played by Katherine Langford. That girl's got a bright future. So I get why they wanted to keep her around.
How did they manage it? Our main character Clay starts having visions of Hannah. She follows him everywhere and talks to him and tries to help him through his pain. Considering how I feel about Clay's feelings of ownership over Hannah, you might be able to guess I was not too happy about this development. It was super weird. And also not really Hannah but Clay's distorted vision of Hannah. As much as I love Langford, seeing her in these moments was really grating and obviously a clear reach to keep her in the show as much as possible.
3. Triggering Images of Suicide and Rape
One of the main criticisms of Season 1 was its depiction of suicide, which some saw as triggering and dangerous. Many critics thought it was irresponsible of the show to portray suicide and rape so graphically without giving any sort of warning messages prior to the content. At the time, the creators of the show seemed unapologetic about their content and disagreed about their responsibility to deliver such content in a sensitive and thoughtful way.
Their response this season? The first episode begins with a warning about the content of the show, suggesting that people dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts should maybe not watch. They also offer information for who to contact if you are considering suicide.
But then there's the rape content, which continues to be a big part of the show this season. As if Bryce's actions weren't enough, there's then the scene in the final episode where a teen boy is raped with a mop handle in a school bathroom. The scene, like all of the other rape scenes and violent scenes in this season and previous seasons, went on for a long time and seemed gratuitous and irresponsible. Even though the creator has defended his choice on multiple occasions, I can't help but feel like it's all just for shock content, more than it is to tell these stories of sexual assault in a responsible way.
4. The Shock Factor
Season 1 was shocking to people for reasons already stated, so with Season 2, it seems like (despite what creators say their intentions were) shock factor and getting to more hot button issues was the major goal. The show attempt to accomplish this by leaning more heavily into its critique of rape culture and sexual assult, making a clear nod to the #MeToo Movement, including violent scenes of male rape and its aftermath, and ending with a storyline about gun violence in schools. It felt like the show was more about squeezing as much shock and hot button issues into each episode as possible, trying to convince its audience that it really fucking cared about delving into any of these things. But then instead of actually saying anything about any of this stuff, the show just leaves it there for us and makes no commentary about it.
Clearly this annoyed me more than anything and I'm starting to get incoherent about it, so I'm just going to move on.
5. Just A Few Final Thoughts
This isn't really a reason Season 2 shouldn't have happened. I just wanted to make a few random last minute comments about this season:
- That guy who is supposed to be Tyler's friend was clearly just a catalyst to make Tyler turn "bad." So much so that I kept waiting for the big reveal that he was an imaginary friend and that really Tyler had just been shooting guns in the woods by himself this whole time.
- I loved that Wilson Cruz was on this season because Ricky from My So-Called Life is one of the greatest TV show characters of ALL TIME. But god, this man deserves better.
- I kind of liked the fact that Zach and Hannah had a secret romance, even though Zach is a trash human.
- Did anyone else completely forget about Justin Foley? No? Just me? When they picked him off of the streets, I was seriously like, "Who is this dude?" And I had to Google him. Then I remembered he's a terrible person, and that's probably why I blocked him out. I didn't like his "redeeming" storyline this season.
- Basically all of the guys on this show are terrible people. Except for... nope, it's all of them.
- It seems like they're already planning a Season 3 for this show, and I feel like I'm going to end up watching it because I'm a completist. But I'm really mad about it.