Greetings, bloggers! By now, the majority of the world has binged watched the new Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why”, based on the 2007 young adult novel by Jay Asher. Released on March 31st, and dealing with teenage suicide, the show instantly became popular, but just as quickly, sparked up a ton of controversy. It deals with not just suicide, but also bullying, self harm, sexual harassment, consent, sexuality, grief and rape. I was on the fence as to whether or not I was too late to share my thoughts on the show, but as I have some topics to bring up, I figured that I might as well jump on the bandwagon. As always, if you disagree with me on any of the topics, it’s perfectly fine, as it’s just a case of differing personal opinions. Also, I’ll be discussing some plot points in detail, so spoilers abound!
The show focuses on amicable high school student, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), as he tries to deal with his feelings following the aftermath of the suicide of his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Before she passed, she recorded a series of 13 cassette tapes . Each tape chronicles the 13 people who triggered Hannah’s decision to take her own life. And Clay is one of them.
The tapes are passed from person to person, in a chain letter format. As Clay listens from Tape 1, Side A to Tape 7, Side A, and follows Hannah’s clues, he soon uncovers dark secrets about the students in his school, and the sinister lengths they will go to keep him quiet…
First, let’s mention the positive elements of the show. I enjoyed many of the flashback scenes, as they really fleshed out the characters, and explained the motivations behind many of their actions. The best flashbacks featured Clay and Hannah together, as their interactions were typically sweet and genuine. Hannah and Clay’s friendship is expanded more here than it was in the original novel, where they were distant acquaintances. They are depicted as having a closer banter here. Although Clay liked her, he held back admitting his feelings for her due to her exaggerated rumours about her alleged promiscuous reputation. In the present day scenes, Clay tries to seek out justice for Hannah, as he grows more unhinged while listening to the tapes.
Another positive that I wish to mention is the addition of story lines. As the book takes place over the course of one day, we really only get to hear Clay’s and a few other’s reactions to the tapes, and don’t get to see how events play out afterwards. Here, we get to see Hannah’s distraught parents (Kate Walsh and Brian D’arcy James) come to terms with their daughter’s death, as they bring up a lawsuit against the school for not doing anything to help her when she was alive, and the many of the kids featured on the tapes trying to stop Clay from releasing the information to the public to save their own skins. These reactions helped to project the story with a dose of realism, and helped to embrace the repercussions behind their actions.
Now onto the negatives! As you can probably guess from a show about suicide, the mood is somber and bleak throughout, with melodrama added for additional angst factor. Many of the “subjects” of the tapes are downright awful people, adamant that they did nothing to warrant the blame. However, a select few do feel genuinely remorseful or try to atone for their actions. In fact, one culprit feels so overcome by their role in Hannah’s death that they end up attempting suicide themselves, with their fate left ambiguous by series’ end.
In one of the last episodes, viewers find out what Clay did to end up on the tapes. It transpires that unlike many of the others, his reason didn’t plunge her deeper into suicidal notions, but she still feels she owes him an explanation for acting weird at a party they attended. His only “crime”, so to speak, was exiting the bedroom when Hannah suddenly freaked out during a make out session, and she yelled at him to leave, as she recalled other traumas that had happened beforehand. Clay feels that had he stayed, Hannah might have lived. In my opinion, there was nothing that he could have done to help her, since she was so far past the point of saving. In a realistic sense, nobody in that situation would have stayed, and although Clay tried his best to console her, it was ultimately no use.
One thing that bugged me was Hannah’s motivations behind sending out the tapes. Yes, they were designed to make the subjects regret the way they treated her, but at the end of the day, suicide is a decision that a person makes themselves. No matter how despicable some of the “reasons” may have been, it did seem rather extreme to have many of these characters blame themselves for a choice someone else chose to make. Suicide is never anyone else’s fault, and it is never a way to get revenge on those who have wronged you. The show does a good job in demonstrating the affects of suicide on the victim’s friends and loved ones, and how there’s usually more questions than answers.
In summary, my general consensus about the show is that it offers a realistic look, if extremely pessimistic view of high school life. With a topical subject as suicide at the helm of the show, it was inevitable even before it was released that it would receive some backlash for some of its more harrowing content, no matter how the show runners chose to present it. While some of these scenes, most notably Hannah’s infamously graphic suicide, are deliberately intended to be hard to watch, I feel that it was ultimately the right decision to show them front and centre. It was important that these issues be addressed,as just because it’s an uncomfortable subject to talk about, doesn’t mean that it needs to be ignored entirely.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” rates as 3 and half stars out five. It bravely tackles difficult topics, but may upset more sensitive viewers. Finally, I’ll close out this review by stating that if you or anyone you know have suicidal thoughts, tell someone you trust, or contact the “Samaritans” suicide prevention website. It’s important to note that no matter how lost or alone you may feel, that suicide is not the only opinion, and that things do get better in time!