Adapted from Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why is a much-needed fresh spin on the over-saturated teen drama genre. Centred on the suicide of Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, Clay Jensen, her classmate, co-worker and longtime crush, portrayed by Dylan Minnette, embarks on a slow-burn journey to discover her truth through pre-recorded cassette tapes she leaves him.
Unlike most of its predecessors, 13 Reasons tackles far more than just popularity and the quest for dates before winter formal. It opens up conversations about the stigmatised social issues of sexual assault and consent, oppressed feminine sexuality and encouraged hegemonic masculinity. The depictions of rape are uncomfortably real, almost unbearably so, as is the final scene in which we witness Hannah slicing her wrists with the razors she stole. The importance of authenticity is expressed through the gore of that bathroom scene, the underlying message clear that suicide isn’t a romanticised notion of revenge—but a last resort.
“Suicide is for the weak.” Skye, Clay’s estranged friend with scars on her wrists, says.
Hannah’s alienation, her escalated situation from school pariah to broken rape victim, is well-written and well-acted out. While the characters she condemns in her tapes scramble to excuse and defend their actions, by the end of her 13th tape we’re left with nothing but sympathy for her. The self-preservation we see in the other characters that are called-out by Hannah’s tapes is perhaps the scariest part of the whole narrative. It is very likely that there are, and unfortunately will continue to be, Hannah Bakers living through harassment and abuse. Similarly, it is also very likely that not far behind them are Bryce Walkers, Justin Foleys, Jessica Davises, Alex Standalls. The characters, even the typecast ‘baddies’, are complex, diverse and so flawed they’re as three-dimensional as Hannah.
As for a second season, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Jay Asher states, “I’d just like a continuation of all those characters.” He goes on to elaborate, asking, “What happens to Clay? How do people react to what Alex did at the very end? What’s going to happen to Mr. Porter?”
Originally, Jay Asher planned on having Hannah revealed to be alive in the end. Not only does the reality of Hannah’s suicide reflect just that—reality—it also highlights Clay’s speech to Mr. Porter about how we treat each other, consequences to actions and all the other philosophically moral questions the show imposes which would have all been undermined if Hannah was alive. A second season would, additionally, undermine the great strides taken as it would focus less on Hannah as a human and more of her as an afterthought. As a standalone series, 13 Reasons Why is a sensitive portrayal of a girl who couldn’t ask for help when she needed it and serves almost as a forewarning to teenagers and adults alike to never act when you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life.