By Rachel Poe
Right at the end of March, Netflix dropped its original series 13 Reasons Why, based on the bestselling book, and I binged it in about a day. This isn’t Netflix’s first attempt at creating a full-length series based off a bestseller. A Series of Unfortunate Events dropped earlier this year and I’m a big fan of this new trend. The best way to transfer a book into the screen is a serialized show, there’s no way around it so keep ‘em coming, Netflix.
Now, before we get into my analysis of the show, I just want to give a brief trigger warning. 13 Reasons Why deals explicitly with suicide, depression, bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and rape. So, take caution, please.
13 Reasons Why starts off roughly a couple weeks after 17-year-old Hannah Baker’s suicide. Our protagonist, Clay Jensen, is still reeling from the events himself but seems to be dealing with it in his own way. But whatever progress he has made is quickly thrown out the window when a set of tapes get left on his doorstep. The tapes, thirteen of them, are from Hannah and they explain the reasons why she killed herself, more specifically, the people she blamed for her death. The basic premise of the tapes is if you receive them, you are one of the reasons why. You have to then listen to all the tapes before passing them on to the next person and if you don’t, the second set of tapes will be released and everyone’s dirty little secrets will be revealed. Obviously, this can only spell trouble.
The show is pretty much just a drama fest for there on out. It’s clear early on that Clay’s been in love with Hannah or at least had a major crush on her since he met her at the beginning of their sophomore year. They seem to have a normal, positive friendship that started from working together at the local movie theater. At first, that’s the biggest question: why Clay? Ultimately, Hannah reveals that Clay shouldn’t even be on the tapes but deserved to know why she did what she did. Which, yeah, I thought was kind of a cop out but did play along with the character the creators had been building so I let it slide.
Hannah’s tapes pull no punches. She’s explicit about what happened to her, how she felt, the things she saw, and the revenge she wanted. It is this intricate web Hannah builds of stories, relationships, and possible lies of these seemingly average high schoolers that that kept me watching. No one is completely innocent of wrongdoing. Not only just the people on the tapes, but the person she trusted the second set and even Hannah herself all could have “done more.” Which I thought made the show all more realistic. Perfect people don’t exist, so neither should perfect characters.
The tapes reveal piece by piece how Hannah’s life began to crumble. It started with an unflattering picture and rumor and ended with a rape. Yeah. It’s a rollercoaster. Shows about high schoolers often show bullies doing something so obviously identifiable as bullying. What happens to Hannah is subtle but still completely soul crushing. On the surface, people seem to like her, but in the end, no one cared about her or her feelings. Or at least, as she put it, they didn’t care enough. It seemed that everyone was willing to throw Hannah under the bus to save their own skin.
On the flip side, there were people who were there to help Hannah. Her parents were supportive but she felt like nothing more than a burden, especially financially. She had Clay but she burned him too. He didn’t understand why Hannah was pushing him away so he just let her. On the last day of Hannah’s life, she tries to go to her school’s counselor but Hannah has a tendency to reach out for help in the most noncommittal ways. It’s basically her last lifeline but she can’t even get the words out. Hannah mentions her sexual assault but won’t give up the name and the counselor can’t really do anything. She expected the counselor to save her, but really it came down to Hannah to make that first leap to save herself.
Parallel to Hannah, Clay is also going through his own bout with mental illness. As he listens to the tapes, Clay experiences his own depression, mostly out of guilt, and it’s not a carbon copy of what Hannah went through. Hannah is what I would call a high-functioning depressed person. It’s very hard to tell she’s going through anything because she keeps up this happy appearance. Clay, on the other hand, is more visibly falling apart.
13 Reasons Why doesn’t shy away from the gruesome reality of suicide, sexual assault, and mental illness. The showrunners chose to explicitly show the sexual assaults and Hannah’s suicide, in graphic detail; to prove their point that there is nothing glamourous about suicide, nothing to romanticize about it. This show handles mental health in a way that I’ve never seen in any sort of media really. I think it reminds us that everyone is fighting a battle that no one else knows about. Outwardly, someone can seem completely fine just like Hannah did. This show forces you to think about society’s perception of depression and suicide as well as the causes and doesn’t trivialize it. If you’re in the mood for an emotional journey, it’s definitely worth the binge.