I’m not sure you’ve heard of it, but there is a controversial show out on Netflix. Based on the fictional novel by Jay Asher, and released in 2007, 13 Reasons Why revolves around thirteen tapes created by Liberty High School student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) before she takes her life.
13 REASONS WHY WE ARE TORN
The tapes are Hannah’s explanation as to why she made her decision: each tape is a reason based on a series of events that caused her to give up hope. The catch is that Hannah made sure to send the tapes collectively to one of the people she mentions…with a plan for everyone on the tapes to listen to them on their own, opening their eyes to their own part in Hannah’s death. If they don’t continue to pass on the tapes, someone who holds a copy of them (not included on the tapes themselves) will make the tapes public. In the story, we follow Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to the tapes and relives Hannah’s life through her eyes.
Spoiler Alert: This show does not have a happy ending, and quite frankly, doesn’t have many “feel-good” moments. It does however open the door to many discussions about mental illness, suicide, bullying, and our society’s responsibility in each of these issues. Hence, some intense controversy.
In the tapes, Hannah left a map with certain points to go to while listening to specific aspects of each tape. We travel with Clay as he sees through Hannah’s eyes into each event, each experience first-hand. As an audience, we have the opportunity to get Clay’s perspective as well as Hannah’s. It’s a unique blend of each of their memories. From past to present, present to past, we flip flop back and forth between their memories as Clay works though the reality of Hannah’s life, trying to piece together what led to her death. We are watching the story unfold from both perspectives: outsider looking in and insider looking out. It creates an ominous dynamic, occasionally touching on some of the other students’ stories in the present. We see how Hannah’s death and her “resurrection” on these tapes is affecting their lives. Most importantly, we see how they change, or don’t, through learning of their own part they played in ripping away Hannah’s hope.
Hannah is (was?) snarky, abrasive, and closed off for most of this show. Her attitude never really changes throughout the series. Although quite an accurate depiction of a high school female, I believe it gives the wrong message. Hannah continues to blame others for leaving her or hurting her. Meanwhile she continues to snap, argue, and put down most everyone in her life, keeping even her parents at arm’s length. When she does take responsibility for something, it destroys her and she still continues to blame someone else in that. It seems as though nothing is really Hannah’s fault and that she is justified in her actions and reactions. The story line glorifies and justifies her decision to take her life, and with it, the students’ lives too.
On the flip side, this show is quite possibly the most accurate depiction of high school I’ve seen come out of Hollywood. All the cliques, the drama, the social media, the size of the school itself…I was pleasantly surprised with each of these factors. The school wasn’t overly massive with a crushing amount of students. The cliques of jocks, rich kids, popular cheerleaders, popular smart girls, the “in-between” crowd, and the people no one really talks to were spot on. They did a fantastic job of portraying Clay and Hannah as the in-between crowd. By “in-between,” I mean the kids that get along with almost everyone but don’t have a specific niche they fall into. We see that Hannah and Clay bond over the course of the show because of this commonality. We’re able to see how every type of high school student lives and interacts with others. Whether they interact with other students, strangers, their parents, or teachers, we’re ingrained in their stories and we’re constantly learning more about them individually. The character development in this show and how it continually leaves room for mystery during the whole series is just phenomenal.
I do have a question about casting: how did these guys discover so many outstanding teenage/young adult actors for this show? Each actor embraced their character and convinced me that they weren’t just acting, but that they were real. I’m not even sure I can pick a favorite out of this cast.
Dylan Minnette as Clay blew me away. He captured the awkwardness and naivete of Clay’s character perfectly when it came to girls (aka Hannah), but also Clay’s gentle and ever-caring heart. I loved watching Clay’s character grow and mold into someone who becomes a stalwart protector of what’s right. I especially loved being a part of Clay’s growing awareness for others, especially in regards to Skye.
Katherine Langford as Hannah. Need I say more? Although Hannah’s character was not exactly my favorite, Langford did a wonderful job of portraying an angsty, confused teenage girl trying to find herself. She never breaks character. Langford’s performance made this show, period. All the way until the very end, we get to truly experience what Hannah is feeling through Langford’s acting: heartbreak, joy, insecurities, anger, fear, and eventually numbness. Overall, an outstanding performance for Langford that I’m sure other directors noticed.
Christian Navarro as Tony, aka “unhelpful Yoda” encapsulates his nickname perfectly. His cryptic, unclear direction for Clay seems to hold an unknown edge that you discover deeper into the show. Also, he’s just a precious character, which helps our fondness of him grow past our skepticism throughout. Seriously, how cute is that nickname Clay gives him?
Those few being some main characters, other special mentions are…everyone. I’m not joking. The parents, the teachers, the students–this cast blew the roof off! Special thank you to the directors for assembling such a diverse cast! It was a natural, unforced diversity, and it was refreshing.
I do have to mention another aspect of high school this show got right: clothing and makeup. Thank you to the costume designer Caroline B. Marx and the makeup department! Finally, a show where we see an actual picture of how teenagers dress and look.
The girls in this show had all different kinds of outfits, hair styles, and light makeup. The outfits were down-to-earth, diverse, and fit each character perfectly. For example, we see Hannah in a cute, floral dress with a jean jacket one day, and in skinny jeans, a t-shirt, and a beanie the next day. There’s variety in her wardrobe we don’t always see in shows like this, which encourages the viewer to track with her moods through the costumes as well as her acting. The girls’ makeup was light, but noticeable. It drew out the youthfulness and innocence of each character, pulling you into their impressionable world of high school. Definitely one of this show’s strong points.
Unfortunately, these strong points weren’t enough to dredge up a good review on my part.
The reason this show initially intrigued me was due to the interesting story line. I was hoping for some explanation of the struggles teenagers face and how to detect warning signs of someone contemplating suicide. I was continually waiting for Hannah to exhibit key signs that she was clinically depressed or that she was struggling to find reasons to choose life. We don’t see the idea of suicide cross her mind until one of the last episodes. When she decides to follow through, it’s a quick, revenge-based process, quite unlike a majority of people who choose to take their own lives.
One of my biggest issues with this show involves neglect. The show neglects to address the fact that Hannah very clearly had a mental illness. It’s never even alluded to once. Her reactions are glanced over as typical teenage girl behavior. She needed professional help dealing with all the things that she experienced. Hannah didn’t know how to cope in a healthy way and it piled up on her shoulders. She very clearly struggles with depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), anxiety, and co-dependency issues. On top of all this, no one in the show shares how to handle mental illness, what the warning signs of suicide are, or how to respond if you think someone is contemplating taking their life. It’s implied that if we’re all just “nicer to each other” suicide will just go away. The actuality of suicide is that it’s not always about bullying or other people. It’s an internal battle between reality and what seems like reality. I’ve been there, and I have people near and dear to me that have been there. Some battles won, some battles lost.
The 13 Reasons Why novel has been critically acclaimed for years now, winning multiple awards and innumerable positive reviews. It seems as though the book has gotten a more positive reaction than the Netflix series however. The original series seems to vary from the novel, sometimes significantly and in graphic instances. I personally have not read the novel, however I have seen numerous comments on social media and around the internet that warn viewers who have read the novel that the show is much more graphic in nature. There are scenes that even I, a 25 year old woman, couldn’t watch and had to fast-forward through (i.e. rape and a very graphic suicide). Not many know my own struggle with anxiety disorder and my past of being a victim of sexual assault as a child, but watching just the beginning of those scenes was enough to cause me some severe anxiety. The episodes containing each graphic scene begin with a warning. My own personal opinion is that the warnings were much too vague and did not prepare me for the intense graphic content. To think that teenagers have watched a rape scene (multiple times) and a scene containing a suicide from start to finish, makes me sick. I understand what the directors were trying to convey (that rape is wrong and far too common, and that suicide is not the right choice when life falls apart), but I don’t think that much graphic content was needed to convey those ideas, especially in relation to Hannah’s “How-to” suicide scene.
SPOILER: The only positive thing about Hannah’s suicide scene is the closeup of her face as she initially begins the process: fear and regret. She realizes too late that this was the wrong choice and has to come to terms with that in her last few moments. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Spoiler ended!
I know I’m not alone in saying this, but I felt that 13 Reasons Why romanticized suicide, making it seem like a game to make everyone feel guilty for hurting this girl. It felt like we should be cheering for Hannah succeeding in escaping all the things that have hurt her in this life and sticking it to her “abusers.” To be honest, I was left feeling sorry for all the people she left to mourn alone and the students who’s lives will be branded forever. I was left with a hole in my heart bigger than it was when I started. Suicide should never be entertainment.
Although the plot was initially interesting, and the acting was spectacular, I have to conclude that overall this show severely disappointed me, mainly in regard to the fact that they left out any help that someone might need if they were going through any number of the things they portrayed. The acting and the authenticity of the high school scene saved this show from a much lower score from me.
- Fantastic acting from the entire cast. From main character to supporting roles, this cast nailed it.
- Costume and makeup were diverse and encouraged the mood of each scene, as well as staying true to how teenage girls actually dress.
- The writing was intriguing and mysterious throughout. I was left deliberating who was involved next and why almost regularly. There were multiple perspectives and story lines happening all at once, intertwining with each other until the end. This made for a fascinating ride of a show.
- This show has raised awareness for many important topics: bullying, mental health, sexual assault, PTSD, and suicide awareness. It was refreshing to find a show that didn’t shy away from the white elephants in our society.
- The graphic content used was unnecessary. Although I understand why the directors thought it was a good idea, I disagree that anyone has to ever see things that disturbing. Luckily, there’s only a handful of these scenes.
- This show is undoubtedly for a mature audience. The only time I received a warning was when the episodes containing the full scene were coming up, at which point I was fully invested in this show. I’m sure I missed something while I was fast-forwarding through scenes threatening another anxiety attack… Parents: Make sure you watch this show before your teenagers do or with them so you can talk with them about the issues they witness.
- “Romanticized” suicide, making it sound less serious than it is.
- Unrealistic portrayal of how suicide exhibits itself in someone’s life.
- There was no content in the show portraying how to help someone going through any of the struggles in real life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal crisis, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are worth it.
Welcome to Chelsey Silvus (aka The Tuna, Tina, T3, Chelly, etc…) is one of the Geekiverse’s newest members. She is most renown for her awkward yet lovable personality and one liners, as well as her love for all things geek. #WelcomeToChelsey
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