While I am convinced no one loves to cry as much as I do, I have a hard time believing many others could endure Netflix’s original series 13 Reasons Why without shedding a few tears…alone…in the dark… sobbing into a pillow. Based on the YA book by Jay Asher, the show chronicles the events both leading up to and following a teenaged-girl’s tragic and unexpected suicide. Her classmates may be telling their parents, teachers, and school guidance counselor that they barely knew Hannah Baker and are clueless as to why she would take her own life, but as a mysterious series of cassette tapes reveal, they may have had a more prominent role in her death than they’d like to believe.
Once I was immersed in the heartbreak and drama of Liberty High, I realized 13 Reasons Why is not the typical show I am known for binge-watching or nerding-out about. In fact, the only reason I even heard of it was thanks to a couple enthused (and persistent) co-workers who recommended it to me. Regardless of my usual tastes, something made me stick around– and it wasn’t just Alex Standall’s amazing hair. I mean seriously, how many times do you reckon they had to bleach his whole head to maintain that look?
Anyways, here are 13 of my many reactions to 13 Reasons Why. As always, kindly be aware there are MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. I won’t reveal any of the OMG moments, so if you don’t mind a few minor spoilers, then by all means, read on.
1) During the first few episodes I found myself cringing through some corny moments (let’s be honest, the “fml-forever” and “hot-chocolate friends” scenes were definitely a little cheese-ball). Also, did anyone else think Hannah’s flirting techniques were a little…huh?
2) Corny moments aside, I think this show head-on tackles some heavy topics such as bullying, sexual assault and victim-shaming in a realistic way. It exposes the true dangers and immediacy of modern-day technology and cyber-bullying, and asks the viewer to sit through shocking, even painful moments longer than what feels comfortable so you truly feel for the characters and what they are going through.
3) The characters’ motives and behaviors make sense, and the show does a great job fleshing out the characters back stories. You might think “God, why is Justin such a douche?” only to discover Justin has a shriveled up cigarette for a mother who lets her multiple scuzzy boyfriends wail on her son from time to time, so then you think “well, I might be a douche too in that case.” In this respect, even some of the most despicable characters on the show have their redeeming moments, or times where you reluctantly find yourself thinking “God, why do I feel sorry for this person?!”
4) I adored Clay Jensen. Watching this character navigate through his pain and confusion, blaming himself for the tragic death of the girl he secretly loved was heartbreaking. Upon listening to the tapes, Clay became Hannah Baker’s personal avenger, and where his courage had failed him in expressing his true feelings for Hannah when she was alive, he made up for with his bravery in seeking justice for her death.
5) This show does not shy away from stereotypes, but rather contradicts them. The most masculine character on the show is revealed to be gay, while the sweet, kind-hearted cheerleader is the one guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Jeff Atkins also defies the stereotype of the jock, as he is kind to everyone and takes a genuine interest in helping Clay with his social life–particularly in helping Clay hook up with Hannah. (By the way, I am SO not okay with what happened to Jeff. Loved that guy!)
6) Was anyone else super annoyed with Mrs. Jensen? I mean, don’t get me wrong–she wasn’t Justin Foley’s mother-level-bad-parent, but did anyone else realize she was the ONLY parent suspicious of her kid having anything to do with hurting Hannah? Also, it was so obvious Clay was deeply affected by the loss of Hannah Baker. Even though he never admitted it, a mother’s intuition should have at least told her that much, I mean the kid wasn’t bathing and skipped school to come home drunk– the signs were all there! How could she possibly take the case to defend the school against the grieving Bakers?!
7) Let’s all appreciate Alex Standall for a second, shall we? Yeah, he might have had a great sense of style, but I also lived for this guy’s sense of humor. Even though Alex did a shitty thing to Hannah, he was also the only one owning up to his actions and was deeply remorseful for what he’d done. We see Alex go through dramatic change on the show, as his guilt drags him into a depression that causes him to drop-out of jazz-band, lash out with violence (I’m sorry, but I actually loved that he slugged that prick Montgomery!) and exhibits unhinged actions against his own well-being.
8) The show makes it easy to differentiate between timelines– at Clay’s expense. Boy did that kid get roughed up over the course of this series. Not only did he crash his bike multiple times, he took a rock to the face (scaling that mountain of death), and then got the snot beat out of him by Bryce the Rapist. The gnarly battle-wounds and bandages on Clay’s face let you know when we are watching “after Hannah Baker’s suicide” and the clean, unscathed Clay is “before.”
9) Tyler Down may have been a little creepy– okay, obsessive-stalker would be a better word choice– but throwing rocks at his window, pulling his pants down in public, and constantly verbally berating him isn’t OK, either. I think after seeing Tyler with the trunk of assault rifles at the end of the series, we can only assume this character will be pushed by his peers to do the worst thing imaginable. This is an example of how different people will react differently to grief, and while Hannah chose to take her own life, Tyler may chose to take the lives of those afflicting his grief.
10) Y’all already know– Clay and Hannah had your girl in tears on more than one occasion. When I finally reached Clay’s tape, I thought I would be ready to embrace the heartache, but I so wasn’t. It was the little moments at the party that really got to me, like when Clay first reaches back to grab Hannah’s hand but they get separated in the crowd for a moment, or how he quickly corrects his interest in “girls” to “girl, singular” and you see Hannah’s face light up. And don’t get me started on Hannah’s flash-forward of how her future might have been with Clay– stabbed me right in the feels!
11) Hannah is not the hero of the story, and her suicide is not intended to be glamorized. She is just as imperfect as the rest of the characters. She craves attention–if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have left her classmates with such an elaborate production of a suicide note. She didn’t protect Jessica when she could have. She also deeply desires acceptance, even though she is aware the people she’s craving it from are not good people.
12) So I have to talk about it…the suicide scene. Man, was this painful to watch. When my brain first realized oh, shit, we’re really doing this… my next thought was: Wait!! You don’t have to do this! I was sick to my stomach knowing the potential and the great possibilities she was about to extinguish by her own doing. This scene was absolutely gut-wrenching for me, but I feel it was important that they left it uncensored. And Hannah’s parents reaction upon finding her…even more devastating. Let’s just say this whole scene left me heart broken and disturbed for days. #uglycry
13) So, now what? Is Tyler going to shoot up the school? Did he decide to spare Alex’s life because Alex had shown him compassion in the past? Is that why he took down Alex’s picture in the dark room? Or, was he the one that shot Alex, and then framed it as a suicide? Or, is it possible Alex actually did shoot himself, as we’ve seen him struggling with his regret throughout the series? Does this mean we get a season 2? SO many questions.
While it’s easy to start comparing what you might have said or done differently in any of the characters’ shoes, the lesson to be learned here is that “everything affects everything.” One simple action– kind or malicious– could trigger a series of events you might never expected to happen, for better or for worse. You can’t possibly predict how a person will react to your actions, and everyone has the right to feel the way they do. 13 Reasons Why does a great job of putting this into perspective. Just be good to one another, dammit!