TW: Discussion of sexual assault, suicide, mental health issues and graphic violence.
If you own a Netflix account, or have been on the internet in the past week, you’ve probably heard that Netflix has release a second season to “13 Reasons Why”. In case you haven’t seen it, 13RW is about a girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide, and the show follows her friend, Clay Jensen, as he listens to the tapes she left behind as her suicide note. In each of the 13 tapes she left, she talks about a different person, and labels them as a ‘reason’ why she killed herself, hence the name 13 Reasons Why. Evidently, this show tackles issues not talked about much in media, especially when relating to teenagers. The first season got a lot of backlash from the public for
claiming to shed light on and promote a positive message about mental health, but overall coming off as showing suicide in a positive light, and being too oblique and jarring for the average teenager - its target audience - to watch.
In this article we’re going to look at season 2, which primarily focuses on the topic of sexual assault, and see how the show did with tackling another serious issue. Since we’re going to be talking about the whole season, be warned: SPOILERS ahead.
What it did well
One thing I saw in this season was a lot more focus on the “getting help” side of things, rather than just “here is the issue, now talk about it”. The main way they showed this was through Jessica’s storyline about her working through Bryce raping her. At the beginning of the season, she was unable to talk about the assault when testifying, however we see her attend a support group, and talk through it with a trusted friend. By the end of the season, with the help of her friends, she is able to get Bryce convicted.
Even though it wasn’t an entirely happy ending, with Bryce being able to weasel his way into a 3 month probation rather imprisonment, it gives survivors of sexual assault some hope for the future. Jessica’s storyline demonstrates how support networks can be used, while still highlighting the faults in the legal system, and how more needs to be done about this issue.
Another thing that this season did well was showing Hannah’s “reasons why not” list. At Hannah’s funeral, Hannah’s mum goes up to Clay and shows him a piece of paper which Hannah wrote titled “reason why not”. It shows that she was just a couple of reasons short of not making her fatal decision. Hannah’s mum then goes on to explain how there are, and will always be, more reasons why not. While this doesn’t make up for the traumatic scenes in the first season, it makes a start on shifting the show’s message to be more positive.
What it did NOT do well
I think the show’s biggest downfall is that everyone had an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this accurately depicts peoples’ lives, and how everyone has their own demons they need to battle with. However, for a TV show, they’ve spread themselves too thin. With too many different characters having different issues that they deal with, it is impossible to go into enough depth in what they’re going through or do the separate issues justice. This approach meant all these simultaneous story lines weren’t able to add any meaning to the show, or help anyone going through these issues.
A consistent theme that I’ve seen, and one that is promoted through its disclaimers, is that the show wants to start a conversation. Conversations are important, but just bringing up the issue, showing the bad bits and throwing it in the audience’s face doesn’t help start healthy conversations, or possibly any conversations at all. It is important that context is given to these issues, and it is shown to the audience that there is hope and help available.
For the most part when watching the show, I was pleasantly surprised at how they were avoiding graphic deceptions of anything, and weren’t showing traumatising scenes (such as the suicide scene in season 1). That was until I got to minute 38 of episode 13. It shows one of the main characters, Tyler, being beat up in the bathroom with another graphic thing happen to him, which I really don’t want to put into words. This scene is right after he is back from a retreat to deal with his anger issues, and the following scenes show how all that work is undone.
The precedent of help being available, of things getting better, of not showing graphic scenes, was all thrown out the window at this point. And it was all in the name of furthering the plot so they could get another season, and be jarring. It seems to me that consistently throughout both seasons they’re pushing the message of “Look at us! We’re so edgy and cool, we’ll show whatever graphic scenes we want because we’re rated MA15+”, rather than what they’re telling us, that they want to start conversations. Like I said before, THIS DOES NOT START HEALTHY CONVERSATIONS. It seems as though they are simply using these issues to produce shock value content and attract
more viewers, not to promote mental health awareness.
In theory, 13 Reasons Why is a show that could be really helpful, and necessary, for teenagers who are struggling. It is a very public platform in traditional media that is not afraid to talk about real, deeper issues that teenagers are struggling with on a daily basis. However, it needs to do better. If they want to talk about these issues, and promote positive messages, they need to take
on the responsibility of doing it right.