This isn’t a true review of 13 REASONS WHY because, honestly, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I want to recommend it (simply because of its much-needed message), and Netflix’ latest pop culture hit deserves most of the acclaim it is receiving… but I can’t exactly call it a ‘good’ show, either.
In order to explain why, I’ll need to get into specific details involving both the plot and conclusion, so please consider this a final warning to not proceed any further if you don’t want anything spoiled for you.
Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) is the new girl in school, and Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) is the socially-awkward boy who, clearly, likes her — and, almost immediately, gets friendzoned after Hannah catches the attention of star athlete Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn). It’s a clichéd, teen romance set-up that we have seen time and again… but with all of the trappings of a Shakespearean tragedy.
Our story begins after Hannah fatally slits her own wrists — and with her placing blame for her suicide on the actions of thirteen people (including both Clay and Justin) who contributed to her demise. And here is where my first major issue with the story comes into play.
Depression, suicide, and general mental health issues are important topics we tend to shy away from simply because they make most of us feel uncomfortable. While many pretend to care, it’s just far easier to dismiss people as being ‘crazy’ or ‘damaged’ than it is to figure out anything concerning causes or solutions. I know because I have been on both sides of the equation.
I was completely unfamiliar with the original novel, but the subject matter (and I only knew the bare minimum) made the Netflix series a ‘must watch’ for me. So, imagine my level of disappointment when 13 REASONS WHY turned out to be a bizarre revenge story.
This is a story about a teenage girl who exposes the ‘crimes’ (both morally, and in a legal sense) that were committed against her by way of a series of cassette tapes that she leaves behind as the most detailed suicide note in history — which is no small feat considering how bad Hannah is at communicating throughout the entire series.
All of that aside, though, Hannah Baker is NOT a heroic character. Yes, she is a true victim (several times over, in fact), but her actions throughout the story range from hypocritical to rather contemptuous.
Let’s forget for a moment about how she, posthumously, outed one of her former friends as being gay (and another as being a rape victim)… or the minor role she played in the death of a classmate… or how she tormented another ex-friend into putting a gun to their head… or even how her encouragement of both the stalking and harassment of a fellow student helped galvanize a potential school shooter. Yes, let’s forget about all of that for a second, and focus on Clay.
In Hannah’s attempt to blame others for her ultimate action, she purposefully makes Clay (her one true friend/the guy who loves her/the guy she secretly wants to be with) believe that she considers him partially responsible for her desire to die.
And she does so until she gets towards the end of Tape 11 (of 13).
From a storytelling perspective, I completely understand why this happens, but what is terribly alarming is the number of young women in the viewing audience who have begun to idolize the actions of this tragic figure. When it comes to Clay, Hannah is unfair at various points throughout — but her grand attempt at seeking revenge causes him to suffer for no reason, at all. And it nearly kills him. Twice.
And, yeah, I am also a little uneasy with the whole glorification of suicide thing. While the graphic scene is just that (and extremely uncomfortable to watch), there’s an 800-pound gorilla just hanging out in the room: Hannah’s revenge plan actually works. She is able to expose quite a few secrets that will change the lives of many, and all she had to do was kill herself.
At the end of the day, I mostly enjoyed the show. The first three episodes were slow-moving, and the following five were only slightly more engaging. It wasn’t until Episode 9 that the show finally hits its stride — and, by then, I stopped caring for any character outside of Clay.
And that is my biggest complaint about 13 REASONS WHY.