If there is a pop culture phenomenon sweeping the nation, chances are, I’ll check it out. As usual, I’m late, but I’ve binged the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. And I’ve read some of the opinions and backlash regarding the show. Think what you will, but here’s my take on it. **Spoilers. Obviously.**
- Clay and Hannah: Yes, the show is heavy, depressing, and all too real, but these two had awesome chemistry, and honestly it’s what kept me watching. Their “romance” is why I still watch shows/movies set in high school. It’s sweet. Clay completely represents the type of guy I would’ve had a crush on in high school. It was easy to understand why Hannah was drawn to him. I think you can find this guy in most high schools. I hope so anyway. I loved watching Hannah and Clay together, especially in their Crestmont uniforms. Cuteness overload. And that montage of them as a couple was too much to deal with.
- Why doesn’t anyone have curtains??? If you’re afraid you’re being stalked or watched, shut your blinds. Buy some curtains. Change your clothes in the bathroom. That whole thing was so ridiculous to me. No curtains anywhere? Seriously. Get it together. If I thought I heard a camera as I was opening my door, I wouldn’t waste a second before shutting all the blinds once I got inside. Actually, that’s a lie. Because they’d already be closed! To their credit, many shows are guilty of a lack of curtains. And it always bothers me.
- Tony: Are we really supposed to believe Tony is in high school? He looks about 30. That aside, what is up with this guy? I’ve read some theories that he’s a ghost or some kind of guardian angel. I’m not buying it, but there is definitely more to him that we don’t know about. He’s everywhere, and frankly it got annoying. When Clay was crying in the shower, I expected Tony to pull back the curtain. I do like his character. I thought the rock climb was unnecessary–being in the right head space? that was the point of that?–and sometimes I wished he was just back off, but all-in-all I think he helped Clay stay sane and get through the tapes. But I don’t understand why he was chosen by Hannah to take care of things.
- Teacher Fails: This really bothered me. As a former teacher, I know the protocol for anything “troubling”. When the communications class teacher read that message (something about not wanting to feel anything anymore? Something to that effect) she needed to turn that in. That day. Yes, she tells the guidance counselor in the end, but that was weeks later, right? It is an obligation to turn in such a note. Period. I’ve had to do it. True, Hannah’s note didn’t have her name on it, and I’m not saying it would’ve saved Hannah’s life had it been turned in, but I do believe it would have started a conversation that was lacking in this whole thing–but I’ll save that for another number. The point is, not turning in that note was a BIG DEAL, and I feel like it was glossed over. The second teacher fail comes from the teacher reading Hannah’s poem. OK, yeah, the poem is anonymous. And this teacher didn’t know it was printed without permission, nor did she know the author was sitting in the room. (I’m assuming.) Who cares. I don’t understand how that zine was even published. An independent study? Is that how they sold that idea? Aside from the physical abuse, this entire poem storyline was the most damaging to Hannah, IMO. Poetry is so personal–if you’re doing it right–and to have it stolen and printed and read was just wrong. Especially when you consider that poetry group was sort of like a safe place for her. And it was ruined.
- It’s good to be old(er). I can’t adequately express how thankful I am to have experienced high school before social media. It’s terrible. Kids are terrible. High school is hard enough without that added layer of invasion and hatred. I think bullying was always “a thing” but it seems much more harsh now. And easier because of the anonymity of being online. It just amazes me how fast a rumor can spread with technology. How quickly reputations are dashed and lives are forever changed. And it’s all so easy! The picture of Hannah on the slide made its way around the classroom, student to student, like it was nothing. Something so stupid set everything in motion. It’s just a picture, right? It wasn’t sent to destroy someone, but that’s one of the points of the show as a whole, I think: how our actions, however insignificant they may appear, can affect others.
- Too graphic? Here’s where the controversy comes into play. But, you know, I think had they glossed over Hannah’s suicide, it wouldn’t have been the full story. Unlike some viewers/critics, I don’t think they glamorized the suicide at all. There was nothing glamorous or appealing about that scene. I know I’m not a suicidal teen, but I didn’t watch Hannah slit her wrists, and think, yeah, I think that’s the way to go. And I can’t imagine someone watching the scene and being inspired by it. It’s painful to watch, because it’s supposed to be. But I’m glad they didn’t shy away. I have not read the book, but apparently, Hannah uses pills instead. And while death is death, I don’t think having Hannah swallow some pills and go to sleep would have the same impact. I don’t think the scene was included as a shock factor, like, look how horrible this is! I think it was shown for what it is. Just “The End.” I think Clay sort of describing the scene to the guidance counselor was poignant as well. I’m paraphrasing here, but…she put on old clothes, she got in the tub, she slit her wrists, she died alone. That was powerful.
- Depictions of sexual assault: Going into this show, I didn’t know about this storyline; I knew about the suicide but not the rape. (I neglected to read the warnings before the episodes. Way to go, me.) Jessica’s rape was hard to watch. Obviously. And while I do applaud them for “going there” in terms of how it was filmed, I don’t think it was necessary to show it so many times. I understand why they did it, but at the same time, I just thought, too much. (Because of this scene–and Hannah’s rape as well–I have to disagree with the idea that everyone should watch this series. Warnings aside, it’s intense and disturbing and not everyone can or should watch it.) After Jessica’s rape, I didn’t expect a second one. For me, watching Hannah’s face in that hot tub was so much more disturbing than her suicide. I do not condone suicide, I want to make that very clear, but I do believe it is a choice made by the individual, regardless of whatever has happened in their life to lead them to that choice. It is a choice. Hannah choose to kill herself; she did not choose to be raped. What struck me about both cases was how easy they seemed to have happened. Bastard Bryce didn’t have to lure these girls off somewhere secluded. They just seemed to happen right there, no planning, nothing elaborate. And it reminded me of this video I found a few months ago, which should be shown in every high school and college campus everywhere. Hell, even middle schoolers should see it.
8. Guidance Counselor: I feel like this character was shown as letting Hannah down. Could that conversation in his office have been more helpful? Sure. But I can’t sit here and say that because he didn’t go after her, he is the reason she went ahead with her plan. Or that he wasn’t doing his job. There is no way he could’ve known what she was about to do. The same goes for the rest of them. None of those characters knew how their actions affected Hannah, or how the combination of everything would be too much for her. I think for the audience, knowing what’s coming, it’s easy for us to be shocked at what is said and done by the classmates. It’s easy for us to be angry at Mr. Porter for not saying the right things. I’m not choosing sides, but I’m not about to blame him. Then again, he lies about meeting with Hannah, doesn’t he? Bad move.
9. Clay’s heartbreaking line: There are a few lasting impacts this show left on me. One of the lessons to remember is to tell people how you feel about them when you can. When Clay tells Hannah he loves her, and she asks why he never told her when she was alive, yes, that was heartbreaking. But that’s not the part I’m talking about. I meant this one:
This line hit me in the gut. This feeling that Clay failed Hannah is something he’ll have to live with forever. The guilt that comes with that feeling is something I can’t even imagine. And there’s nothing he can do about it. I doubt Hannah thought about this…
10. Soundtrack: If you know me, you knew this was coming. Music is life, so of course I paid attention to the songs in the background, but I’ll only comment on two. Elliott Smith! “Thirteen” played at the end of the one of the episodes. I hope this platform introduces Elliott to a whole new group of listeners. Whether or not he was only included in the soundtrack because he committed suicide, I don’t know, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear his voice. And the second song you’ve probably guessed: Hannah and Clay at the dance. When the song began, I thought it was “Can’t Go Back” (which I first heard on Vampire Diaries and instantly fell in love with) but this song, “The Night We Met”, is so, so good. They do have similar beginnings though, right? Different keys but still. Anyway, a song can make or break a scene for me, but this was a nice complement, and I believe part of it is played several times in the series? I, for one, have been totally binging it. Props to the music director(s). And DJ Tony.
11. Hannah is beautiful. What a face. Now, part of this is the unspoken rule that every single kid in a high-school-based show or movie is unnaturally attractive (and in their 20s), but I’m on board with Hannah not being some kind of stereotypical depressed girl dressed in black. Depression doesn’t have a look. And you don’t always know what’s behind that smile. (I don’t want to talk about Bryce for obvious reasons, but the same goes for his character. You don’t expect the star, award-winning athlete to be so vile. God, he’s gross.) I also liked how Hannah had a stable home life, from what I gathered. It’s important to break down those stereotypes of what depression looks like or what a suicidal teen is supposed to be.
12. I’ve seen him before! Sometimes when I watch something new, instead of paying attention, I’m trying to figure out where I’ve seen that certain actor before. And it happened with this too. Starting with Alex. (I loved this character, btw!) Alex is Drew from Parenthood. Luckily, I figured it out before too long. But then I spent the rest of the show seeing this character as Drew. Like Drew dyed his hair and went back to high school. Side note: if you haven’t watched Parenthood, OMG, you must. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows ever. Ever. I knew Clay from the movie Don’t Breathe (WTF is up with that movie? One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, hands down). The principal was on a show called Chasing Life. The lawyer was from the blast-from-the-past show, My So-Called Life, starring my man, Jared Leto. Bryce (barf) was on Glee, but I didn’t remember this until I read it somewhere. And of course, the teacher of Communications is Lane from Gilmore Girls! She’s all grown up!
13. I still don’t know why: Hannah may have given me thirteen reasons, but I still don’t know why she did it. Not really. I completely understand why she was depressed and why she would consider suicide, but I wasn’t convinced she had reached that point of making a possibility a reality. One of the complaints about this show that I actually agree with is that Hannah didn’t seek help. Not really. I hate to use the phrase “gave up” but I feel like she didn’t give life the chance she said she would. Essentially, she had the guidance counselor determine her fate. He was her life’s last chance? No. A million times no. Nothing against high school guidance counselors here, but she needed to talk to someone who could actually help her. She shouldn’t have put her entire life’s worth into one conversation that she frankly had no control over. OK, look. Every case is different. Everyone handles depression differently. There is no right way to treat it. But I don’t think Hannah explored her possibilities. And that’s why people are upset over the show. Suicide is shown as a legitimate option when you feel lost. An almost easy option. If I put myself in the shoes of a mother with a teen, yes, I would worry about the impact of the show. Bottom line, I think Hannah had outlets she didn’t explore. That’s what’s so unsettling. Not to mention the pain she left behind. I read a comment from a random person who thought her suicide scene should have continued once the parents came in, and I’d have to agree. Some see suicide as a selfish act, which I’m on the fence about. In Hannah’s case, I don’t think she stopped to consider how this would affect her family. And I think that aftermath should have been included. Unlike some people, I don’t see her suicide as revenge. She did what she felt she had to do. For herself. And unless you’ve been in a position where you’ve contemplated ending your life, it is impossible to understand what that is like. So it’s so easy for people (including me) to say, how could she do that and why did she do that, but we aren’t Hannah. Period.
There will be a second season, so hopefully my lingering questions will be addressed. For instance…
- Who is in the ambulance? I don’t think it’s Alex.
- Did Alex shoot himself or was he a target?
- Will Tyler plan a school shooting?
- How will Hannah be featured in season 2?
- Where does Justin go?
- How will Jessica’s dad handle the truth about his daughter’s assault?
- How will the Baker’s react to Hannah’s tapes? (Probably what I’m most anxious to see)
- How will Hannah’s tapes affect the lawsuit?
- What will Mr. Porter do with the tapes?
- Will Courtney embrace her sexuality?
- Will we find out more about Tony?
- What will happen to Sheri since she confessed about the stop sign?
- What will happen to Bryce?
- Will Clay and Skye become an item? Eh, not feeling that one.
Final thought: 13 Reasons Why is a powerful and impactful show, no doubt about it. It’s been a few days, and I’m still thinking about these characters and their interwoven story. I’m glad that it’s raising some issues and will hopefully get people talking openly about their struggles. This show illustrates how actions have consequences, and what may seem like a harmless photo or a meaningless comment could be someone’s final straw. You just don’t know what’s going on in a person’s life. It shows that well. My hope is that someone watching who sees themselves in Hannah will choose a different path, and someone who sees themselves as Hannah’s classmates will reevaluate how they treat others. But in reality, let’s face it, suicides will happen and bullying will continue. I’m not trying to be negative here. That’s just life. But if this show saves even one life, it’s a win.
Getting help doesn’t make you weak.
Your life is worth having a conversation about.
“It’s OK to not be OK.”