At 7:30am this morning, a hot mug of tea by my side, I embarked upon the final two tapes of Hannah Baker’s life. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks you will be fully acquainted with the Netflix series.
13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, a 17-year-old school girl who committed suicide. The Netflix series is an adaptation of the story, a novel was released some years previous. The first series is compiled of 13 episodes, each episode represents one of Hannah’s tapes. To give some context to that statement, Hannah spiralled into isolation and depression and recorded tapes of all those she felt had wronged her. Upon completion of tape 13 Hannah changed in to some old clothes, sat in her bathtub and slit her own wrists with a razor blade. A very triggering and powerful image that I personally can’t say I have seen in anything I’ve watched previous.
The storytelling is vivid and for some; almost too vivid. Some critics have slandered the show saying it promotes and glorifies suicide culture. The stylised messages from the afterlife and the turmoil it has had on the lives of the classmates are perhaps strong testaments to this. Regardless of how you interpret the series, there are without a doubt some very impacting themes.
What the show does exceptionally well is create atmosphere. The cast of characters are believable and their varying responses to their own wrong doings are captivating. Putting the flaws of the characters aside, they are generally quite a likeable bunch. You have a cast that represents the typical high school clichés… you have the well-built handsome jocks, the pretty and popular cheerleaders, the nerdy photographer, all the bases are covered.
What stands this series aside from other high school dramas is its dealing with some very strong and controversial themes, namely self-harm and rape. 13 Reasons Why doesn’t shy away from some of the more sinister happenings at High School and this certainly adds a lot of shock factor. The shows concluding scenes are so impactful because the build up to that climax is so gradual. Each of the 13 tapes (or episodes) had enough of an impact on Hannah for her to inevitably take her life but by tape 9 the tone has begun to change drastically. The slight misdemeanours within a friendship in earlier episodes soon become Hannah witnessing a full-blown rape by episode 9.
The series also offers a very modernized approach to homosexuality as well examining the challenges to it. Tony, best friend of Clay, reveals he is gay in a later episode but this late revelation only highlights the fact that he’s secretive about his sexuality as Clay is blissfully unaware. Courtney’s tape reveals her sexuality but she maintains right until the end that Hannah was deceitful and a liar in a bid to protect her own sexuality. Brought up by two Dads, Courtney was no stranger to bullying and judging eyes and it comes across that she is ashamed to admit her own sexuality. The show’s perception of these challenges to sexuality are refreshing and further demonstrate that all of the characters are still finding their path in life and discovering who they are. Whilst Clay is struggling to engage with girls, Skye is self-harming, Jeff is attempting to raise his grades and Courtney is dealing with her sexuality. Many of the characters are battling their own demons or shortcomings.
13 Reasons Why is perhaps best enjoyed in moderation. A friend of mine made this observation on the grounds of how interesting the cast of characters are. Clay is the protagonist and the whole series centres around him listening to the tapes. Up until episode 11 (Clay’s tape) it’s fair to say that Clay is more of a story telling device. We are watching Hannah’s story, but Hannah is dead, we need Clay for contextual purposes. But more about the cast of characters…
As I previously mentioned all the typical high school clichés are present but due to the fact each character gets a whole episode solely focused on them, it really helps to build a character arc. Character development in this series is especially good and for this reason I’m going to talk about Justin Foley. When we first meet Justin, he is the stereotype of what we envision “the popular guy” to be. He’s well built, cocksure and sporting the kind of smile that is sure to melt the hearts of teenage girls. Justin Foley is tape 1, he is the first wrong-doer. A brief account of said wrong-doing is he allows for his friend, Bryce, to send an indecent image of Hannah to multiple class mates. Justin lies about his encounter with Hannah, which she later explains in her tape amounted to no more than a kiss.
Justin’s credibility is tarnished from the very first episode because we immediately associate him as no good. He lured Hannah in, he let his guard down and showed her this sweet side of him only to betray and humiliate her in front of the whole school. How can we sympathise or care about him at this point? As the episodes continue it becomes apparent that Justin doesn’t have a very good home life, his Mum is dependent on drugs and in-turn, Seth. It is evident that Seth controls the household and he is very intolerable to Justin. I first sympathised with Justin quite early on in the plot when he is wandering around Bryce’s house. It is clear he is envious of the life his friend leads.
Ultimately by the conclusion of series 1 Justin has lost everything. Justin is kicked out of his home by Seth due to the police interest around the case of Hannah’s suicide. He’s trying to come to terms with Bryce raping his then girlfriend, Jess, which became public knowledge to all those who listened to the tapes. Upon Justin’s confession to Jess, she no longer wants anything to do with him. He has also found himself unable to fall upon his failsafe for years, Bryce, due to his despicable acts to Jess and Hannah. This kind of character development led me, at least, to greatly empathise with Justin by the conclusion.
The plot is a tear-jerker for sure. Even the romantic scenes at the school prom involving Hannah and Clay carry strong sentiment in the ambience. The lyrics softly chiming behind them: “I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you.” I am not ashamed to admit I shed a tear at more than one occasion and the adaptions’ capturing of such raw emotion around a very sensitive subject is admirable. I could easily write another 1000 words all the things 13 Reasons Why did right, and this may only act as a starting point for more blogs about the popular Netflix series. I have so much to say about some of the other characters. I want to express how I felt when Jeff died in the car accident, how I viewed the character of Skye, what my opinions were on Alex. I want to talk about the cliff-hanger of an ending and my thoughts for what could be coming next with a season 2 already being announced… but for now I am going to draw this to a close.