This is over two months overdue, but I finally got around to watching Netflix’s most-recent series 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name. Considering that I have a long summer ahead of me, I thought that I would get to the series that I’d been meaning to watch, and this was one of them.
*Warning: spoilers to come soon.*
Now, I’ve read the book several times throughout my teenage years. That said, I had an idea of how the series was going to be before starting it. I watched the trailer first, which kind of threw me off because, although it had the characters and general plot going on, there were parts which did not happen in the book at all (e.g. a lawsuit, changes in the characters’ statuses, Clay actually getting involved in the situation, etc.). As someone who’s a stickler for keeping it true to the original, I was immediately skeptical about how good the show would be, just because it seemed like it was overly dramatic for the sake of entertaining, not sticking to the essence of the book itself.
I still gave the show a try, though, starting the first episode a couple of weeks ago before finishing the last episode just this Tuesday. A total of thirteen episodes (appropriately so), I watched one per night instead of bingeing: I did so not just because each were an hour long (and that I’m usually tired after an hour-long program), but also I soon realized that it was heavy stuff, so heavy that after each episode, I needed to either watch or listen to something lighthearted to make me feel better. If a show were to be a double-fist to the gut, then 13 Reasons Why is exactly that.
If you don’t know what the show is about, it is on Hannah Baker, a high-schooler who commits suicide. Before killing herself, she makes a series of confessions on cassette tapes each dealing with the thirteen people whom she blames for making her consider, later instigate, her death. After each person listens to all of the tapes, they are to pass it on to the next person in sequential order, from 1 to 13.
The show centers on Clay Jensen, who’s number 11 on the list (#9 in the book). He receives the box of tapes on his doorstep two weeks after the suicide, and he starts listening to them. Each tape he listens to gets him more and more upset, considering that he was friends with Hannah and, at the same time, loved her. As he goes through the tapes, the others who came before him try to keep the tapes– their stories on how they hurt Hannah– a secret, especially in the middle of a lawsuit brewing between the Bakers and the school, in which the latter is blamed not to have seen the signs to prevent the death.
Despite being skeptical at first about the show, I actually found myself hooked into it after the first two, three episodes. Yes, it was dramatic and it deviated at times from the book, but I found it very well-acted (props to Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, who played Clay and Hannah, respectively) and expanded on the plot to include moments not in the book, e.g. characters interacting with each other and their dynamics turned out amidst the lawsuit (which was also not a thing in the book).
While thoroughly captivating, 13 Reasons Why also had its imperfect moments (as it is with any series or books). Admittedly, I found it dragging a bit during the middle of the season, not in terms of the tapes depicting each character’s sins, but rather how it all unfolded post-suicide. Clay’s character was okay, but the trope of him trying to serve justice for Hannah’s death got a bit annoying, especially as Tony needed to constantly calm him down when he got erratic or moody. I liked Tony, but his “mysterious ways” of not revealing what goes on in the tapes got frustrating at times, too. I especially did not like Justin’s character, even though there was a backstory to his life (e.g. broken home, abusive parents)- if anything, I think he was just as bad, if not worse, than Bryce’s character, because he really encapsulates just what it means to be part of the problem, both actively and passively, to have caused someone to die.
Aside from some character development flaws (with some of them not fully fleshed out enough to sympathize with them), I found the counseling scenes between Mr. Porter and the students extremely unsettling. Although I’m by no means an expert on counseling, even watching those moments weren’t very realistic, to say the least. School counselors aren’t professional psychologists, but the show seemed to treat them that way as it demonstrated in the last episode between Hannah and Mr. Porter, when the former was in desperate need of help. Sure, school counselors are good people to start with problems, e.g. academic, social, but they can’t be replacements for dealing with actual mental health issues. That was probably the biggest flaw in the series alone.
I admit, the rape and suicide scenes were difficult to watch: even with the “Warning” sign at the beginning of those episodes, they were definitely triggering. Much controversy has centered around them, even criticized by parents, schools, and psychologists for glorifying suicide, even encouraging it. While I believe that claim is extreme, I know that others are bound to be triggered by them- just as I had. I’m torn between praising the show’s efforts to realistically depict these horrible acts and censuring it for being too much, especially since it is marketed towards a teenage audience despite the “TV-MA” label.
In spite of the show’s weak points, it was overall a cohesive, well-acted drama, and it certainly did a good job of promoting and spreading awareness about suicide and mental health. There’s even a hotline advertised for those who need help, which you can find here.
Have you seen 13 Reasons Why? If so, what are your opinions about it? I’d be interested in finding out!
Take care and stay safe, bloggers.
— The Finicky Cynic
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