May 18th is a day I did not foresee as one of controversy. Yet, when it was announced that this would be the premiere date for season two of 13 Reasons Why, the backlash was inevitable.
This Netflix series first hit the public eye in March 2017 and immediately left critics divided. Based on the novel by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why centres in on the drama of high school in an unconventional, and arguably inconsiderate, way. Rather than tip-toeing around sensitive issues, this 13-episode TV series faces them head-on, seemingly without caution or conscience. Clay Jensen navigates the viewer through a whirlwind of hot-button topics, including but not limited to themes of depression, suicide, sexual assault, the LGBT community, and other issues facing minority groups. Such conversations were not casually slipped into the script, brushed over, or confined to the shadows of this fictional society; instead, they were thrust into prominence, spotlighted, and unfolded before the eyes of millions without hesitation.
Clay Jensen’s previously mundane, routine life is wrecked by the devastating news that his friend, Hannah Baker, has taken her own life. Overwhelmed with questions and grief, Clay’s curiosity is heightened when he discovers a box of cassette tapes left for him on his front porch. Each tape includes a narration made by Hannah, oozing with eeriness as the ghost of a gone girl entangles itself into Clay’s already shaken mental state. However, Hannah’s final goodbye to Clay is not the sentimental gift it appears to be, as he soon discovers that these recordings document Hannah’s thirteen reasons for committing suicide. At first glance, this may seem thoughtful on Hannah’s part, albeit rather dark; perhaps her tapes could bring closure to the ones she left behind – her parents and friends, teachers and neighbours. However, her intentions become tainted due to the fact that each tape is addressed to an individual who played a significant role in her life, and not in a good way. Hannah takes the time to assert blame on the people she believes wronged her beyond repair, claiming her revenge from beyond the grave as she attempts to evoke overwhelming guilt within each person who receives her cassette tapes, Clay is one of them.
This is where much of the media expressed their disapproval: they accused Hannah of being portrayed with a “princess-complex,” ultimately painting those truly afflicted with depression in a negative light as it appears Hannah is seeking attention more than anything, utilizing her own death as a way to hurt others the way they hurt her. Leaving behind tapes to formally notify individual people that they were the reason for her suicide can understandably come across as malicious, diluting a potentially groundbreaking opportunity for the series to educate people on a touchy subject in an appropriate manner. Even the characters left with her tapes react more so with irritation than understanding; if Hannah is already gone, what can they do to fix their actions of the past? Furthermore, aside from the unclear intentions of Hannah, 13 Reasons Why received adverse reactions as a result of their uncensored depiction of scenes that could be undeniably triggering to viewers suffering from trauma, mental illness, or simply afflicted with a negative mindset. Among other insensitive choices made on the part of the director, the series chose to display occurrences of suicide attempt and rape in graphic portrayals, which can be incredibly harmful to their audience. Mental health professionals condemned the show for not being more careful in their filming choices and advised those struggling with depression and other mental illnesses to refrain from watching it. With 13 Reasons Why being among the top three most binged shows on Netflix in 2017, such precautions are necessary.
Katherine Langford, the actress who plays Hannah Baker (above), feels differently about the creative choices made in filming this TV series. She expressed her gratitude for the voice Hannah allowed her to have, saying, “I feel lucky to have a new platform to talk about important issues”. For the cast and creators of this show, and many viewers as well, 13 Reasons Why was made with the goal of advocating for issues that demand attention, issues that the media often steers clear of, justifiably so.
Thus, with the return of this Netflix hit upon us comes the inevitable wave of critique and debate. Is this a show that yearns to end the stigma around mental illness while garnering support for those in need, or is it a poorly done publicity stunt that does more harm than good as it misrepresents victims of depression?
13 Reasons Why season 2 premieres on Netflix on May 18th, 2018. I hope you liked this post and be sure to check out more of our content at ScreenHub Entertainment like our list of 6 things to read before Solo: A Star Wars Story or our up-to-date Westworld timeline. Also, please think about supporting us at our Patreon.