Although 13 Reasons Why was ordered for a second season soon after gathering commercial success and critical acclaim, it remained controversial whether teenage suicide should be depicted so explicitly and to some extent gloriously on mass media. No teenage drama would seem complete without a secret crush, a girl of the talk and dramatic miscommunications. 13 Reasons Why is no exception, and perhaps it even adds a few adventurous elements. After Hannah Baker (Katherine Longford) killed herself, she left thirteen tapes to thirteen friends narrating how their actions killed her, directly or indirectly. Neither ‘the tear-stirring work of a breaking soul’ nor ‘a commendable effort of revenge’ seems adequate to describe those tapes, much like any old-schooled, bombastic phrase that aims to categorise 13 Reasons Why once for all.
There has been enough consensus that teenagers are moody, hypersensitive kids who often overlook the ancient wisdom that actions have consequences. 13 Reasons Why seems to be a TV series precisely dedicated to that observation. After receiving the tapes, Clay Jenson (Dylan Minnette), with his unresolved crush on Hannah like every other boy in his school, experiences the guilt of his life when he learns that Hannah was betrayed, defamed, humiliated and raped while nobody cared to lend a helping hand. In the meanwhile, Clay’s mother is hired as the lawyer defending the school, and a delusional Clay struggles with his redemption.
It seems reasonable for some adults to quickly dismiss the show as glorifying suicide or promoting suicide as the solution of problems. To some extent, the show is indeed melodramatic, especially for some episodes in between. Several plots, like Hannah being betrayed by friend after friend while insisting on brainlessly trusting others, are unnecessary and dragging. I am sometimes not convinced of Hannah’s resolve of committing suicide. Occasionally, those unnecessarily plots even make the central characters unlikable. Perhaps the author of the novel struggles to accumulate thirteen bad days to prove his point, but the number thirteen nevertheless feels inauspicious and should be set as a goal.
Yet, 13 Reasons Why is also different. It does a decent job capturing the emotional subtleties and teenage struggles that other stories in the same genre often touch on superficially. Teenagers are careless and reluctant to be responsible. Their actions are characterised by impulses and their daily lives filled with painful reflections. They make mistakes, a lot, but they do not know how to correct them or even face them. Producers of the show make a smart move on these issues; in fact, they play around with audience in a guess-when-it-happened game. The irreconcilable boundary between past and present seems blurry when the central characters reflect their actions and communicate across time in the same scene. I am not lost among those alternating timelines; just the right number of hints, such as the bandage on Clay’s forehead or those sudden warmer beams of light, have given me a subtle but definite sense of reality and time. What’s more interesting is that I can peek into the subconscious of central characters and rationalise their actions on my behalf. 13 Reasons Why feels relatable and authentic as a result, thanks to its top-class cinematography and storytelling. It is also well to add that Clay Jenson and Hannah Baker are at their best when they are together, with convincing chemistry between the two young actors.
I therefore assign the series a 7/10 to acknowledge that it may not be sophisticated enough to reach a higher score, but its brilliant direction and authentic acting save a melodramatic tale. I must also mention that 13 Reasons Why ends with an important message: help others in need, especially those irresponsible, hypersensitive kids who may not reach out for help. Mental health remains an issue capturing insufficient attention. If you are one of those kids and you happen to be reading this, please remember that sufferings are temporary, and do not use a permanent solution to solve a temporary problem.
I have also attached the MV of Leave Out All the Rest, in memory of Chester.