I just finished watching season one of Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why. It was an engaging season one with an intriguing story and characters. I was hooked after the first episode. The show’s hook is that a young teenager has committed suicide and she leaves behind tapes explaining why she committed suicide, but her death leaves behind so many questions that for me, needed to be answered. That yearning for answers made me watch each episode, one after the other. By the end of season one, I was left with some answers, not all, and a desire to go straight into season two. However, I thought it would be a good idea to just collect and pen my thoughts. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.
I recommend watching season one of Thirteen Reasons Why. It is such an interesting story, but I think viewers will come out the other side with a better perspective on teenage bullying, trauma and suicides.
One of the main themes of the Thirteen Reasons Why is relationships, particularly friendships, and how peoples’ actions and words can have a lasting impact. The series looks at what happens when friends, or people you think you are friends, cause you anguish and the consequences of those people on your life. I feel there are some powerful lessons from this series that are relatable to the real world. If I were to pen them down, I would put down the following lessons, the first is it is important to have good relationships with people. Life is easier with friends and its friends that make you enjoy and love life. The second lesson is that people, including me, need to be better good at communicating with others, particularly on sharing thoughts and wishes without fear. I think communication is important, because even you can’t express yourself clearly or articulately, you are still communicating and hopefully you are communicating with someone who is listening (and not just hearing).
Thirteen Reasons Why story revolves around the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s suicide and the reasons why she decided to end her life and the people she believed were responsible for her final action. Each of these people are people who are at her high school, Liberty High. Before her death, she recorded on cassette tapes her experiences with people who caused her anguish and drove her into a position where she ultimately decided to put an end to her life. It’s a real tragedy seeing someone with so much potential in life taking that path. While the show is not perfect, it does a reasonably good job of showing why her ultimately decision is believable and tragic. In total, there are 13 tapes, it’s really 6 and half tapes, with which Hannah speaks about a different person on each half of the tape that represent reasons why she decided to end her life. In total, there are twelve different people and one person gets two tapes dedicated to them. Each episode is dedicated to each of the 13 tapes and follows Clay, the main character, as he learns about what transpired before Hannah’s death.
The high school setting is worth discussing briefly. High school is each country is different, but it seems that high schools in the United States are shown to be really horrible places. High school in the states seem to always have typical archetypes, like jocks, popular kids, nerds, plastics, outcasts, gossipers, goths, etc. Each archetype serves a role in the school and sit within a social hierarchy, e.g. jocks above the nerds and the geeks. This melting pot of teenage angst is a fascinating setting, but at the same time, I just hope, really hope that high schools are better than what I am seeing on television and in films. Yes, there are a few exceptions to the archetype but most of the characters stay within their confines.
As mentioned, the characters are intriguing. The main character Clay Jensen, played by Dylan Minnette, and Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, are both empathetic characters. Both actors were well cast and do a superb job of creating believable teenagers, who are struggling with growing up, fostering good relationships and dealing with anguish. Their performances turn a good story into a great story.
For Clay’s character, I really enjoyed his journey from the nervous, faltering teenager to a confident, unafraid man who wants to set things right for Hannah. (I can’t say its a huge 180 degree turn, but it was enough to allow potential future seasons to expand on his growth.) His journey from the start of the series is somewhat believable and relatable to many people, albeit only to people in their late 20s and early 30s because I think it takes hindsight to really appreciate and understand why these young people are the way they are. For me, I think it normally takes longer for people to evolve in the way that Clay does. However, in saying that, I thought the way the series was constructed was well done, in the sense that I was learning things about this mystery at the same time Clay was learning about them. In each episode, I thought what he did was understandable, albeit very silly and dangerous. The kid has a good heart.
Clay reminds me of those years when I was a poor communicator and just plain bad at reading people. The way he talks to Hannah, his friend Tony and his mum are clear examples of this. He is reserved and does speak his mind, which is typically for a teenager. For example, when his mum asks about about Hannah, Clay is at first reluctant to acknowledge that he knew Hannah and even when he does open up by acknowledging the relationship, he still hesitates to give answers we know he can answer. By watching Clay, I felt like I was being reminded of my experiences in failing to communicate and causing more harm than good with people I knew. To me, television series like these that make me reflect are genuinely moving for me. I think watching him communicate may help others understand how they can do better.
I think Hannah’s story is also captivating, but traumatically heavy. Heavy, in the sense that as a viewer you feel her sense of worthlessness, whether its in respect of money woes for her parents, her inability to connect with genuine people whom she would have had a future with, like Clay, and weight of knowing and experiencing the misdeeds of others. Hannah needed a genuine friend. Each person she tried to connect with either burnt her or cause her even more embarrassment. Each episode, each person made her more fearful and less open. She was on a spiral down and as a viewer, you can easily see how things could have been different. There are some glimmers of hope and light, but each glimmer is often flickered away by poor decisions by Hannah or others who could have assisted. Each poor decision weighed heavy on her in her final days. This is why is it heavy viewing.
I think Clay’s attempt to find redemption for Hannah is what keeps the series interesting. You know that he feels the need the right the wrongs that ultimately caused Hannah to commit suicide, but at the same time you feel like there could be better ways than the choices he makes, particularly in respect of people like Tyler or Sheri. As a viewer, it is easy to say that there are other choices or options, but until you actually walk, even seriously pretend to walk in the shoes of others you really can’t speak from up high. I think Clay’s action can be justified from his perspective, because his actions ultimately make others seek to right the wrongs.
By the end of the series, I thought that the first season did a great job with its core lessons and did a fantastic job of making things, both characters and story, seem believable and relatable.
I know there are four seasons and that only season one follows the book adaptation. I have seen reviews that have marked the series down after season one, but I will keep watching to see how the story is resolved. I don’t think bad reviews of later seasons should stop you from watching this magnificent season one.
As the series delves on such heavy and difficult topics, the show advertises that people should hop onto their website if they have any issues and I recommend it: 13reasonswhy.info