13 Reasons Why Season 2 Review
One of Netflix’s most talked about shows of 2017 returned for a second season on Friday. Just like the first, I binged 13 Reasons Why season 2 in a matter of days and I’m left with a lot of feelings about it. To help make sense of them all, I wanted to share what I did and didn’t enjoy about the show this time round. That means major spoilers ahead for those that haven’t finished all thirteen episodes yet.
What I Enjoyed
Season one ended with the shock that Alex had shot himself in the head. We were left questioning whether history would repeat itself or whether he would survive. To add to the mystique, Alex was noticeably absent from season two teasers and trailers. Thankfully, we learn in the first episode that he has in fact survived, but is now dealing with the consequences of severe head trauma. The way this was handled in the show was subtly brilliant and Miles Heizer (who plays Alex) does a fantastic job of conveying the sheer frustration felt by his character.
This season also did a good job of depicting how Jessica copes with being a rape survivor. From attending therapy to finally testifying against Bryce, her story comes full circle. At no point does her recovery seem rushed or false, as we see her struggle along the way with PTSD and coming to terms with what happened. Alisha Boe also plays her character believably and evokes empathy from an audience that has lived her ordeal with her.
Mr. Porter’s redemption
Arguably one of the most heartbreaking moments of the first season was when Hannah reaches out for help from the school counsellor, Mr. Porter, and he quite simply tells her to “move on” from her sexual assault. Having now heard the tapes for himself, Mr. Porter decides to do everything in his power to right the wrongs of his past. This culminates in a devastating moment during the trial (Hannah’s mother is suing the school for her daughter’s death) when he breaks down and admits he could’ve done more, before apologising to Hannah’s mother. It moved me to tears and shows just how well they handled this redemption arc.
Something I really enjoyed about 13 Reasons Why season 2 was the unexpected relationships that developed throughout it. Not only did the show build on existing pairings, but it introduced us to new dynamics that added depth to the characters and what they mean to each other. I particularly loved seeing Alex and Zach bond, as I don’t remember them spending much time together in the last season. There was one particular moment (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about) that potentially signalled a new direction for them, which I was hoping would be revisited. The show somewhat left us hanging, but when Zach helped Alex learn how to dance, there was definitely something there…
Which leads nicely onto the way the show represents the LGBTQ community. We finally get to see Tony share some happiness with his boxing coach, Caleb, and a passionate kiss that made my heart hurt. Courtney also comes out and while this this is understated throughout the series, she’s shown with a girlfriend in the finale. The show doesn’t make a big deal out of these relationships and that’s exactly the point; they’re treated as normally as any other.
What I Didn’t Enjoy
The point of it
As discussed in my review of season one, I was sceptical that a second season was necessary to begin with. While I was intrigued to find out what happened to the rest of the characters, the show was ultimately about Hannah and why she committed suicide. The tapes she left behind provided a strong plot device to keep things moving swiftly through the thirteen episodes, which this season sorely lacked. It also felt pretty gratuitous on the behalf of the producers at times, who seemed to use this season solely as a means to address the controversies of the first. There was even a moment when a character discusses “suicide contagion”, which the show was accused of inciting, and why that wasn’t Hannah’s intention.
Of course, the show tries to give us a motive in the form of polaroids. These photographs depict increasingly sexual images of girls with the jocks we’ve come to know from season one, including Bryce. As the primary focus of season two’s trailer and the opening credits, we were lead to believe they would play an important role in the plot. While they did to an extent, it’s hard not to feel cheated by how little they actually mattered in the end. The fact that they were burned by a minor character in a throwaway montage epitomises this.
This was a huge bugbear of mine throughout the entire season. For a show that prides itself on portraying reality as vividly as possible, the fact that they brought Hannah back as a ghost to haunt Clay was ludicrous. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d just spoken to her as if she was a figment of his imagination, but the second he asked things like “are you corporeal?”, they lost me. Including Hannah in flashbacks would’ve been enough to drive the story forward; having this element just made it pretty farcical.
The unrealistic stories
Speaking of farcical, some of the so-called “truths” about Hannah that got revealed throughout the trial completely unravelled much of what season one had built. Are we truly supposed to believe Hannah was a bully at her old school? How can we possibly accept that she had a full-blown relationship with Zach that was never alluded to once in season one? Sure, it was super cute, but it was so false in my eyes that I couldn’t take it seriously. They even suggested that Hannah forgave Justin after the very incident that started all the tapes. All of these things detracted from the sense of hopelessness in the first season and made Hannah’s life seem, for the most part, not that bad after all.
The bathroom scene
I only watched the finale today, so still feel queasy when I think of this scene. Chances are, you’ll have seen the outcry over the incident involving Tyler and Monty in the school toilets. If you haven’t, then this moment is receiving much the same treatment as Hannah’s suicide in the first season. However, I believed the brutality of that scene was justified to show just how violent and unforgiving the act of suicide can be. Right now, I’m finding it very hard to condone this scene. As someone who has never been through anything that could be triggered by that, I still burst into tears and screamed for them to stop. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone who has experienced an incident like that to watch.
While I understand why the show depicts such horrific events so graphically, there comes a time when you have to question the necessity of it. Who is it helping by showing that? What is achieved that wouldn’t have been if it were merely implied? It seemed that the show had taken responsibility for its past failures and introduced this season with trigger warnings, as well as links to crisis resources. The finale also had an explicit trigger warning at the beginning of the episode. But, I can’t help but feel that doesn’t excuse the atrocity shown.
The one justification for that horrendous scene is you can understand why Tyler is driven to the point of no return. It was also made pretty obvious throughout the whole season where this was leading to. That’s why it seems so bizarre that all it took to stop him from a mass shooting was Clay. However, there are rumours going around that this ending was changed as a result of the frequency of school shootings in America. That would make sense why the ending did seem rushed and a bit nonsensical, but mass shootings are not a recent problem. Surely, the writers should’ve taken sensitivity into account from the beginning? Whatever the reason, the ending didn’t feel right and sent the wrong message to students that they shouldn’t call the police in an incident like this; they should try to be a hero.
Overall, I’d say I’m disappointed by 13 Reasons Why season 2. It was never going to be the same compelling story as the first, but the way it edited and sometimes blatantly rewrote the past made it unbelievable. It also feels like there was little payoff after thirteen long episodes. The polaroids didn’t amount to much, Bryce barely received any comeuppance and the ending seemed out of place, to name but a few issues. I’ll also have a hard time forgetting the bathroom scene any time soon, which I genuinely could’ve lived without seeing.
That being said, I have grown attached to several of the characters like Alex, Zach and Clay, and enjoyed spending more time with them. Undoubtedly, there’ll be a season three and undoubtedly, I’ll watch it. But, I hope it doesn’t rely on Hannah to fuel the plot and accepts that once you stray from source material, the series is no longer about her.
Until next time,