13 Reasons Why: The Controversy Continues


Norhan Zouak, Staff Writer

Warning: this review contains major spoilers for the second season of the TV series 13 Reasons Why.

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why makes it profoundly clear that a person’s story doesn’t die with them. The series oscillates between the past and present, before Hannah’s death and after. 13 Reasons Why revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford. Viewers take a look at the events leading up to the suicide and the effects it had on Hannah’s fellow students. Hannah created a series of 13 tapes, each about a character and how they were connected to her in making the ultimate choice.

In the first season, each episode corresponded with a tape, starting with the jock Justin Foley, played by Brandon Flynn, and ending with the school’s guidance counselor Mr. Porter, played by Derek Luke. Other characters on the tapes included Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), Tyler Down (Devin Druid), Courtney Crimson (Michele Selene Ang), Marcus Cole (Steven Silver), Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler),Ryan Shaver (Tommy Dorfman), Sheri Holland (Ajiona Alexus), Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), and Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice). All of these characters return in the second season, where we explore their backgrounds and association with Hannah in greater detail.

Season 2 began with a warning video from the cast regarding the topical and often shocking issues starkly presented in the series, such as suicide, sexual assault, drug addiction, and bullying. At first, I disregarded this warning, but I later found the warning to be extremely important and relevant.

Though the first season did include scenes depicting, sexual assault and suicide, they didn’t affect me too greatly; however, in the last episode of the second season, a graphic sexual assault scene between Tyler and Montgomery De La Cruz (Timothy Granaderos) utterly disturbed me. The carefully crafted elements in the scene—such as Tyler’s facial expressions throughout the assault and the blood on the mop which the assault was conducted with—made the scene seem thoroughly realistic and horrifying. Male sexual assault is rarely discussed, much less shown, so it was critical to show viewers that it happens much more often than people believe. However, there are currently countless disputes over whether this scene should have been included. While I do see the purpose behind its inclusion, I think the show went too far. The scene was too graphic, too upsetting, and too harrowing for me to watch—it felt impossible to not grimace or wince each second that the scene continued.

The context of the second season is that Hannah’s parents sued the school for not aiding Hannah while she was bullied by other students, and the students who were on the tapes are now required to testify in court. Each episode up until the last one revolved around the testimony of a character, with each testimony revealing pieces of Hannah’s story which were missing in the first season. Tyler was the first witness, declaring his obsession with Hannah, which was always obvious—after all, in the first season, Tyler actually stalked Hannah. He hid outside her house and took photos of her through her window, including a picture of her and Courtney kissing. Even though Courtney was by far my least favorite character in season one, I had to commend her for coming out as gay in her testimony.

Jessica’s testimony was especially moving and poignant. She was aware of the real cause of Hannah’s depression: Bryce raping her. Jessica knew this because the same happened to her, but she couldn’t admit that in court because she was still too scared of Bryce and the reality of what happened. Even though Jessica had cut off all contact with Bryce, he still had a stranglehold on her which caused her to suffer from trauma and anxiety. The second season further confirmed that Bryce is a truly disgusting person. During his testimony, I wanted to throw something at the screen. I couldn’t stand to hear his lies, such as when he declared that “Hannah wanted it.” Though I knew that much of what occurred in the second season was based on events that occurred in real life, the fact that Bryce received minimal punishment for raping Hannah while Justin spent months in juvie infuriated me.

Zach’s testimony revealed a romantic relationship between him and Hannah, which, to me, just felt cringy and out-of-place. The true love story was between Clay and Hannah, and Clay’s testimony was nothing less than heartbreaking. Mr. Porter’s testimony also touched me, as it revealed that he felt unrelenting guilt every day for not having prevented Hannah’s death. Other characters who testified included Hannah’s parents, Tony Padilla (Christian Navarro), Bryce’s girlfriend Chloe (Anne Winters), and Justin.

As Hannah’s past was slowly uncovered throughout the trial, the show threw in an interesting plot twist. The first season rarely mentioned Hannah’s old school or the reason why she left. Viewers have always labeled Hannah as the victim of bullying—after all, her parents literally took the school to court because of how severely she was harassed. With the testimony of a new character, however, we find out Hannah was also a bully in the past, harassing a girl to the point where she had to transfer to another school. I enjoyed this twist because it showed another side of Hannah. Previously, the show had portrayed her as thoroughly innocent and kind-hearted, so this new revelation made Hannah seem more real and, indeed, human.  

Alas, in the second season, Hannah was just a memory in Clay’s mind, effectively a second conscience for him. She appeared at random, almost always throwing off the rhythm of the scene. I understand that the producers wanted to incorporate Hannah in the present, but, in my opinion, it didn’t work out very well.

Overall, the second season was decent, but it wasn’t as good as the first one. To the producers’ credit, the show did many things right—for instance, how the show memorialized Jeff Atkins (Brandon Larracuente) was truly heartwarming. Clay’s speech at Hannah’s memorial was also beautifully tear-jerking, as was the scene where the students consoled Clay over Hannah’s death at a school dance, finally giving him a sense of closure. Additionally, the show discusses necessary, critical issues prevalent in our world today. However, the second season certainly had its issues. Tyler developing a new, emo-like persona was unwarranted and unneeded. Of course, the depiction of Tyler’s graphic assault in the last episode was also, in my opinion, a drawback. The second season ended on several cliffhangers, chief amongst them being Chloe’s pregnancy, Justin’s drug problem, and Bryce’s transfer to another school, so viewers will just have to wait and see what happens in the third season.