13 reasons why I’m not sure about Netflix’s season two of 13 Reasons Why: CONTAINS SPOILERS
- Credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix
Should Netflix's 13 Reasons Why have come back for a second season? And should there be a third? And should a third be called 39 Reasons Why? So many questions.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jay Asher, Netflix's 13 Reasons Why told the tragic story of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl that took her own life and left 13 cassette tapes which chronicled the 13 reasons why.
It was a powerful, emotive drama featuring a talented young cast led by the excellent Katherine Langford as Hannah. The positive reviews stacked up. The buzz online grew. Overall, it was difficult to argue that 13 Reasons Why hadn't been a success: even if it did come with some controversy surrounding the way the series depicted suicide.
There were accusations that it had glamorised suicide. There were criticisms aimed at Netflix over a lack of content warnings. The finale, in which a scene shows Hannah taking her own life, broke a number of the Samaritans' guidelines for showing suicide on TV.
Despite this, Netflix didn't hesitate in giving the green light for a second season of the teen drama. Again, it's a powerful, emotive piece of drama with some fantastic performances on show, but reviews have been mostly negative. The online reaction is mixed. The Parents Television Council of America has gone as far as calling for the show to be cancelled entirely – though, it should be noted it's not the first time they've demanded a show's cancellation. According to them, 13 Reasons Why is a 'ticking time bomb' for kids. Yikes, eh?
So, I'm sure you're chomping at the bit to see what a 24-year-old freelance journalism graduate thinks about it all, right? Fret not, I've got you covered – sort of. Here are the 13 reasons why I just can't make up my mind about this second season. And while you're here, how about checking out my top 10 teenage TV shows and how I feel about the way mental health is portrayed on the small screen - that should keep you out of trouble for a while.
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13 reasons why the second season of 13 Reasons Why has got me stumped
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1) It was unnecessary: This probably renders all my other reasons obsolete but ho, hum. The first season had told Hannah's story. The tapes were done. It all concluded in satisfying style on a hopeful note as Clay confronted a friend of his who had been having a tough time herself. There didn't feel any substantial reason why this world needed to be revisited.
2) It lacks focus: In the first season, Hannah's tapes offered the series a narrative spine, enabling a slick blending of flashbacks leading up to her death and the aftermath in the present day. The second tries to use the ongoing trial resulting from the civil suit filed by the Bakers against Hannah's former school, Liberty High, to similar effect. It explores even more difficult teen-related issues than it did in season one, while it seeks to ramp up the drama and intrigue with a convoluted plot involving polaroid photos. It feels like a show that isn't quite sure which story it wants to tell.
3) But it is well intentioned: Despite the controversies and the criticisms, I firmly believe 13 Reasons Why has its heart in the right place – or at least, most of the time (more on that later). It delves into a multitude of issues in season two, including steroid use, drug addiction, sexual assault, rape culture, self-harm, mental illness and toxic masculinity. Regardless of execution, it is shining a light on these issues and helping to start conversations. That can't be a bad thing.
4) And the cast are tremendous: Despite the lack of focus, the wealth of issues being explored enables the show to highlight just how good its cast is. Dylan Minette remains stellar as an erratic Clay Jensen, still struggling to move on from Hannah. Alisha Boe is compelling as rape victim Jessica Davis, trying to move on her from assault during the previous season. Justin Prentice is absolutely reprehensible as popular jock, Liberty High golden boy and serial rapist, Bryce Walker. There are plenty more worthy of a mention, but two particular highlights came in the shape of Kate Walsh – heartfelt as Hannah's grieving mum, hungry for justice – and Derek Luke – excellent as devastated guidance counsellor, Mr Porter, setting out to right his wrongs form last season after Hannah came to him for help.
5) But Hannah's return wasn't needed: While Katherine Langford was fantastic as Hannah in season one, bringing her back in ghostly form for Clay cheapens things somewhat. It's in a bid to show his grief but it's clunky in its execution. It also arguably leaves the show a little too close to comfort on the glamorisation of suicide criticism.
6) Although Alex and Zach were a pleasant surprise: In one of the sharper storylines of a very, very busy second season, sensitive athlete Zach Dempsey (Riverdale's Ross Butler) helps Alex Standall (Miles Heizer) recover from a suicide attempt through physiotherapy. Butler as Zach is one of the standout roles of the season, while the pair play off one another well.
7) There are plenty of positive messages: In more evidence that the show has its heart in the right place, there are numerous examples of how it's trying to offer the right messages. Characters not so subtly discuss the importance of talking and opening up on more than one occasion. As someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in the past, there was plenty of it that rung true.
8) But it's an exhausting watch: Somehow, despite the positive messages, the show can feel bleak. I think it boils down to the fact that so many of these messages didn't lead to any positive actions. The moments of hope and happiness feel fleeting while the misery, violence, injustice and cruelty feel ever-present. Sure, it may well reflect the world but can't anyone catch a break? Just once?!
9) And the episodes are long: Perhaps it's a lack of focus, maybe it's the tone, but there were many occasions I'd check how much longer an episode was and find I still had well over 30 minutes to go. They drag. A lot. They could do with being around 15 minutes shorter.
10) The hallway fight scene is a highlight: Towards the end of the season, as the name suggests, there's a wild fight in the school corridor. It's hilarious and satisfying in equal measure. I will say no more but it will put a smile on your face when it comes.
11) The ending: A series of unpleasant events ensure the finale goes from a hopeful note into the realm of more misery, more trauma and more hopelessness. A particularly graphic assault scene takes place – a key reason behind a lot of the controversy surrounding the series this time around – and it feels played for shock factor, rather than story. I've seen some, including show creator Brian Yorkey, suggest it was necessary as this happens in real life. But then, you have a look this side of the pond at the way Coronation Street has handled the likes of rape and sexual assault without showing the acts and has been praised for its portrayals – still starting conversations and drawing attentions to the issues. It somewhat weakens the argument in defence of 13 Reasons Why.
12) But the series has struck a chord with some: Having explored the #13ReasonsWhy hashtag on Twitter, I found plenty of people value the series. It has struck a chord with them. It's helped. There are others, obviously, less enamoured with this season's efforts but if 13 Reasons Why is helping some, it's surely doing something right.
13) The show trying to grab a third season: I mentioned the unpleasant ending a moment ago and as well as played for shock factor, it ensures the series ends on a cliffhanger in a blatant attempt to try and grab an unnecessary third season. It simply isn't needed – at the very least, not with these characters. 13 Reasons Why has spent the best part of 26 episodes showing us life can be terrible, bad things happen and happy endings don't exist. Would it have been so bad to end on a hopeful note and move on?