Everyone knows Hannah Baker killed herself. But what they don’t know is why she did it and, more importantly, who is responsible. In the new Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, based on the novel by Jay Asher, the horrors and cruelty of high school are depicted through the eyes of two teenagers: Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker. One is dead and one is alive. Both are defined by the past. In this collection of thirteen episodes — each giving a new reason for Hannah’s death — audiences are taken on a disturbing, traumatic, and brutally honest journey, following each individual and event that led to Hannah’s suicide, one that is more complicated than anyone could have imagined.
The story begins with Clay, an average teenage boy, whose entire life is beginning to unravel due to a mysterious package he receives from none other than the girl everyone is talking about: Hannah Baker. But what Clay finds within the shoebox leaves him both intrigued and horrified: thirteen tapes detailing the events and persons involved in her death. With the challenge of listening to each tape and uncovering increasingly darker secrets about both himself and his fellow classmates, Clay must decide to either believe Hannah and do something about the abuse she claims to have faced or to ignore the tapes all together, letting Hannah’s story die along with her. With an incredibly dark and dismal tone and with characters who feel achingly real, 13 Reasons Why challenges viewers to ponder their decisions, the way they treat others, and the tragedy and backlash of suicide.
I am torn about 13 Reasons Why. One part of me loved the series and appreciated the central message of treating others with kindness and thinking about the ways that one’s actions can affect others; but, I also feel that there is some content in this series that can be too disturbing and negative for teenagers. First of all, the casual use of drugs and alcohol, the constant use of the most profane of language, and the frequent sexual material presented without any realistic consequences was disheartening to see. As a teen, I found it unrealistic and irresponsible on Netflix’s behalf to present such content that is targeted to a young audience in such a graphic and nonchalant manner. Also, the two incredibly graphic rape sequences, accompanied with unnecessary detail, felt a bit insensitive; the book provided just as much emotional impact without providing as much cringe-worthy detail.
But, in between the intense and mature content presented, there are good messages that I hope teenagers will pick up on. This show is sure to make people think twice before bullying other kids, helping viewers realize their impact when talking with others and in their treatment of others. The fear is, though, that all of the quality ideas in 13 Reasons Why will be drowned out by the scenes of rape, the hundreds of “F-bombs,” and the extreme cruelty.
To be clear, I did enjoy the series, watching it quickly over the course of a couple of days. 13 Reasons Why can be a successful tool for teenagers and virtually anyone — giving a clear image of the effects of simple actions and words. A cruel joke or a single picture could be the end of someone’s life, and the show begs viewers to ask: Would I want to be responsible for that? It is a series that will be a hit or miss for audiences. Some will grasp the depth of the series and the ideas it begs teens to wrestle with, and others will be lost in the immorality and gratuitous nature of the show. I think every viewer will have a unique response to the series.
Released on March 31st, 13 Reasons Why has the world talking. Commenting on the issues that come with bullying and harassment in high school, the series gives a face to those who have ever been lonely, friendless, abused, forgotten, and suicidal. While straying from the book, Jay Asher’s story still remains, a story about one boy coming to terms with the death of his friend and seeing how her death has shaped her town and everyone who knew her. While problematic at some points, 13 Reasons Why prevails as relevant and honest, something teenagers need to be exposed to in order to understand the ramifications for their actions. For those willing to embark on Hannah’s dismal account, the series can be called both engaging and thought-provoking. As the final scenes come to a conclusion, it is impossible not to close your computer and be motivated to make a difference and think about your actions and choices, because it might just save someone’s life.