I love new Netflix shows because it means you can watch the whole thing at once if you want to. I had not heard of the 13 Reasons Why book nor the TV adaptation coming to Netflix. When it came out, I didn’t watch it. It took a co-worker telling me she was a few episodes in and she couldn’t wait to get home to watch it. A few episodes in, I was hooked. So this contains some spoilers since I finished it quickly!
The show was Netflix’s outright attempt to capture a young teen audience, which is why I wasn’t immediately drawn to it. The story follows Hannah, a high school junior. Upon the first episode, you learn Hannah has committed suicide and the story is told through her point of view by tapes she recorded prior to taking her own life. There are 13 tapes and each tape is assigned to a person who ultimately contributed to her death.
The show is through Hannah’s perspective via the tapes, but ultimately seen through Clay, one of the people on the thirteen tapes. Clay isn’t an outcast, but not a popular kid. He kind of hangs with everyone, but is a loner type. He becomes friends with Hannah when she starts at their school and when he starts at their local movie theatre. In the flashbacks that embody roughly half the show, Clay and Hannah have an easy chemistry without ever acknowledging their growing feelings for each other.
Clay is obviously taken aback when he opens his door a few weeks after Hannah’s death to find a box full of cassettes and begins to listen, he’s not just shocked that Hannah has left such a detailed record of her decision to take her own life, but at how many of the names on the tapes he considers friends or knows well and his own name. He listens to each tape (SO SLOWLY WHY SO SLOWLY STOP PAUSING THE TAPES CLAY) with a sort of spirit guide, Tony. Tony has some weird, mysterious vibe and it was hard to put my finger on what his deal was.
The tapes detail events that led to Hannah taking her own life. Some betrayals seem pretty small, a nasty note passed, a rumor spread, a friendship derailed. But others are actual criminal offenses, photos taken without permission, the cover up of a death, and, in separate episodes, two brutal rapes.
There’s a very large chance teens will come away from the series with a better understanding of how even small acts of bullying can have a real effect on their peers. I know the writers and rest of the crew worked with mental health professionals about how to approach bullying, suicide and sexual assault carefully and I think it paid off really well. It was done really well and even with the graphic scenes, it was only depicting what needed to be shown.
I found myself covering my eyes when I knew I was about to see Hannah slit her own wrists, but it was so much more impactful to see it. The same goes with both extremely graphic rape scenes; it was hard to watch, but it made a lasting impression. It focused on Hannah’s suicide, but also warning signs. The show definitely showed moments where Hannah could have asked for help or where others could have stepped in with support. You see Jessica open up to her dad about her sexual assault, this is where someone learned to express their feelings. However, we learn Alex has shot himself in the head. The show has a theme about picking up warning signs and I totally missed that Alex was showing signs.
In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah does die, and the show is filled with numerous other dark story lines, but it also aims to show that help is out there. I definitely recommend watching this show. If you can’t stomach graphic scenes, there are warnings before the episodes that have them and it’s easy to see when it is coming.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255