TW: Suicide, Rape.
13 Reasons Why is a new Netflix series that is powerful and emotional, and also problematic. It’s the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who commits suicide, but not before leaving behind 13 tapes explaining the 13 reasons, or more specifically, the 13 people she feels had the biggest impact on why she chose to take her life.
Right off the bat, I want to say that overall, I did not like the show, and many of my thoughts listed here are reasons why I didn’t like it. I also want to say that many, but not all, of these thoughts are just my opinion, and you’re welcome to disagree with them (my intention is not to convince you, but rather just to get my thoughts out and organized).
If you are reading this, I assume you have watched season 1 in its entirety, and so this may very well contain spoilers. If you haven’t watched the show yet, while I can’t honestly recommend it, watching it will make it easier to understand what I’m talking about.
1.The Show Feels Superficial
Throughout the show, I kept being reminded that it was a show, that it was fake, and that rather than depicting something real, I felt like it depicted the idea of something real. The interior shots of homes, especially Clay’s, Hannah’s, and Bryce’s looked like they were taken straight out of IKEA or Rooms to Go. And when you’re trying to tell a very real, personal story, it doesn’t help to think these characters live in a furniture store.
And I feel the same way about the characters, like they were taken from the trope store. Liberty High, to me, doesn’t feel like a real high school, it feels like the producers watched a movie about high school, and said “Let’s do that.” The characters are the typical tropes you’d expect: Jocks, loners, preps, geeks, etc. And while each of these characters is developed and given a personality, their trope always feels at the forefront.
Likewise, I feel like the shows attitude towards suicide is much the same. Like they heard about suicide or read about it in a book and said “yeah, let’s do that.” (for context, the show is based on a book).
2.Clay is a Boring Main Character
Clay is the main character, and I honestly don’t understand why. He’s boring, uninteresting, and at times really really annoying. He’s a compulsive liar (and a bad liar at that), he has no defining characteristics, except a scar on his forehead and a pouty face. He makes rash and impulsive decisions out of anger and confusion. And he’s upset about what happened to Hannah.
And I feel like nothing about Clay changes throughout the show. He gets a little angrier, but I feel like there’s no climax for him, no turning point, I feel like he just learns more information about Hannah and gets angrier or more confused, but nothing about his character changes. And I feel like there are plenty of other characters who would’ve been a better main character, my first pick being Alex (guess we’ll have to wait for season 2 for that, though).
3.Hannah Blames People for Not Doing Something
Clay doesn’t stay with her in the bedroom, after she tells him to “get the fuck out!” Zach doesn’t speak up about the letter in class. And Mr. Porter doesn’t go after Hannah after their talk. And I think it’s completely unfair of Hannah to be mad at them or blame them for what she did, because she expected them to react in a certain way.
I feel most strongly about this in regards to Zach who did nothing but try to be nice to Hannah. He said something stupid about her ass, “I like you for so much more than that,” I believe it was, and Hannah overreacted at him. And while I can understand where she was coming from, I don’t feel it’s fair to hold him responsible.
4.The Show Makes No Attempt to Help
One of the glaringly obvious flaws of the show is that I, as a viewer, never felt like the show wanted to help me if I were considering suicide (I’m not, but there’s undoubtedly viewers who are). The show makes no attempt to offer resources or portray that there are options to get help, and if fact depicts the opposite idea, that getting help is useless (in the case of Mr. Porter). And I feel like in this way, the showrunners cared more about showing suicide than helping prevent it (“glorifying it,” as some have said).
The show also has this overtone of “We need to treat everyone better,” and maybe we can stop this, but doesn’t offer any ideas on how to do that. I feel like, especially with the last few episodes (depicting rape, and suicide in great detail), and the addition of Alex killing himself (which they decided not to show), that the showrunners were more concerned with getting an emotional response or making the viewers uncomfortable, than actually trying to make a statement about suicide, or suicide prevention.
5.Showing Was Unnecessary
I feel this is true with both the rape scenes and the suicide scene. We didn’t need to see it to know it happened, or how emotionally-damaging it was. We already knew Hannah committed suicide, and we didn’t need to see Jessica or Hannah being raped to know it happened. Of course the ratings will be better if you show it (just take a look at Game of Thrones, that practically makes its living killing off and raping characters).
Suicide prevention experts have commented about how irresponsible depicting the suicide is, and how it’s likely doing more harm than good, saying that, statistically someone who witnesses a suicide (even fictional) or was close to someone who committed suicide is more likely to commit suicide themselves. The percentage is small, but still very real, and should be taken as a serious concern.
What’s especially troubling is that the showrunners were told this, and yet continued to defend the show in favor of artistic expression and authenticity. And for me that’s incredibly troubling.
I can’t recommend 13 Reasons Why, because it’s an irresponsible, distasteful, depiction of suicide, that doesn’t care about or try to help anyone who might be experiencing the same things.