13 Reasons Why is a Netflix Original series adapted from the book of the same name written by Jay Asher and published in 2007. Hannah Baker, a high school student, commits suicide. She leaves behind 13 tapes to explain why she ended her life. Each tape reveals someone’s dark secret or abuse towards Hannah. We follow Clay Jensen, who was in love with Hannah, as he journeys through unravelling Hannah’s story, listening to all 13 tapes.
Disclaimer : The series deals with a very important subject that is not to be taken lightly. None of my criticism is aimed towards people dealing with such difficult issues. Please bear in mind that any from of criticism regarding the way those issues are portrayed in the show is exclusively aimed at fictional characters, writing etc…
Here are 13 bullet points on 13 Reasons Why…why it’s a decent show that may not deserve all the positive feedback it is receiving.
- Let’s start with some positive aspects of the series (because it does indeed have a few). First, the storytelling is extremely well-made. I especially liked the transitions (using elements on screen to transition from the present to the past). The back and forth between present time and flashbacks is also well crafted. The use of simple tricks to distinguish the two time periods is also quite efficient (such as Clay’s forehead wound which helps the viewer know instantly if a scene pertains to the present or the past – not very subtle but it does work).
- The biggest asset of the show is Dylan Minnette who portrays Clay Jensen. He gives a great performance, always finding the right emotion for each scene. He’s never too nerdy, too nice or too emotional. Clay is also a very relatable character and basically a perfect kid (in a realistic way).
- Kate Walsh, who plays Hannah’s mom, is definitely the other actor who stands out (the rest of the cast…not so much). Her performance is great from playing a loving mother living a rather normal life to a devastated mother who lost her child. Her desperation and pain transpire through the screen.
- Hannah Baker often comes across as a drama queen, as she keeps surrounding herself with the wrong kind of people and keeps making the wrong choices (the same ones…over, and over again) regarding her relationships. This makes it sometimes difficult to empathize with her. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to scream at her to have better judgement and to learn from her “mistakes”.
- It is questionnable why some people are on the tapes (hence being blamed by Hannah for her death). Some of the offenses do come across as bitchy actions blown out of proportion (if you watched the series, I am obviously NOT referring to Tape 6 Side B or other tapes of the same gravity). Zach stole Hannah’s little notes, which sure is not nice…but is it that dramatic ? Hannah provides an explanation but to view this as one of the reasons why ? Really ? Another example is Ryan publishing her poem (anonymously) without her consent. That is not cool at all…but, again, is it devastating enough to be one of the reasons ? I’m going to tone down this particular point by acknowledging that I am not a teenager so maybe my adult self has forgotten how insignificant things mean the world when you’re a teen. In the end, it does seem like Hannah is blaming anyone who ever crossed her path (when she’s not so perfect herself…isn’t Jessica entitled to blame Hannah for not saying anything to anyone regarding the traumatic event depicted on Tape 5 Side B?).
- Let’s go back to a positive aspect of the series. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, which is super effective at making it almost impossible not to binge-watch the show. You just cannot stop before finding out what happens next (I watched all 13 episodes in just 1 day). But most episodes are dragged out and there are a lot of filler moments.
- The series’ binge-watching quality ultimately is the series’s biggest flaw : its repetitive nature becomes extremely apparent and a pattern emerges : something is revealed on a tape, Clay reacts (or acts) to it, the group attempts to stop him/get him in line, Tony does/says something to move the plot forward…on to the next tape !
- Hannah including Clay on the tapes is just plain cruel. All the boy did was respect and love her. What is the consequence ? She implements the idea in his mind that he is also responsible for her death. I suppose his crime is being shy and awkward…basically, being a teenager ?
- Binge-watching the show also makes everything Hannah faces a bit unrealistic as it seems improbable all those dreadful and tragic things happened to one person in such a short span. I want to reinforce the fact that I am in no way diminishing the horror that is forced upon Hannah. But when you watch all 13 episodes in a row, it almost appears the entire world was determined to destroy Hannah, the poor martyr. Once again, I want to tone down this point a bit because this is most likely an effect of binge-watching and, from a realistic point of view, certainly must have been Hannah’s state of mind (as it is often the case with people dealing with depression).
- Suicide is an act of despair. The subject hits very close to home so I am the last person on Earth who would be disrespectful towards anyone affected by this issue. However, in the case of 13 Reasons Why, with each reason being revealed, Hannah’s suicide comes across as a selfish act. But more disturbingly, it feels like an act of revenge. Did she took her own life to blame all those people and play this rather twisted game ? I’m sure it wasn’t the intent but the end result does seem that way.
- I found the ending a bit unsatisfactory. In the end, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative for Hannah. Nothing ever emerges as another possible solution for her, making the message not clear enough (though I’m convinced this wasn’t the creators’ intention). As an adult, it is obvious to me what the intent of the series is despite the lack of clarity in how it is represented. I do hope a younger audience will not take 13 Reasons Why as a glamorization of suicide.
- Netflix is to be congratulated for having created a show with such important issues. For this reason, I don’t want my criticism to appear too harsh because despite the series’ many flaws, it deserves praises if it manages to help anyone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts, depression, bullying and the sickening abuse depicted in 13 Reasons Why.
- To conclude, I am on the fence with this series. Its intent is to help teenagers and develop awareness on those tragic issues. However, in the end, it also conveys this disturbing idea that you are at fault if someone you know commits suicide.