Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix
At its core, 13 Reasons Why is a study in how we treat one another. It examines the “small” aggressions we commit that cause unthinkable pain, and the larger ones that become even more painful when we are told we must “move on” from them. It’s also an unflinching, realistic look on particularly challenging topics, including rape, suicide, and depression.
And, I will warn you now: it’s not an easy show to watch. 13 Reasons Why makes poignant points about what we owe one another as humans, but this is not The Breakfast Club or even Perks Of Being A Wallflower. This show is not kind — even if it implores its characters to be.
It is, however, very, very important — especially for teens, their parents, and any authority figure who deals with either. You haven’t seen teen television like this before, and it’s about time it existed.
Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix
High school can be heaven or hell — depending on your perspective and social standing, of course. It’s not hard to know which one it was for Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). When 13 Reasons Why opens, we learn that pretty, smart, vivacious Hannah killed herself weeks earlier, and Clay (Dylan Minnette) — her co-worker at the movie theater and longtime admirer — still can’t wrap his mind around it.
But he’s going to — if the late Hannah has anything to say about it. Shortly after Hannah’s strung-out ex Justin (Brandon Flynn) accuses a confused Clay of being “not so innocent,” Clay receives a package in the mail from Hannah herself. Inside the package are tapes — tapes that tell the story of Hannah’s life, or, more importantly, why she felt it had to end. 13 sides for each person responsible for her suicide. Listen to everything and pass it on, Hannah warns, or else a “trusted individual” will make the tapes go public. And that — well, that would be bad for everyone.
Clay is immediately freaked out — he can’t figure out why he’s on the tapes at all, and is terrified to find out. He steals a tape player from Tony (Christian Navarro) — one of quiet Clay’s only friends — and lets Hannah’s voice guide him around San Francisco… and her psyche. Never mind that Clay’s own parents are worried about what’s going on in his head — though he would never dream of telling them about the tapes, Clay only has thoughts for Hannah.
The first person up on Hannah’s shit list is Justin — the boy who was very freaked about what Clay heard on the tapes. In flashbacks narrated by Hannah, we get the story of Justin and Hannah — a story of young romance gone terribly awry. Hannah describes how Justin, the boyfriend du jour of her best friend Kat (Giorgia Whigham) who has since moved away, became the object of her infatuation. Hannah plays cat and mouse with Justin until he’s just as smitten with her as she is him.
Eventually, Hannah sneaks out of her house (despite being under the watchful eye of her mother Olivia, played by Kate Walsh) and meets up with Justin in the park. The two have a lovely, sweet night on the playground that culminates in a kiss. Hannah thanks Justin for that kiss — just not what comes after.
Justin proves he’s less-than-noble when he shows an upskirt picture of Hannah from their playground date to his friends. Football captain and resident asshat Bryce (Justin Prentice), forwards the photo to the entire school, humiliating Hannah. And that’s the reason why Hannah has listed Justin on the tapes: he took a beautiful moment and made it ugly.
Clay isn’t so innocent either. He remembers a moment just after Hannah’s photo went viral, when Hannah came to sit with him at lunch. Clay — jealous of her hookup with Justin — snapped at Hannah. Hannah left the lunch table in tears.
While listening to Hannah’s tape at the playground, Clay sees Tony’s red convertible pull up. Clay is confused — until Tony reveals the truth. Tony is the friend that Hannah has put in charge of the tapes. The next day, Clay asks him why — why can’t Tony just tell him what’s on the tapes? It’s too hard for Clay to listen to her voice… he already sees Hannah in every corner of his mind. Tony can’t answer that — and advises Clay to just “keep listening.” Everything will be explained… but that doesn’t mean the journey won’t be a painful one.