13 Reasons Why - A Netflix show worth binging (contains spoilers)

by - Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter weekend is here and quite frankly, there is no better excuse to get stuck into some serious Netflix binging. For me, I'll be frantically searching to fill the gap of one of the best shows I've watched in a long time - 13 Reasons Why.

The premise is reasonably straightforward but undeniably dark - based on a book of the same name, the series explores the thirteen tapes that teen Hannah Baker leaves behind, detailing the stories of her interactions with the thirteen people that she believes contributed to her decision to end her own life. Passed from person to person, we experience the tapes along with Clay, a seemingly good guy deeply in love with Hannah who unravels slowly under the pressure of hiding such a monumental set of secrets, many of which aren't his own.

Although the show has drawn parallels to the likes of Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale, the tone is definitely a lot more serious and ultimately tragic - scenes were graphic, realistic and at times horribly uncomfortable, but all for good reason. Issues of rape, sexual violence and suicide are all very much issues that we avoid talking about and understandably so, but there is no denying that there are hugely important to discuss with a teen audience, as perfectly exemplified by how quickly things escalate for the characters in the show.

As we journey through the tapes and discover each teen's mistake or reason for letting Hannah down,
we can see that many of the 13 were invested in Hannah's life, were her friends deep down - they just didn't realise the implications of their actions and how they became pieces of such a damning puzzle. This importance is twofold - a humbling reminder to be kinder to those whose struggle we do not understand, of not taking friendship for granted and also the importance of admitting when you need help - through the series and especially towards the end we see characters who could have been of great solace and perhaps even saviour to Hannah - Clay, Jessica, even her poetry group. 

The honesty with which Hannah is portrayed by Katherine Langford is fantastic, showing that she was as flawed as the rest. She took certain things too personally, expected others to read her mind and didn't speak up when she needed it most. But yet, this is so distinctive of those who are mentally ill, trying to grapple with a multitude of issues and feeling permanently let down by those she put her trust in. It feel right and proper that the show depicted her as a real person who made mistakes but was good at heart and didn't deserve what happened to her- so often such shows paint the vulnerable character as entirely meek and tragic and Hannah was so much more than that - spirited and popular, her essence was eroded away by a string of increasingly cruel acts resulting from a seemingly innocuous incident of slut shaming. 

And yet, amidst all the time we spent to using on Hannah and her story, we totally missed what was going on with Alex- the warning signs that he wasn't happy. The order he kept to his bedroom in his final scenes, the recklessness with which he drove, his despondence towards his own future and the outcome of the tapes only come back into our consciousness when we realise that he has already shot himself in the head. It's a truth we see in our own lives- it's so often impossible to know what everybody in our lives is thinking, who may be wrestling with things we can only imagine and the clues that only fall into place when it's too late. This powerful plot twist struck hard, proof of how much can slip under your nose if you're not paying proper attention.

13 Reasons Why raises a lot of important issues - the way we treat rape victims, the internalised misogyny of young women, the way school systems celebrate high achievers and sports people and allow those in the middle to get left behind, alongside more traditional themes of peer pressure, popularity and teenage angst.  The commitment to diversity in its cast is impressive, and each character carries their own nuance without over-reliance on stereotype or racial profiling. And then there is the question for the audience themselves- did you binge watch the tapes? Or space them out like Clay, afraid of what you might hear next? What sort of a friend would you be?

The last episode is a killer in more ways than one. Does Bryce go to prison? How do Hannah's parents react to the tapes? And will Tyler carry out the school massacre he seems to be planning? These ominous cliffhangers leaves a lasting impact, gifting the audience nearly as many questions as it opened with. This potency can only remain if there isn't another series- although the act of suicide is final for its sentencer, those who are left behind can never truly have all the answers and what we are left behind with will never feel wholly settled. It's this sense of unease, of wishing that there could somehow be a happier ending that makes 13 Reasons Why such a triumph, a powerful testament to the importance of communication and the tragedies we can avoid with just a little more attention to the world around us. 

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