13 Reasons Why Season 2: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly | Alexa Moody
Netflix’s second season of the hit series 13 Reasons Why was released this past May, and like many other mental health professionals, I took it upon myself to watch the series to see how the series directors have chosen to continue the story past the original intent of the book on which the series is based.
As you may know, we spent a lot of time deconstructing the first season, and you can read up on our past blog posts such as 13 Real Reasons Why Someone Considers Suicide, 13 Reasons to Live, How I Predicted the Twist Ending of 13 Reasons Why, and Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Violence) in 13 Reasons Why.
Today I’d like to take one big ol’ blog post to outline what I believed was good, bad, and downright ugly with season two.
Major plot spoilers ahead.
13RWS2 is a conversation starter. Just like season 1, 13RW continues to be a series that is unafraid of tackling difficult subjects. It shows, sometimes graphically, how traumatizing high school and adolescence can be. The show can be utilized as an excellent tool to begin tough conversations regarding dating violence, sexual assault, trauma, substance use, bullying, secret-keeping, and more. When used correctly, this series can make a positive difference, which is what the actors/directors of the series intended. We recommend that teens who wish to watch this show do so with their parents or other supportive adult figure who can discuss and help process each episode.
The adults really care. The second season shows us parents who are more involved and truly trying to understand their child. We see over and over again parents begging their children to be honest with them – some parents doing better than others. I especially appreciate the conversation that Clay has with his dad, where his dad asks “Why do kids keep so many secrets from their parents? Is it because they are afraid? Ashamed? They think we won’t understand?” Clay responds with “Maybe they’re afraid you’ll understand too well, and they’re trying to protect their parents.” This is a profound conversation for both sides – I think it highlights the desperation that many parents feel when they want so badly to connect with their child/teen but keep hitting the wall of the teen keeping secrets, refusing to let the parents in. I think it also speaks to this belief that somehow holding things in will protect us. Later in the season we see Hannah’s mom talking to Jessica, where Jessica says something similar about keeping everything inside because it hurts too much to let it out. Hannah’s mom gently points out that’s exactly what Hannah did, and clearly that didn’t work.
Teens: please let your parents in. They care so desperately for you. And if you don’t believe that your parents care, please reach out to someone else’s parents, or another adult you trust. Please don’t keep it in – you are not protecting yourself or anyone else.
Realistic and Beneficial Portrayals of Help. One of our big criticisms of season one was how incompetent the sources of help were portrayed. This season, we see several examples of the benefits of the various forms of help and treatment one can get.
We see Skye who is admitted to an inpatient hospital, and it’s realistic. It’s bright, colorful, the staff appear kind and gentle, and Skye is clearly doing well. She discusses her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and how her medication is helping. Clay even asks one of the most common questions about medication, “but what if it changes you?”, and Skye so expertly responds with “I hope it does.” We see her treatment and it’s working.
We also see Jessica attend a support group for other sexual assault survivors. Initially she was uncomfortable and didn’t want to go, but we can visibly see the benefit of being with other women who share their experiences. For the first time since the rape, she truly feels like she’s not alone.
The complexity of grief. Grief in any manner is a difficult and complex feeling, and that complexity increases with a loss to suicide. We see several different characters processing the deep hurt of Hannah’s suicide and the aftermath of the tapes.
Clay is angry at Hannah, refusing to forgive her throughout the series. Jessica yells at Alex about his suicide attempt and how angry she is that he attempted to leave. Justin’s shame sends him out of town, where he ultimately becomes addicted to heroin. Hannah’s parents struggle with understanding their own failings in light of the testimonies at trial. The whole season is fraught with anger, confusion, sadness, shame, guilt, and all those other feelings that accompany a loss to suicide. 13RWS2 does a great job at showing how difficult these feelings can be.
Hannah’s parents have split. I recognize that this is an attempt to make the situation more realistic. A very large percentage of parents do end up divorcing after the loss of a child, so this decision was likely made to recognize the hardships in coping with a loss and how it can affect marriages. However, the way they brought in Hannah’s father’s affair just felt shallow. It felt like another Hollywood twist that left me without any real sympathy or depth of feeling at all. Ultimately unnecessary.
“My Truth”. Throughout the season Hannah spoke with Clay about the tapes being her truth. Clay would ask her questions, asking if the testimonies of others were true or not, and she kept saying that she spoke her truth. This bothered me, as truth is not relative. Something either happened or it didn’t. We can perceive things differently – Hannah certainly perceived that nothing could get better or that she was a burden – but just because she perceived those things does not make them true. Just because any of us may feel a certain way does not make those feelings true – the truth is that there IS help and hope available, and that you matter.
Graphic scene of Tyler’s sexual assault. 13RW continues to not shy away from graphic and difficult scenes, and we are witness to the tipping point of Tyler’s bullying and harassment when he is sodomized in the school bathroom. While I appreciate the willingness to boldly discuss and depict a very harsh reality – not just sexual assault but that men can be victims as well – the graphic scene is triggering and concerning, and it can severely impact anyone who views it.
Did these kids learn anything from season 1? From the very first episode of season two I found myself irritated at these teens. After season one, after Hannah’s death, these teens should be fully aware of how important it is to get the right people involved in a situation. Time and time again they beat themselves up for ‘not doing anything’ when they knew that Hannah was hurting, and yet throughout the entire second season we see them continue to push away the very people that can help.
Every student going to trial is threatened repeatedly at school, and none of them report this to their parents, the school, the lawyers, the police, anyone. Clay is grieving to the point of seeing a visual and audio hallucination of Hannah, he sneaks a drug-addicted Justin into his home, and he is the recipient of several anonymous polaroid photos that clearly show unlawful activity, and he still doesn’t tell anyone! Clay’s parents are not perfect, but we can clearly see that they care deeply for Clay and for the situation, there was no need for all of his secrecy this season.
And then there’s Tyler, the victim of unrelenting bullying. His parents also clearly care deeply for him, they’re quick to defend him but are also firm on his boundaries. At any time Tyler could have spoken to his parents about what was happening to him. His parents clearly noticed the signs and attempted to talk to Tyler over and over again but was continuously pushed away.
I found myself yelling at the screen several times, TELL SOMEONE!
The ghostly manifestation/hallucination of Hannah. We discover in the first episode that Clay has pushed down his feelings of grief and anger towards Hannah, which results in a manifestation of her that follows him throughout the rest of the season. It ultimately culminates in Clay finally forgiving Hannah so she could “move on”, but this whole depiction is incredibly cruel to any suicide loss survivors watching the show.
Anyone who loses a loved one, regardless of the means, desperately wishes to converse again with their loved one. A loss by suicide makes this even more complex as loss survivors have a host of questions that they will struggle with for the rest of their lives. This depiction of Hannah talking with Clay throughout the season, helping him process and make decisions, and sometimes providing answers and direction is just plain cruel. In real life, we don’t get the opportunity to process our grief with our lost loved ones. We don’t get to ask them questions. We must wrestle with questions that we will never have the answers to. THAT is the reality of grief.
Not to mention a whole ‘nother aspect of the importance of talking to others about auditory/visual hallucinations. While Hannah’s manifestation was obviously meant to be a Hollywood plot device, if someone is truly being plagued by someone that isn’t actually there, it is a series sign of either mental illness or perhaps an upcoming psychotic break and must be addressed immediately.
How the teens handled the school shooting threat. In the last episode, of course 13RW had to add shock value, and what better way to shock our audience than to include the threat of a school shooting? Tyler, clearly struggling and refusing to reach out for help, in his desperation decides to get back at those who have hurt him in such a violent way by shooting up the spring fling dance.
He texts his crush a text message warning, which she quickly shares with our star group of teens. With Tyler on the way with an arsenal of firearms, the teens quickly decide the best course of action.
Tell the parental chaperones at the dance? No.
Call the police? No. In fact, Clay specifically tells the group not to call the police.
They decide to lock the doors so Tyler can’t get in, and Clay runs outside to intercept Tyler at the school entrance. Tyler, with a weapon aimed at Clay’s throat, attempts to tell Clay to leave, but Clay begs Tyler to reconsider. Then we hear this gem of a line from Clay:
“If you think this is the way, if you really think this will change a god damned thing and not just be another fucking tragedy that adults cry about for a week and then forget, if you really think that this is going to be different, then do what you gotta do.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Tony speeds up in his car and Clay ushers Tyler into the getaway vehicle, leaving Clay standing with a firearm outside of the school, end scene.
I don’t even think I can accurately explain everything that is wrong with this scene.
If there is any threat of a shooting, for goodness sake, call the police. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to “talk down” someone who is brandishing a firearm with intent to kill. Tyler is desperate and broken, he needs help, and keeping secrets is not the way to help.
What if Clay had failed in his attempts? He could have died or put every other student at risk with his failure to act. Clay already has enough guilt from Hannah’s loss, what if Tyler had actually gone through with the shooting and several classmates were dead? Clay would have to live with the fact that HE TOLD everyone NOT to call the police.
Also, let’s all become accessories to crime by providing Tyler with a getaway vehicle. The only way that I will forgive this scene is if Tony IMMEDIATELY takes Tyler to an emergency room crisis intervention center for hospitalization – but I have a feeling Season 3 isn’t going to open up to that scene.
And what the heck, 13RW writers? “Do what you gotta do”? Is that really the message you want to send to teens who are hurting or can relate to the struggles in this series? Whether they are struggling with suicidal or homicidal thoughts, do you really want to end this season with a vague sort of permission?
I’m sort of fuming a bit as I write this, if you couldn’t tell.
13RWS2: There are good bits, yes. There are some bad bits, yes. And there are CERTAINLY some ugly bits. Ultimately, I was entertained but continued to be saddened at the reckless depiction of suicide, loss, secrecy, and tragedy.
I will end this blog post off with one thing I did enjoy, though. A poignant moment between Clay and Hannah’s mom, where Ms. Baker shows a list of Hannah’s “Reasons Why Not”.
We see that Hannah came up with 11 reasons why not to end her life, and Ms. Baker says the following to Clay:
“11 Reasons. She came up just short. But she left so many out, you know that don’t you? No matter how many reasons there might be why, there’s always more why not.”
And that’s how I want to end this post.
No matter how many reasons there might be why, there’s always more why not.
If you’re hurting, or worried about someone who is, don’t make the mistake of the teens in 13RW. Reach out to someone who can help. And if they don’t help, reach out again. Keep reaching out until you find someone who can help.
Call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Send a text to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line