To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the show since when I had read the book back in elementary, it did not strike me as deep as it could have. But I didn’t know whether to attribute my complete lack of empathy to the fact that I wasn’t socially woke yet or because it was just not a good book. So when Netflix and Selena Gomez teamed up to make a tv series adaptation, my curiosity was piqued but not enough to actually look forward to it.
But when people started talking about the graphic content the show had and all of the mixed reviews, I knew I had to watch it. So when I finally got the chance and time (university, release me from your clutches), I streamed it all in one night until the early hours of the next day. And I was sorely disappointed at how I spent so much time watching a TV show that I couldn’t even deem worth it.
The truth about depicting sensitive issues like mental health is that your imitation will always be under fire because there is no perfect imitation, only a close one. But 13 Reasons Why had not only been the farthest I had ever seen in depicting mental health problems, it had done nothing to give justice to people who suffered from depression and abuse like Hannah Baker, despite the show being entirely about her.
Before anything else, I want to mention that I do understand that the intentions of the creators of the show are ultimately good. In fact, I found myself enthralled by some of the scenes, and at first I even came to love the show. The cast were wonderful and the OST was great (except for that song Selena Gomez wrote because of how they made it out to be referring to the “could-have-been romance” of Clay and Hannah). The rare (yes, rare) scenes where the show actually calls out society on their hypocrisy were on point. But as things progressed, I had come to the conclusion that the show, in its entirety, was woefully inaccurate and ultimately not worth it and below are some of the points that I can’t help but call them out on that support my opinion.
TRIGGER WARNING: This show talks about suicide, sexual abuse, and rape so they will be brought up in this review. So if you are uncomfortable with any of those topics, please do not read any further. For a list of trigger warnings for the entire series (because Netflix only gave warnings for the last two episodes like what the fuck, Netflix), click here.
- HOW THE SHOW USED SUICIDE AS A REVENGE PLOT
Hannah Baker is portrayed as a vengeful suicide victim who takes her suicide and turns it into a weapon against her oppressors which in itself is a problematic and dangerous message. It forwards the idea that in the aftermath of your death, you will be able to finally right the wrongs done to you and drive your enemies into the ground by letting them spiral into a mess of guilt and shame. In short: your act of revenge is you killing yourself.
I believe that one of the determining factors of her suicide was the fact that she wanted these people to know the weight of the consequences of their actions. I’m not invalidating any of the pain she felt that ultimately lead to her suicide, but I’m unable to separate the underlying motive of her actions which is revenge. She is shown to have contemplated deeply on her revenge plan: creating a list of her abusers and a map of all the places where she experienced the abuse, borrowing a tape recorder from Tony and buying the empty tapes. Everything was planned, including her suicide. And this brings us to the next point of discussion: Clay Jensen, the prophet of Hannah’s vengeance.
- CLAY JENSEN x HANNAH BAKER
Another problematic premise that the show forwards is that if Clay Jensen, Hannah’s potential lover throughout the series, had confessed his love and had started going out with her, Hannah wouldn’t have killed herself.
First of all, depression doesn’t go away even if you find a boyfriend or girlfriend. It can help, yes, as your support system increases, but the feeling of wanting to kill yourself doesn’t just magically go poof. As Mr. Porter, the tactless guidance counselor at Liberty High said (this is perhaps the only right thing he said on the show), “You can’t love a person back to life.”
The official Facebook page of the show even posted a photo of the two with the caption, “You will always be my favorite “WHAT IF?”” And I was just like, gurl.
What if what? What if I wasn’t an ignorant, misguided, misinformed guy who actually did something to stop rape culture instead of just watching you get harassed in the hallways everyday despite seeing how much it affected you? What if I took the time to learn issues such as sexism, rape culture, and depression when I found out what was happening to you instead of continuing the cycle of bullying, trivializing a closeted lesbian’s struggle with coming out, and insensitively and tactlessly calling out a girl’s self harm scars?
Yeah, I don’t think so, Clay Jensen. What sickens me is that people everywhere are absolutely loving the idea of Clay, forgetting how he is still part of the twelve people who contributed to Hannah’s pain. And her crush on him doesn’t exempt him from his contribution to an oppressive system that slut shames girls like Hannah. It is precisely the fact that he didn’t do anything that makes him as bad as the other eleven (except for Bryce because he’s the shittiest piece of horse shit in the show). Clay’s shy wallflower predisposition automatically causes him to be a part of the oppressive system. His conscious choice (yes, it was a choice) to remain apathetic automatically places him on the side of the oppressor. So yeah, Clay, you actually are every guy.
So, no, he is not the romantic good guy the show’s writers want you to believe and anybody who’s trying to sell them as a love story needs to do some serious reevaluating.
- REMORSE AND THE LACK THEREOF
I know the show wants to tell people, “hey, your words and actions affect people and can cause some real nasty shit so stop,” and it would have been successful had we seen the characters actually trying to make amends. Aside from Sheri and Clay, none of the other characters actually own up to what they did, although Alex and Zach do potentially show signs of remorse. They call Hannah a liar on more than one occasion and refuse to admit to themselves that what they did was wrong. A conversation even takes place wherein the entire group denies the rape Jessica and Hannah both experienced simply because such a belief would strengthen the notion that none of what Hannah said about them was true.
And arguably, yes, that is the reality and I am very much aware of that. Many of our oppressors can’t even admit to themselves that they were abusive and wrong. But the show places the audiences in a precarious thought process.
If you are part of the oppressive system, you may or you may not find yourself feeling remorse wherein the former is a lot less likely to happen, given that the characters themselves are neither sorry nor called out on it. None of the characters in the show are actually educated enough to call each other out on their bullshit (the principal, vice principal, and guidance counselor are all shit) and in the rare occurrences that Alex and Ryan do, they still continue to condone the oppression and maintain their silence, making the legendary scenes of Alex cursing the others useless because of that.
And if you are part of the oppressed, this show is not for you. You will most likely end up feeling helpless, because such scenes only mirror the reality we already face in a sexist victim-blaming society. There is no relief for those kinds of audiences, much like how Hannah is drained of any hope whatsoever. No justice is met and honestly, there is no ending to it. It is as if the show merely dug a hole in people’s yards but didn’t tell them what it’s for or what to do about it.
How can the show not realize how dangerous it is to just throw such issues out and not talk about it? We can’t just expect that everybody will be able to pick apart the underlying messages you think you’re sending. I understand that this series is ultimately a *points finger* kind of show but we put the blame on them and then what? We put (the rightful) blame on them and then what happens? What do they do with that blame?
Yeah, evidently the show couldn’t answer those questions either.
- THE LACK OF RESOLUTION
Episode after episode, I gave the show a chance because I had decided that I was going to write a review but more so the fact that it hits too close to home. I’m an advocate of mental health awareness and I’ve felt it, the crushing emptiness that depression carves into your soul. But when I finally finished the entire series, I lost my shit.
The story ends with Clay and friends taking a drive at the very last seconds of the show with no resolution whatsoever with how Mr. Porter handles the tapes, how the deposition goes, or how Mr. and Mrs. Baker react to the tapes. I was downright insulted, to be frank. Did things remain unsolved because they wanted Season 2? If so, what a shitty excuse.
Yes, the show opened up a lot of dialogue on mental health and yes, it did break the silence. But the discourse this show inspired does not make up for the graphic content it irresponsibly threw at its audiences and the shortcomings in actually talking about mental health, rape, and the faulty society we live in.
To be quite frank, the show is barely about mental health despite Hannah Baker’s suicide being the central theme as there was never a conversation between any of the characters talking about the various issues strewn about the series. It was a discussion on suicide and rape turned into a revenge plot and love story and it hurts and frustrates me that that was the only level the show reached.
Each time I go back to the show, I don’t get it. Because I don’t think it’s for people like me and Hannah, who have been victims of abuse and depression, and I don’t think it’s for people who have lost loved ones to that too. So who is it for?
Not everybody who watches this show is going to think that the likes of Bryce and Mr. Porter are woefully misinformed and ignorant. And since I think this show is supposed to be for people like Clay, Courtney, Alex, and Justin (given how the author of the book and screenwriter of the show, Jay Asher, defended the graphic content of the show because he wanted the abusers watching to feel uncomfortable), what part of the show will actually make them disagree with those akin to them on the show? What will make them think that they’re wrong when there was no conclusion, no resolution, and no conviction?
This is the reality, I get it. But rather than imitate it just for the sake of imitating it, why couldn’t you imitate it for the sake of trying to change reality and showing people how to better it? Throw a depressed anxiety-riddled girl living in a sexist oppressive society a bone, please.