With paper deadlines and finals approaching, this past Easter break I did what any sane college student would do: I cuddled up on the sofa with my dog, Wilma, on one side of me and a bag of sea salt and vinegar chips on the other and binge-watched a whole Netflix series.
As a frequent binge-watcher, here are my reactions to the characters, plot and bigger themes of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
Disclaimer: though I read the book years ago, this is not a review to compare the book and the Netflix series. Instead, I will review the series independently. Also, this review contains spoilers (duh).
13 Reasons Why follows high school student Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) who received a box containing a map and 13 cassette tapes recorded by his late classmate, coworker and friend, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who took her life. Each tape is attributed to a person that wronged Hannah in some way that contributed to why she committed suicide and is passed along to each person.
This story revolved around the importance of characters. While I do not have time to review every character, I’d like to mention my favorite and least favorite character.
My favorite character was Hannah’s mom, Mrs. Baker (Kate Walsh) or more commonly known as Addison Montgomery-Shephard from Grey’s Anatomy, a former Netflix binge. Though it was sometimes hard to watch, Mrs. Baker made the viewer feel her pain. The gaunt face, sporadic mannerisms and occasional blank stare conveyed the confusion and hurt experienced by a parent when they lose a child. After her role in 13 Reasons Why, I hope that Walsh pursues similar roles in the future.
My least favorite character was the school counselor, Mr. Porter (Derek Luke). The whole point of Mr. Porter being bad at his job was that it ultimately was the last straw for Hannah, but the fact that he was completely static in emotion made it all feel very fake and disconnected. Mr. Porter’s character could have shown more emotion to reinforce the idea that he cared about his students, he just didn’t know how to help in the right way.
Digging deeper past the character and plot details, there is one major hole: the actual mention of mental health. I watched Beyond the Reasons, the follow up interviews with those involved in the making of the series. All of those interviewed expressed their passion and desire to call attention to those who are struggling with the different issues the series shone a light on. Except mental illness in the series was never explicitly stated; instead the students referred to Hannah as a “drama queen,” “crazy” and “too much.”
The show had good intentions of showing why suicide shouldn’t be an option and the turmoil that is left behind afterward. Executive producer Brian Yorkey explained the final decision to film the actual suicide scene.
“We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing in any way worthwhile about suicide,” Yorkey said.
However, the depiction could have negative effects on younger viewers that may be considering suicide. They may see the scene as a glorification of the act and a way to show everyone who has ever wronged them how horrible they are through notes or tapes, similar to what Hannah did.
While the show failed to address mental illness and suicide correctly, I commend the director and producers on the transparency of how bullying, substance abuse and sexual assault can poorly impact teenagers and the consequences that follow. Like the suicide scene, the two main sexual assault scenes were difficult and uncomfortable to watch, forcing viewers to understand the severity of sexual assault and victim blaming.
Finally, by the last episode I was out of chips and left with a multitude of questions. Does Alex live? Did Jessica go to the police about Bryce? Does Tyler go on a crazy rampage and get his revenge? Even though I may not have loved this series, a little bit of closure would have been appreciated considering the series was about giving answers and closure.