TV Series Review: 13 Reasons Why – Season 2

13 REASONS WHY (S2)

Starring: Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn, Justin Prentice, Miles Heizer, Ross Butler, Devin Druid, Amy Hargraves, Derek Porter, Kate Walsh

Director: Gregg Araki (Episodes 1, 2), Karen Moncrieff (Episodes 3, 4), Eliza Hittman (Episodes 5, 6), Michael Morris (Episodes 7, 8), Kat Candler (Episodes 9, 10), Jessica Yu (Episodes 11, 12), Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Episode 13)

Writers: Brian Yorkey (Episodes 1 – 13), Thomas Higgins (Episodes 2, 11), Marissa Jo Cerar (Episodes 3, 11), Hayley Tyler (Episodes 4, 12), Nic Sheff (Episode 5), Julia Bicknell (Episode 6), Felischa Marye (Episode 8), Rohit Kumar (Episode 9), Kirk A. Moore (Episode 10)

Reviewed by Sidney Morgan

This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.

When 13 Reasons Why aired, it was a hit. Most critics and viewers loved it. They lauded its two main actors Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, the supporting cast (Kate Walsh, in particular, gave a great performance as a parent failing to see the signs that lead to her daughter’s suicide) and the approach showrunners took to address the heavy subject matters including bullying, sexual assault and of course, suicide. But as with everything today, some voices needed to make themselves heard and began criticizing the show for its glorification of suicide, predicting an oncoming wave of copycat action. Of course, this didn’t happen. Nonetheless, it prompted Netflix to add warnings at the beginning of episodes.

Olivia Baker (Kate Walsh) looking for answers.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t think the first season glorified suicide. At all. If anything, it was a raw presentation of what may lead to depression or even suicide. The loss of friendships, the bullying (and cyberbullying), the trials and tribulations of teenage love, assault and sexual assault are all addressed. It’s graphic, sure. But not glorified. There’s no applause track moment. Instead, we witness the terrible and destructive effects it has on parents, friends, the school community and larger community, which include sadness, despair, guilt, anger, and confusion. As an angry parent who wants answers and perhaps even someone to pay for her daughter’s death, the second season begins five months later, on the eve of the Baker’s lawsuit against the school district.

Season two welcomes back our cast from season one. Clay is dating Sky but is still struggling with Hannah’s death, unable to move on from his love for her. Alex has mostly recovered from his suicide attempt, although he can’t remember a thing, including the meaning of the contents of his suicide note. Jessica, who’d left the school, returns as well, forced to face the reasons why she left in the first place. Tyler is tired of the bullying and decides to retaliate. Bryce is still the same prick we got to know in the first season. Every character has either moved on or is trying to deal with the fallout of Hannah’s accusatory tapes and suicide. And casting a dark cloud over them is the trial and the consequences of telling the truth. Futures and reputations are at stake.

Alex (Miles Heizer) and Jessica (Alisha Boe) return together.

The drama on the show is excellent. The actors continue to play their roles well, and the story was addicting. But where the first season tried to highlight, through Hannah’s admittedly biased tapes, some of the real problems teens encounter, the second season loses that touch. This is a story that is set and now lives purely in the realm of a fictionalized television series. While some may fault the show for not providing viewers with scenes during which the teens are given tools to deal with all the issues, it’s not the point of the series.

It isn’t a self-help show, but a work of fiction, and it isn’t unique in its narrative development. (**SPOILER ALERT**) Did Vera Claythorne have to hang herself in And Then There Were None? Did Jonah have to take that plunge in Boys in the Trees? Was there really no other way for the Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides? It’s the plot, the narrative, the thread that weaves the story. It’s these choices that fuel our reviews. The good and the bad. Speaking of which…

Part of the crew, all smiles!

After the thirteen episodes, two closely related questions popped into my mind. First, why are so many things happening to these people? Is Liberty High the dump where all things bad end up? And second, how are so many key players clueless (and seemingly indifferent) to it all? For instance, how is it possible that The Clubhouse would remain a secret for so long? How is it that Bryce keeps getting away with his actions? And the event surrounding Tyler… I can’t even begin to imagine this is representative of what typically happens in high school.

How is it that all these teens, these kids, have more or less carte blanche? It seems as though they are more crippled by guilt than their kids are. And oh boy I could go on, but in the spirit of keeping this review mostly spoiler free, I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that if you thought bringing to light Hannah’s issues from season one would lead to a concerted effort to address them and help students, the school, and the parents deal with them. You’ll be disappointed. Quite the opposite in fact, as the downward spiral of various character’s lives only worsen.

Verdict

13 Reasons Why, season 2, is not meant to be a representation of reality. Too many characters aren’t really held accountable for their actions. There’s a contrived focus of all things terrible at Liberty High. It can be very depressing and so far, not many of our stars have escaped the depressing mood resulting from Hannah’s death (here’s looking at you season 3!). That being said, it’s a good show. There’s intrigue, excellent drama (even if mostly teen driven), suspense and good performances from dedicated actors. If you like these elements, 13 Reasons Why won’t disappoint.

If you are a younger person, a word of caution. Bullying, drug use, suicide and sexual assault are serious matters. This second season doesn’t shy away from bringing them up regularly, often in a raw and brutal manner. If you choose to watch, be aware that this is fiction. A scripted television show. People sat around a table and created all of these scenarios for our entertainment, not as a documentary. If you experience any of these issues, seek out someone to speak with.

13 Reasons Why Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix US and Canada.

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