*This post contains major spoilers for 13 Reasons Why
I recently finished watching the show 13 Reasons Why on Netflix and I really enjoyed it. While I was a big fan of the book I wasn’t sure how depressing the material would be if I watched it vs. reading it. 13 Reasons Why is about a teenage girl named Hannah Baker who kills herself because of the bullying she experiences in and out of school. She leaves behind a set of tapes detailing why she decided to end her life and we see/hear them through her friend Clay Jensen who is on one of the tapes.
Clay is your typical teenager he has a few friends but isn’t popular per se. He gets along with his parents (probably better than most of us remember getting along with ours) and generally stays out of trouble. He doesn’t have a car but he does have a bike which he rides around town and uses to get to school. He comes by the aforementioned tapes when a mysterious package shows up on his doorstep one day. He opens it to find a map, the tapes and list of people most of whom are his classmates at Liberty High.
As he starts listening to the tapes he is startled to hear his friend Hannah’s voice. After a brief introduction of her own Hannah leaves instructions on what to do with the tapes. First listen to them (obviously) all 13 of them, then pass them on to the next person. If you don’t listen to them a second set of tapes will be broadcast for everyone to hear. From there Clay and the viewer are taken on a journey from Hannah’s first kiss, friendships made and broken, her reputation at school, her experiences with love, and eventually her untimely death.
The series goes back and forth between the present and past. It also switches viewpoints a few times between Hannah and Clay. The main cast of characters consists of Justin Foley, Zack Dempsey, Bryce Walker, Alex Standall, Jessica Davis, Courtney Crimson, Tyler Down, Ryan Shaver, Sherry, Marcus Cole, Clay and Mr. Porter the school counselor. Some of these people are worse offenders than others as we soon come to find out.
The first few episodes deal with Justin, Jessica and Alex. Justin Foley is Jessica’s first kiss and of course he took a few pictures to remember their date. Justin’s friend Bryce takes one the pictures and sends it out to the whole school. This leads to everyone thinking Hannah is easy or a slut. This tarnish on her reputation at school never quite goes away and relates to a few reasons and people later on.
Jessica and Alex are also new to Liberty High and the three soon form a friendship. They start meeting at Monet’s a local coffee shop, to talk about life,school and whatever crazy drink Alex decides to get on any given day. After a few weeks Jessica and Alex stop coming. Hannah doesn’t think much of it until one day when she sees that the two are dating. She’s hurt that Jessica didn’t tell her but is happy for her new friends. Not long after the two break up and an anonymous best/worst list starts floating around school. Jessica blames Hannah for the breakup and Hannah is labeled best ass in the class. This leads to a lot harassment from Hannah’s classmates including Bryce who grabs her butt without permission when they bump into each other at a convenience store.
The next few episodes deal with a stalker and Hannah’s ever worsening reputation. Hannah confides in her friend Courtney that she thinks she has a stalker. Courtney agrees to help catch the person and they agree to a sleepover at Hannah’s house. After a few beers Hannah and Courtney being a game of truth or dare. This escalates until Courtney dares Hannah to kiss her and the two start making out. Suddenly they hear the click of a camera. When Hannah confronts the stalker by shining the light on him they find out it’s a fellow classmate Tyler Downs. Tyler then sends the picture of Courtney and Hannah kissing around school. Although no one seemed to figure out it was Courtney this ends their friendship.
When Valentine’s Day rolls around Hannah is surprised to be asked on a date by Marcus one of the school’s more popular kids. They agree to meet at a diner later that week. On the appointed night Hannah waits for Marcus for over an hour but feels crushed when he doesn’t show. She decides to give him one more chance and a few minutes later he enters the diner but not alone, his friends Justin, Zach and Bryce are with him. Things start innocently enough they talk and he apologizes for being late. Things turn sour when Marcus tries to feel Hannah up, mistakenly thinking Hannah is as easy as Justin’s photo suggests. After telling off Marcus the guys leave only for Zach to come back a few minutes later to apologize for Marcus’s behavior. Zach and Hannah talk and he seems to succeed in cheering her up, but when Zach tries to ask Hannah on a date she turns him down. This leads to Zach stealing compliments from Hannah’s compliment bags at school.
Hannah’s reputation is pretty shot by now which leads to her feeling somewhat depressed but she tries to lift her spirits by joining a poetry group. She’s surprised when she finds a fellow classmate Ryan is also in the group. After hearing a particularly good poem Ryan wrote Hannah asks him to teach to be a better writer and he agrees. Her trust is betrayed yet again when Ryan publishes a poem Hannah wrote (albeit anonymously) in a school magazine without her knowledge. Despite the things that have happened over the past school year Hannah vows that she will give life another try and decides to try and change things for the better.
This backfires when Hannah goes to a summer party thrown by her former friend Jessica. She almost doesn’t go but decides to see where things will go with Clay who she feels like is starting to be more than friend. After talking with Clay the two start making out but Hannah feels uneasy and tells him to leave. As Hannah is about to leave she hears voices and hides in the bedroom behind a curtain. The voices belong to Jessica and her current boyfriend Justin. They start making out but stop after Jessica says she feels tired and sick. Justin leaves and after a few moments Hannah starts to but stops when she hears Justin talking to someone outside. On the other side of the door Bryce and Justin are talking and Bryce is trying to convince his friend to let him have sex with Jessica. After Justin leaves to go downstairs Bryce sneaks into the room and rapes Jessica. Too frightened to move Hannah stays put and leaves shortly after Bryce finishes.
This leads us to the last few episodes where Hannah leaves the party intending to walk home but is offered a ride by Sherry. The two get into a minor car accident on the way knocking over a stop sign. Sherry refuses to call the police leaving Hannah to walk home. Hannah also goes into more detail about her interactions with Clay at the party and how he shouldn’t be on the tapes, but she feels like if her story is to be told then he may be able to help with that. She also details how after losing her parents bank deposit she feels depressed and goes to a party at Bryce Walker’s house. She ends up in a hot tub with some other party goers who soon leave. After a few minutes Hannah finds herself in the hot tub with Bryce who then rapes Hannah. Soon after a traumatized Hannah walks home and tries to figure out what to do.
Despite feeling depressed after all that has happened Hannah decides to give life one last try and seeks help from Mr. Porter the school’s guidance counselor. She tries to tell him what happened with Bryce but is so vague that Mr. Porter despite wanting to help Hannah can’t do much with the information she gives him. Hannah expects Mr. Porter to come after her but he doesn’t. She then leaves school and goes home. Feeling like life is hopeless and there is nothing else she can do Hannah takes a box of razor blades from her parents store, runs the water in her bathtub and slits her wrists, leading to her death.
As Clay listens to the tapes and finds out what his classmates have done he confronts them only to get somewhat differing stories as a result. The idea that Hannah is a slut? Not true according to Hannah or Justin (though he does nothing to stop the rumor.) The broken friendship is a result of everyone not showing up and Alex writing the best/worst list, which he now deeply regrets and feels guilty for. Courtney and Hannah’s friendship could have been salvaged if Courtney either didn’t care what her classmates thought (which takes more courage than one might think) or if she had been willing to be more sympathetic to Hannah’s situation at the beginning of the year and wanted someone else to lean on.
Marcus’s actions although hurtful are something he regrets, though not enough to risk his reputation. Zach’s actions while mean could have been made up for if he had the courage to apologize and made a little more effort to be Hannah’s friend (though he does try.) Clay finds that Ryan feels bad for what happened but doesn’t regret publishing the poem as he still thinks it’s a good piece of writing. Clay’s own actions or lack thereof while making him feel guilty are nothing compared to what Bryce did. Clay also finds that Sherry feels so guilty that she has been volunteering at the home of an elderly couple who got into an accident after the stop sign got run over. She eventually calls the police and tells them what happened. As for Tyler he feels bad but claims he was only trying to get close to Hannah because he loved her and as a result of Hannah telling people to throw a rock through his window he now knows what bullying feels like.
I’ve left Bryce, Justin and Mr. Porter for last because I feel like they deserve a bit more attention. Clay learns from Justin that he tried to stop Bryce from raping Jessica, even trying to drag his friend off of him with no success. When Clay learns what Bryce did to Jessica and then to Hannah he gets a confession out of Bryce by asking him to buy some weed and secretly recording him. Clay and many other characters think Bryce should go to jail or at the very least take the fall for everyone else. We never do get to see if that happens but I would like to think there are some consequences.
The situation with Jessica is further complicated because Justin wanting to protect her in some way, has been lying to her about what happened the night of her party. After Clay badgers Justin throughout the series about lying Justin finally confesses when Clay confronts him at Bryce’s house leading to him and Jessica breaking up. While what Justin did was terrible I can understand why he would be torn about how to tell someone he loves something so horrible.
Mr. Porter while well meaning is hampered by Hannah’s vagueness. Mr. Porter is smart enough to realize what Hannah is trying to tell him but even if he wanted to go to the police he would need a name, a place and a time which Hannah doesn’t give him. On the other hand it takes an incredible amount of courage to talk about something like this. Clay does manage to get some justice for Hannah by adding the confession tape before giving the set to Mr. Porter but we don’t see much of what happens after that.
Clay learns that the same situation can be seen very differently depending on who you’re talking to. Who should he believe? His classmates or Hannah? Being Hannah’s best friend he tends to believe her but he does question her views when talking with some of his classmates.
After everything that happens and listening to all the tapes Clay does pass them on to Mr. Porter who is the last person on the list. While we do see Mr. Porter start to listen to his tape this is interrupted by the principal telling him that Alex tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the head and that he’s in the hospital. While the book nor the series explicitly states it I would imagine Mr. Porter would turn the tapes over to the authorities. Since Hannah’s parents are suing the school for causing their daughter to commit suicide (because of all the bullying) I would think some of the tapes would be used in that. The series ends with Clay, his new friend Sky and his friend Tony driving around and hanging out. Clay learned from listening to Hannah’s tapes that you should listen to people and to try to reach out to people that may need a shoulder to lean on or a friend to talk to.
The show takes you on a roller coaster of emotions, from being angry and shocked by Justin and Bryce’s actions, to empathizing with Clay and his feelings of guilt or even sympathizing with someone like Zach who wants to do better but can’t figure out how. One thing that struck me throughout the series was how alone Hannah felt; even though Clay would have tried to help her through it if she had only talked to him. I too have felt alone and helpless, like nothing is going right and occasionally like life is somewhat worthless. The difference being that I had friends I could talk to. Granted I didn’t always know how to talk to them about it or how they would react but I’m still glad I took that chance.
My other takeaway from watching 13 Reasons Why is that some people are assholes. Not jerks, not annoying, but assholes. The thing about the world is that unfortunately that’s not going to change. But how you deal with those people can. You can choose ignore them, you can choose to stand up to them (which admittedly can backfire) or you can try and reason with them. Clay does try reason with some of his classmates like Alex, Jessica, Sherry, and to some extent Zach. His confrontations with Justin don’t fare so well but in some ways that’s understandable. Even if Justin had told Jessica the truth after his first argument with Clay it still would have irrevocably changed his and Jessica’s lives forever. I wouldn’t say that Clay actively ignores anybody but he doesn’t put quite as much effort into dealing with Tyler and Ryan.
While it sounds kind of cliché I would say it pays to listen to people and to reach out if you feel you need to. Like I said before Hannah felt like she had no one, not even Clay. I feel like if she had maybe things would have turned out differently. It also doesn’t hurt to accept a kind word or to try to talk with someone if you feel like Hannah did. It can certainly be scary and you won’t always know how to say what you want but it can be worth it. Clay reaches out to Sky who he used to be friends with but they drifted apart when high school started. He also notices that Sky doesn’t seem to have many friends and worries when he sees a scar on Sky’s wrist that she admits is from her cutting herself. Even though Sky is defensive about the scar, she still accepts Clay’s offer to hang out at the end of series which ends up benefiting both of them.
Overall I would say this a good series to watch but because of the subject matter there are some caveats. If you can’t watch scenes with sexual assault/rape or suicide then this isn’t a show for you and that’s perfectly OK. If you’re like me and you’re not sure I would say either a)read the book first and see how you feel, or b) find a person or persons you can trust to talk about what you’re watching; doing something with others can help you feel less down or feel like you’re not alone.
I would definitely recommend this series. The acting is great and I really liked how the cast is made up of people who are somewhat close to teenagers in age, instead of casting someone who is 30 to play someone who is 17 or 18. The writing is top notch, it made me feel connected to the characters and even got me emotional at times. The story while heavy at times was engrossing and while the final episode is hard to watch, there is some hope for Clay and his friends at the end.