This year, Netflix released one of its most controversial series to date: 13 Reasons Why. Based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name, the series is told from the perspective of a teenager named Clay Jensen, who is dealing with the recent death of a classmate named Hannah Baker. Days after her death, he finds a box of numbered tapes. When he plays the first, he is greeted by the disembodied voice of Hannah, who starts explaining why she died.
The public’s reception toward the series has been delicately balanced, with many people lauding the series for shining a light on important issues, such as bullying and suicide, and criticizing it for being unrealistic and violent.
If you’re one of the many who are still on the fence about watching the show, allow us to enlighten you. Here are thirteen things you should know about 13 Reasons Why.
Netflix is not the best at trigger warnings, probably because it’s an online streaming service and not a television network. This show is not suitable for anyone with traumas related to suicide, rape, cutting, and violence.
Clay Jensen is your average high schooler. He has a good family, good friends, a part-time job, and an average life. Everything changes after one of his classmates, Hannah Baker, commits suicide. One day, Clay finds a shoebox with numbered cassette tapes on his doorstep. These tapes hold the real story.
And by normal, we mean real. Gone are the teens singing and dancing their way through puberty. It’s not just about the jocks and the geeks anymore. In this high school story, the goal is survival. Everyone thinks they’re doing pretty well so far, up until one of the students ended her life.
Everyone is in shock after Hannah Baker, one of the students, committed suicide. But there’s more to it than that. Before her death, Hannah recorded thirteen cassette tapes, explaining why she decided to end her life.
Each of Hannah’s thirteen reasons is a person who, in one way or another, contributed to her decision to end her life. And no, not all these people were her enemies. The tapes are left with the instruction that they must be listened to by every single person mentioned in the tapes. Otherwise, the tapes will be leaked (by Hannah’s confidante) to the entire school.
Once Clay starts listening to the tapes, it starts alternating from past to present. The most obvious is Clay’s forehead cut, which he sustained after Hannah’s suicide. This change of time setting is vital in the tsorytelling process as it allows the audience to see the story from Hannah’s, as well as Clay’s, perspective.
As mentioned in the trigger warning, the show tackles not only suicide but also rape. It also tackles a lot of other important youth issues: bullying, depression, abuse, harassment, violence, and more.
One of the things that the show is most criticized about is also what makes it successful. Actual rape is portrayed more than once. More than one character ends up bruised, bloody, and badly beaten up. One of the scenes explicitly shows Hannah slitting her wrists.
This show may not be able to comfort the disturbed, but it will surely disturb the comfortable. Based on reactions by people on social media, the show caused many to look back at what they had done back when they were teenagers, wondering whether they contributed positively or negatively to anyone.
One of the subplots to the story is the short-lived romance between Clay and Hannah. Early on, we see that Clay is heavily affected by Hannah’s death. At first, it seems like it’s only because they had been close friends, but as the show progresses, it becomes obvious that there is an unspoken attraction between the two. It’s subtle, and sad, and doesn’t affect the main plot of the story, which is Hannah explaining her side. Nevertheless, it’s a good break from all the heavy and intense scenes.
The adaptation is well written and doesn’t take much away from the book. The cast members, led by Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford as Clay and Hannah, respectively, are lauded by critics for their excellent acting. The show has great visuals and an even better soundtrack.
Despite what critics might say, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is one of the most relevant, most real, and most raw shows available today. It shows us why we simply can’t keep ignoring the alarming statistics of bullying, depression, and suicide. Unless you’re a person suffering from trauma, this show is a must-watch.
Just earlier this May, it was announced that the show will receive a second season despite the book having no sequel. There are no plans yet as to how this will play out, but several hints in the latter episodes of the show point toward a potential school shooting story arc.
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