At first, many thought Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” made suicide sound like the perfect revenge plan: you kill yourself, you leave tapes behind blaming everyone for everything they have ever done to you, and you get to get away without dealing with anything that happens afterwards. Ideal, right? Nothing is ever exactly as clean-cut.
Based on the 2007 best-selling novel, Netflix’s adaptation of Jay Asher’s “13 Reasons Why” deftly portrays each recipient of the tapes as an individual, painting a picture of not only Hannah’s emotional turmoil, but also each teen’s struggles coping with their guilt, identities, or simply the truth. Though controversial in the nature of its content and honest portrayal of sensitive topics, “Thirteen Reasons Why” gives more than 13 reasons to better deal with bullying, sexual assault, and mental illnesses in society.
Everything affects everything. Starting with her first kiss to her final call for help in the counselor’s office, Hannah’s life was just one disaster after the next. Trying to come to terms with all of it, she inadvertently encounters more and more rumors, betrayals, and assaults. Finding her struggles too hard to deal with, the people on the tapes repeatedly assure themselves that Hannah was an unstable drama queen who killed herself for revenge or attention. Following suit, critics condemned the graphic depiction of her final moments as one that “glamorized” suicide when Hannah Baker’s suicide was anything but “romantic.” On the contrary, refusing to turn away from the suicide painted a vivid image of how bleak and devastating a suicide is.
“We did want it to be hard to watch,” show creator Brian Yorkey said. “Because we wanted to make it very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.”
Even though multiple scenes are sensitive and come with warnings, the intended message is clear.
With suicide being the second leading cause of death among teenagers, “13 Reasons Why” addresses a relevant issue. Though the reasons behind Hannah’s final decision were evident to her, like many people who consider or commit suicide, Hannah is oblivious to the impact her absence will have to those who cared.
“A lot of you cared,” Hannah concludes before taking her life. “Just not enough.”
But even reaching out can be a lot harder than it seems.
Dr. Rona Hu explains, “The teenagers are trying to establish their independence. Sometimes when they would like help on some level, they are also refusing it.”
Throughout the show, the difficulty of communicating and seeking help for oneself is a common struggle among the characters, suggesting we need to create more opportunities to allow teens to voice out about otherwise ignored issues. Unable to put words to their emotions or the weight of their struggles, Clay refused to open up to his parents, Jessica refused to speak and seek help for her sexual assault, and Courtney struggled to come to terms with her identity, choosing instead to do whatever she could to hide it from the public. The almost ironic portrayal of all these teens struggling in a world full of technology sends a powerful message to viewers and parents alike.
As Dylan Minnette says in “Behind the Reasons,” it’s “not because you don’t love them or you don’t respect them. It’s more just “What do I say? What will they say?” Maybe, even in the 21st century, we need to communicate better.
“It has to get better. The way we treat each other. They way we look out for each other,” Clay tells Mr. Porter in the final episode as he hands off the tapes.
After seeing Hannah’s calls for help go unanswered one too many times, the resonating theme of the series remind all of us that one suicide is the result of multiple actions. While this series may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly reminds us of the power we have to change someone’s life, for better or worse.