Photo courtesy of Netflix
Calabasas High School

The second season of ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ is more harmful than the first

When Netflix released the first season of “13 Reasons Why” last year, the American entertainment company had a potential hit on its hands, but it also faced a major controversy. The second season of “13 Reasons Why,” is an attempt to stray away from this controversy, and it fails.

Based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher, “13 Reasons Why” is a TV show that addresses tough topics like suicide, sexual assault and bullying. It tells the story of a 17-year-old girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide, leaving behind 13 audio cassette tapes intended for 13 of her classmates on which she explains the reasoning of why they are a part of the blame. And while the first season of the show is critically lauded for its storytelling and the way it addressed the difficulties of high school, it is also accused of having a dangerous narrative.

After receiving backlash toward graphic scenes of rape and suicide, Netflix had changes to make when shooting the second season, which premiered on May 19. Netflix added a spoken trigger warning to the season premiere, advertised courses for those who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, and added content warnings to episodes that included graphic violence and sexual assault.

Netflix’s strategy to “undo” the damage from its first season was unsuccessful and in many ways more harmful. The second season revealed that “13 Reasons Why” frames an important conversation in an irresponsible way. It is not fundamentally interested in starting a conversation, but instead, its goal is to shock its viewers.

Netflix – Alex Standall (Miles Heizer) and Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe)

“13 Reasons Why” glorifies the idea that suicide will lead to a popular immortality, and that it is a viable option for people dealing with difficulties in life. In addition, it discourages teenagers from seeking help from guidance counselors and potentially sends the message to suicidal youth that help-seeking won’t work. The narrative should have placed a greater emphasis on ways to get support, and included alternative resources that are available for those struggling with mental health issues. 

The show attempts to provide its viewers with reasons to live, but it does so in an unconvincing and ineffective way.  Hannah’s mother gives Clay a list of 11 reasons why suicide shouldn’t have been an option for her daughter. Hannah had written it before making the decision to end her own life. This scene gives off the message that the 13 reasons why Hannah considered suicide, outweighed the reasons that Hannah had to live. The show does a poor job of implementing the idea that life is worth living, and instead glamorizes Hannah’s decision.

The second season of “13 Reasons Why” is an unnecessary continuation of an already problematic show. The show is plotless and stagnant, with very little happening from episode to episode, until the jarring and unsettling season finale. Tyler, the creepy school nerd tries to redeem himself by making changes in his life, but it ultimately attacked by the school bullies in the bathroom. The bully brutally sodomizes Tyler with a broom handle, in a scene that is much more graphic than the rape scenes in the previous season.

“The assault scene made me absolutely sick. It was too graphic, I had to pause it and stop watching” said junior Calla Kruis-Grant.

Netflix – Tyler Down (Devin Druid)

Tyler then goes home to his arsenal of guns, where he begins to plan his attack on the school as an act of revenge against the brutal bullying he has faced. It is only when Clay gives a speech about the power of friendship that Tyler comes to his senses and stands down.

The shows “intention” of bringing awareness to the sexual abuse of boys seems harmless, but the explicit and graphic nature of the rape scene strips away the objective for positive change. The rape is played for shock, instead of empathy, and it pushes Tyler into destructive acts that alienate him from the audience’s sympathy.

Moreover, it reinforces the idea that school shooters are victims of bullying, that are pushed to the breaking point and are looking for an outlet of revenge against their tormentors. It also implies the idea that if students were to reach out to them, they could prevent the shootings. The show reinforces this myth and premiered the same day as a devastating shooting took place in Texas, resulting in the death of 10 people. The show provides excuses for the failure of school systems, government and gun laws.

“13 Reasons Why” is not actually interested in guiding its young viewers into a thoughtful and important dialogue. If anything, it seems to find conversations about such topics as ineffective, which is why they include graphic scenes in order to portray truthful experiences. “We’re committed on this show to telling truthful stories about things that young people go through in as unflinching a way as we can,” said showrunner Brian Yorkey.