This 13 Reasons Why season 2 review contains spoilers.
13 Reasons Why Season 2
With suicide, rape, assault, mass shootings, and addiction, 13 Reasons Why prides itself on sparking conversation. This isn’t a bad thing. Media has the power to really impact us and provide new perspective on our lives and the world around us.
The problem is that 13 Reasons Why Season 2 is so interested in having a discussion and weighing both sides that it almost never actually has a message of its own. This leaves many of the plots feeling like narrative dead ends, with some characters completely unwatchable because it can’t decide what side of morality it wants to falls on. The trial plotline continually brings up this idea of there being “two sides” to Hannah’s story when the first season made a firm case for what happened to her.
It’s disturbing one of the few times the show does take a stance is when Tyler decides to kill everyone at the school. It’s shocking the extreme lengths the season goes to humanize Tyler. They even go so far as to have him be assaulted to give him a justification for planning a school shooting.
The show seems to says that “if only these people reached out to him he’d be better” or “if only those kids hadn’t bullied him he’d be fine.” This is horrifically tone deaf, especially after the recent string of mass shootings in America.
13 Reasons Why has a platform, but is too busy patting itself on the back for starting a discussion that it doesn’t try to provide any helpful answers.
In a few rare cases the show does know what it’s doing in regards to “the issues.” Rape, thankfully, is portrayed as something vile and horrific throughout the season. Bryce is never really humanized and is nothing but a monster. The strongest plot of the season is Jessica’s attempt to process the trauma of her rape and move on. We see how it has hurt her and, by the end, she’s started to make strides of improvement. She’s not totally there but she’s better.
The biggest narrative issue with this season is that even when it gets plot like this or Justin’s redemption arc totally right? They’re completely undercut by overblown plots like the “mystery” of the polaroids, which only seem to be there to give the characters something to investigate.
The first season of 13 Reasons Why wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it still felt emotionally resonate. It was like a gut punch watching it because it felt so real. This season however, it felt like many of its plotlines were ripped from a bad mid 2000’s CW drama, but without the self-awareness.
Alex’s missing memory, the dead animals as threats, the confrontation with Bryce’s friends where Alex points a gun, and pretty much anytime Clay comes up with a plan would be totally fine in a standard drama. You need those sorts of over the top twists to keep a show going. They don’t work in a show where you’re trying to tackle “issues.” They feel cheap and just take time away from the plots that actually matter.
We don’t need more flashbacks with Hannah. We don’t need Hannah as a ghost. Her story is done. There are better stories and characters to follow, ones that of course are affected by Hannah, but aren’t completely overtaken by her.
Anytime Justin was on screen? I was engaged. I adored seeing his attempts to get his life together, wracked with guilt all the way. It built on themes of responsibility the first season raised and I wish the second season had run with it more. Zach became startlingly likeable throughout the season and ultimately did the right thing. He’s not going to let how messed up he thinks he is stop him from doing what’s right. That’s powerful.
Then there’s Clay. I totally get that a teenage boy could act like Clay, self-absorbed and making himself out to be bigger in the story than he was. The show doesn’t explore enough of why that’s bad and instead rewards Clay for all his man pain by giving him the big speech at Hannah’s funeral and even making him two of Hannah’s “reasons to live.”
Man pain isn’t fun to watch. It’s boring. It’s tired. Clay’s story was pretty much over at the end of season one and I would have been just fine if he was demoted to a supporting character. With him still in the limelight, however, he becomes the focus of so many of those needless plots.
This season did not need to be thirteen episodes long and they did not need to be an hour long each. The narrative device of having each episode be one of the teens’ testimony isn’t a bad one, but they should have then structured each episode around that character. Without that the person narrating the episode ends up becoming a secondary character even though their voice is used throughout. It makes the whole thing feel disjointed.
It’s a shame because there’s a great show hiding within the second season. I am totally here for the Jessica, Tony, and Justin show. Let Tony help Justin get clean, while Justin helps Tony with his anger! Let Jessica do exactly what she did this whole season. Zach can come along too!
These characters have the right mix of their actions being overshadowed by Hannah, but not having her totally overwhelm their stories. None of them would need to spend endless scenes talking to her ghost, that’s for sure.
13 Reasons Why season 2 is ultimately a failure because it can’t get beyond its desire to spark conversations. Without having many decisive answers for those conversations it ends up languishing throughout with needless drama TWISTS that rob it of any real emotional impact it could have had.
It makes me cringe at how they’ll handle the topic of male assault in season three, especially with how much they discussed it in the “Beyond the Reasons” special. I don’t trust them to do it right because they don’t even have the balls to say, “Tyler wanting to shoot up a school is a horrific action and can’t be excused.”
If 13 Reasons Why wants to be as important as it desperately tries to be, it needs to treat these topics seriously and not use them as the backdrop for cheap drama.
Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. No but seriously, screw Clay and his man pain. Follow him on Twitter!