The first time I watched the Netflix Original series 13 Reasons Why I couldn’t get through it. I had pushed through the novel of the same name by Jay Asher, giving it 3 1/2 stars at the time, but attempting to watch Season 1 of the difficult and brutal show when it was first released was too much for me. I was not in a very good place myself at that time, so watching a teenage girl’s life be slowly destroyed until she saw no other course of action than to kill herself wasn’t the wisest thing for me to be watching at the time. I skipped to the last episode, just to see the end results, and thought I would never revisit the series.
And yet …
When Season 2 released a few weeks ago, I found myself with the curiosity itch. What sort of material did they still have to go on for a second season when they could’ve left it the way it was at the end of season one? What was their motivation in continuing for another 13 episodes? Too curious to ignore it any further, I decided to give 13 Reasons Why another shot. Who knew I would be so compelled by the story this time around, I would binge watch both seasons in a single week?
Warning: I personally recommend 13 Reasons Why not be watched by anyone who is seriously depressed, is currently being bullied or abused, or even by someone who has been severely abused in the past and is still healing. If you want to experience this show and you have gone through or are going through similar trials, be sure to watch with a friend or adult who can support you through it. The content is graphic (one of the things I really struggled with), and includes depictions of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse as well as suicide.
Now, let’s get to the story and message behind the show. 13 Reasons Why is about teenager Hannah Baker, who chose to take her own life. What she left behind was a box of cassette tapes on which she recorded her 13 reasons for committing suicide. Each reason involves different students from her High School, and the tapes are being passed to each of them by an anonymous and trusted individual who also has copies of said tapes to publicize should any of the rules Hannah stipulates at the beginning of tape 1 be broken. We begin with the tapes being discovered on the front porch of one Clay Jensen. As he starts listening, we get the distinct impression he is not the first to have heard the tapes, and we soon discover we’re right. So who is Clay Jensen in all of this? Why is he on the tapes? And which of the thirteen tapes is his?
13 Reasons Why can be one of those shows you sit down to watch and, after an episode or two, you begin wondering why you’re watching it … yet you can’t stop. Walking with Hannah through her experiences at Liberty High School is tragic and heartbreaking. A horrible lie follows Hannah through the last couple of years of her life and things only build off of one bully’s idiotic course of action. All the little things pile on into one big thing, until the final act against Hannah’s dignity and self-worth drive her to end the torture once and for all.
I heard many different opinions about this series, as well as the book. I once saw a review where someone said Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide were stupid and she was just weak not to get through them. The way this reviewer saw this show was entirely different from what I was seeing. What may seem insignificant to one person, may not be insignificant to another. And when one small thing after another continuously happens, it can drag a person down so deeply that it destroys a life. Which is precisely what happens to Hannah Baker.
So why is 13 Reasons Why important? How could I find a show about suicide so compelling? Let me tell you, it’s hard to answer those questions. It’s so very hard to explain what I was thinking and feeling as I stayed up late into the night watching this show, needing to know what happened next. Needing to understand why the bright, funny, and seemingly happy girl Hannah Baker thought she had no other option than to kill herself.
Mixed with a parade of abuse, singular moments of happiness, and the ultimate assault that leaves Hannah empty inside, 13 Reasons Why is a dynamic story that had me gasping, crying, laughing, and furious at intervals. I know what you’re thinking. Laughing? Really? Well, let me tell you that’s how realistic this show was. Because Hannah’s life reflected reality–Hannah’s reality–in a way that translated perfectly to the screen. You can find happiness and laughter, even in the worst of times, but it doesn’t mean those split-second moments are big enough to overwhelm the darkness.
Many of you may have already read a previous blog post of mine entitled What You Never Saw When You Looked At Me. You can read it again Here. In this post, I speak of my own experiences with depression and how it nearly led me to a life altering decision. A decision Hannah ultimately made in this story.
I suppose, in the end, that’s why 13 Reasons Why was so important to me personally. What Hannah went through, her struggles and fears, her feelings of worthlessness–that nobody cared enough about her to truly see what she was going through and do something to save her–it was all so familiar to me, it struck me to my very core.
Sometimes, the message behind a story like this can’t be explained. It can’t be articulated properly. Sometimes, you just need to see it for yourself and take from it what was intended. Everyone is here for a reason, and Hannah’s wasn’t to commit suicide and glorify an act that devastates the lives left behind. If you see glory in what she did, then you’re not looking at the full picture. Because while her death united kids at her school who had beforehand never been friends; while it wove strength and love between the individuals left behind who blamed themselves for what she did, it also left a hole in their hearts and lives that can never be filled by another person. And while the hurt will slowly fade as the years pass, Hannah’s choice will forever hang over them.
Suicide is not an option. This show depicted, with a subtle beauty, how this act can change and shape lives. How it devastates and destroys. How it locks people in fear. How things don’t get better with the loss, but worse. For her family, for her friends, 13 Reasons Why Seasons 1 & 2 showed how Hannah’s decision, and what she left behind, determined the actions of not only the good kids in her school, but the monsters as well.
You never know when something you say could change a life. You never know when you, a good person, could say something seemingly innocent that consequently devastates a life. Know the signs. See people. Stop the cruelty. By your example, show others how they should treat people.
Be there for the Hannah Baker in your life. You might not know you have a Hannah Baker, but if you look closely enough … you might find one.
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