13 Reasons Why is a painful, powerful series that details the harrowing ’13 reasons why’ Hannah Baker took her own life.
The latest series from Netflix is based on Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel of the same name. After choosing to take her own life, Hannah leaves a series of tapes for her classmates, explaining the reasons why she was driven to suicide.
The story starts with Hannah’s friend, Clay Jensen, becoming the latest to receive the tapes. As Clay struggles to listen to the cassettes, he learns difficult secrets about his late friend alongside increasingly disturbing ones concerning his classmates, who look to keep them hidden by any means necessary.
13 Reasons Why is devastating. It is not an easy watch and nor should it be, considering the subject matter. Having binge watched the series over three days, I’m emotionally exhausted.
Having said that, you can’t take your eyes off this gutsy, harrowing adaptation of Jay Asher’s best-selling novel.
It’s a brutal exploration of a myriad of issues, the most notable being teen suicide, depression, toxic masculinity and rape culture. It does these with an impressive and a necessary maturity, cutting right to the bone, refusing to shy away from the horror involved with each.
13 Reasons Why challenges its audience to face these issues head on. There’s no glorification. There’s no morbid romanticism. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable to watch. And in turn, that’s why it’s so brilliant, it’s why it’s so powerful and more than anything, it’s why this series feels so important.
13 Reasons Why is devastating. it is not an easy watch and nor should it be.
Both the show’s leads are tasked with taking their audience on a journey over the course of a gruelling 13 episodes. Arguably, a large part of the success of the series rests on their shoulders. Thankfully in Katherine Langford (Hannah Baker) and Dylan Minnette (Clay Jensen), 13 Reasons Why had two leads that came up trumps.
Langord is exemplary as Hannah in what’s her first major acting credit. As a viewer, you’re rendered helpless watching Hannah descend into darker, lonelier territory and desperate for her to be saved, owed massively to Langford’s performance.
She’s a sweetheart, full of optimism with a good heart, swept up in the toxic shitstorm of an environment at Liberty High, thrust into an increasingly vicious circle of rumours, consequence and reputation.
Her first kiss should have been a moment to savour. It should have been something to treasure. Instead, it’s a watershed moment as it’s flipped and twisted, becoming everything it wasn’t, opening the doors for the beginning of a nightmare. From there, it’s as if a train leaves the station with acts of cruelty, both big and small, indifference and inaction resembling coal being thrown on the fire, fuelling it onward, dragging Hannah deeper and deeper into the mire until it culminates in her taking her own life.
Langford convincingly portrays a picture of sparkling optimism to someone languishing in the depths of despair. The light dies inside of Hannah. The world around her remains too blinded to pull her out. Langford nails this descent, sucking you in, taking her into your heart and, despite knowing the ending, you’re desperately hoping that she can still be saved.
Langford convincingly portrays a picture of sparkling optimism to someone languishing in the depths of despair.
Minnette as Clay, meanwhile, is a worthy counterpart. He embodies Clay’s stoic, social awkwardness and hits the emotional beats when he has to. He masters those scenes of explosive anger and sheer, raw emotion, especially one in episode 11 which finally broke my resistance and saw a few tears dribble down my cheek. It sells Clay’s despair. It absolutely convinces you of how the tapes are affecting him. It’s a genuinely impressive performance, making his realisation, and subsequent devastation, that he could have done more to save Hannah all the more meaningful.
He guides us through a journey of his own. From unravelling the truth as to why Hannah took her own life, to his role in the tragedy, to reaching out to a classmate towards the end of the series, Minnette is likeable throughout.
Clay feels real and we can relate to him, as we can Hannah. He’s not perfect. He’s flawed. He messed up. He knows it. We know it. You believe Minnette’s performance every step of the way.
Together, they have a real chemistry. Some of my favourite scenes across the 13 episodes were with the both of them onscreen. Their friendship is authentic, while the flickerings of a potential romance feel real yet they never feel as if they’re star-crossed lovers.
Around them, it’s a bloated cast though it leads to meaty, rather than overstuffed episodes. It’s a necessary step to fully explore the messy, tangled web that these classmates have got themselves caught up in, each of them responsible in some way for driving Hannah to suicide and it makes the story all the stronger.
Indeed, the depth added to one character later in the season – who, until then, you’re convinced is just an asshole – solidifies the importance of a show such as this. It doesn’t excuse his actions, not at all, yet at the same time it further illustrates you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life and the power of three words.
“Are you okay?” “How you doing?” “Are you alright?” – Take your pick. Just ask ’em. It can open a window and send the light cascading in for someone floundering in the dark.
As for the story itself, while gripping throughout, it truly finds its feet in the second-half. Initially, it adopts a mystery aspect through Tony, who refuses to admit why he’s keeping the tapes for Hannah, has a habit of following Clay and interacting with the Bakers and, really, is just being damn right mysterious.
Once progressing past that, it truly flourishes. It’s a very real, truly raw series.
People don’t always know how to handle depression, nor do those suffering know how to reach out. People don’t get suicide and why people do it, though at the same time it’s absolutely not the only option. It never is. People can be fucking cruel. Life can hurt. As Clay says perfectly in the final episode, “It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”
This is a series that should get people talking and get people thinking.
It’s not an easy watch, at times it’s very uncomfortable, it’s harrowing and it’s challenging. While maybe I wouldn’t advocate a binge watch, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone.
It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.