Netflix dives into murky waters with Jay Asher’s teen suicide drama series, 13 Reasons Why
Netflix’s new show may be its more controversial series yet, and it should be expected. 13 Reasons Why deals with dark, sensitive themes about death, loss, bullying, rape, and suicide. It follows Clay Jensen (Dylan Minette) a young, quirky teen boy who receives a box with 13 tapes all narrated by his co-worker Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). The thing is that Hannah has recently committed suicide and these tapes highlight her tragic story. Even as the subject matter gets increasingly difficult to digest, 13 Reasons Why is chocked full of interestingly complex characters, relationships, and problems that need to be seen.
The series is composed of 13 episodes all of which centers around someone who has caused Hannah harm. These “reasons” range from microaggressions to much bigger and more serious problems. Thanks to this set-up, 13 Reasons Why is incredibly binge-worthy. After one episode ends, you quickly want to know who is the next subject of Hannah’s tape. With this brilliant set-up, it’s easy to develop the series’ diverse cast. You have Justin (Brandon Flynn), Hannah’s first kiss, Jessica (Alisha Boe), Hannah’s first friend, and Alex (Miles Heizer), another of Hannah’s friend. What seems like stereotypical high school characters, in the beginning, become intricate teens with their own problems. Not only are they tied into Hannah, but their own problems are also revealed by Hannah’s story as Clay slowly listens to each tape.
The cast makes this great writing shine. Newcomers like Katherine Langford and Brandon Flynn are surprisingly good while Don’t Breathe‘s Dylan Minette delivers as our lead character. However, full credits to Kate Walsh, who played Hannah’s grieving mother. Her performance is elegant and poignant. Alisha Boe also does a great job with an impressively handled despairing story ark. And no disrespect to the rest of the cast who all do a great job as well. They are written like real characters, and the diversity of the cast compliments its different plotlines. It’s their relationship together that are the most interesting.
Writers Jay Asher and Brian Yorkey deliver some of the series bests and worsts. Their ability to take a teen drama and apply such a sophisticated adult maturity into its themes and story is what truly shines in 13 Reasons Why. They manipulate the surroundings and pay close attention to details in their flashback and present scenarios. Though suicide isn’t an easy scenario to depict, and it’s no surprise that it has gotten a significant amount of controversy. The decision to keep an elaborate discussion of mental health out of the series is a tough mistake. The series tries and sometimes succeeds to bring subjectivity in Hannah’s story. Yet, dealing with such a psychological tragedy, it’s a huge mistake to keep the most important aspect out of the series and to that it falters in places.
On another level, 13 Reasons Why rights one of the biggest wrongs in these types of stories – romanticism and glorification. Never does the series romanticize the death of Hannah. It brings the viewer in a challenging situation where you must feel for her and mourn her lost. Her cycle of never ending misery is painful to watch, and we are reminded of how truly tragic it is when faced with her grieving parents. Never once is the series shown to praise Hannah for what she’s done. While the omission of mental health makes it easier to understand her “reasons” why the series consistently demonstrates the aftermath of such an action making it tragic instead of commendable.
While Netflix’s new show might not be for everyone, it has some important themes that need addressing. No. Its depiction of suicide isn’t perfect, but it’s a step forward. It’s nice to see the series often transcends suicide to talk about other problems such as rape, bullying and sexual harassment. These other storylines are depicted with the care and precision they need. 13 Reasons Why is a bold series from start to finish, and while it may not be a perfect depiction of suicide, the subject matter is an important start to a bigger conversation.
13 Reasons Why is currently available on Netflix for everyone who has a subscription.