5 months after the events of season 1, 13 Reasons Why returns for a second season with the characters dealing with a looming court case, which somehow undermines and dismantles the effort of the original story.
warning: due to the nature of the tv series, this review of 13 reasons why season 2 will contain major spoilers.
13 Reasons Why Season 2 has ironically shot itself in the foot with a sluggish attempt. If you dive back to the first season, the show’s popularity transformed into heated debates on social media, questioning its use of suicide and whether or not it should have ever aired. The painful heartbreaking story behind Hannah Barker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide raised awareness across a broad range of issues, mostly focusing on mental health, feminist issues and the increasing pressure of the high school bubble. The horrifying drama surrounding a young girl’s suicide was surprisingly popular, so it was hardly shocking that Netflix bid for a second season, despite many querying if a continuation is necessary. The divisiveness felt needed and current with its boldness; a lesson to the young generation. 13 Reasons Why did not need a second season; the messages were powerful enough to remain where it was. The drama left viewers with plenty to ponder and that’s okay. Netflix could have proudly left it, recognising it as a case study of importance.
I hate being right sometimes. After sitting for 13 hours, only breaking off for toilet breaks and the odd snack, my suspicions came to fruition – 13 Reasons Why has given more reasons to switch off. The story begins 5 months after season 1, with the ramifications surrounding Hannah Barker’s suicide coming to the fold. The entire stage is set, as the court case is set in motion. With everyone expecting the lawsuit to be settled, the characters panic that there is going to be a trial. The school is accused of being liable for Hannah’s death, meaning every character that was involved in the first season is potentially a witness for the stand. The main driver is the court scenes, but the prosecution and defense do not make plausible arguments; the lawyers seem to raise disputes that only help tell a story, thus making it barely impactful. The issue stems from the fact that there are no tapes, meaning Hannah Barker is not narrating. 13 Reasons Why misses her voice.
Netflix’s desperation to continue this drama resulted in the writers forming a comical way to keep some kind of story structure for season 2. Many were wondering how Netflix was going to replace Hannah. 13 Reasons Why toys with the inexcusable idea that she is now a ghost. Yes, this has become a ghost story. Despite the glaring positive that the flashbacks were the core of the first season, the show’s creators could not think of a better way to include the character except in the form of a spirit. To add to this baffling annoyance, only Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) can see or speak to her. Some outlets have argued that Hannah is clearly part of Clay’s imagination and in parts, I am inclined to half-heartedly agree, however, season 2 makes the odd attempt to hint that she is haunting the troubled man; Clay even asks her if she is corporeal. The fact that the writers left it as a mystery is ridiculously dumb and when Clay finally says goodbye to her it felt cheap and numbed the emotions of season 1. What a unique way to dismantle an important story that did not need touching.
But I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it? Is 13 Reasons Why even worth the time without a story structure surrounding a dead girl’s tapes? The show can be applauded for making strides in tackling awareness but without the characters sweating over tape recorders, all you really have is a teen drama about young people dealing with their issues. Each episode relies on a different character narrating. The most compelling episode is Mr. Porter, the councilor burdened with guilt from allowing Hannah to leave his office right before she kills herself. His episode is the best one, as you completely understand that he had the best opportunity to save her life and the self-torture over that thought process is an emotional one. When his episode came to an end, I realized that season 2 lacks emotional impact or desire to connect with the audience. It’s just a case by case character study, with no real structure leading to a finished court case.
Due to the unforgivable lazy episode structure, the drama forces itself toward reveals that felt labored and uninteresting. 13 Reasons Why subjects itself to forcing plot points that undermine the efforts of season one that only damages the story arc. The most perplexing one is the relationship between Hannah Barker and Zach. Apparently, they enjoyed a whole summer of hormone-raged sex but broke it off because of the pressure to keep it a secret. This entire side story felt forced and unnecessary, melding Zach into the story to provide him with some importance. 13 Reasons Why needs 13 episodes, we get it, but do not undermine the most important character for the sake of a less important one.
This need to keep everything important is the series’ undoing, especially with the Polaroid photos of Bryce and his friends. If you think about this story logically, if these jocks were so worried about these photos making it to court as evidence, why on earth would they not burn them? Apparently, despite this fear, they continued making more photos of women sat on their couches right before they sexually assaulted their victims. And after everybody wondering why Tony was given the tapes by Hannah, in the end, it comes down like a lead balloon. He was chosen because he owed her a favor when she allowed him to hide in the cinema from the police. 13 Reasons Why season 2 spends more time telling its audience things that no-one cares about.
The stronger moments come from Hannah, Clay, and Jessica as they are the most affected characters in the story. Bryce disguising himself as a good-natured student when he is, in fact, a rapist is the forefront of the season. A part of me felt they could have easily focused more on this dynamic than everything else. Instead, other character arcs run away with it, leaving you to wonder what they were aiming for. Ironically the last episode, which results in a near school shooting, is the most dramatic and emotional because it relied on Clay and Hannah’s relationship as the core story. I did feel emotional, my heart raced slightly, but I wanted it to end. By this point, there was no saving the series due to the countless missteps, and it provided none of the feelings that the first season did. To my annoyance, the ending only left it open for a third season.
The only positive I can take from this is that it manages to speak to so many important issues that plague our upcoming generations of today. Growing up can be terrible and feel inescapable. 13 Reasons Why season 2 does not justify the binge and I could probably give you 13 reasons why not to watch it. The series has managed to systematically destroy the efforts of its predecessor by barely lifting its lazy finger, and it will leave you feeling like you have wasted your time.