SPOILERS INCLUDED! Please know that the show deals with rape, suicide, abuse and has graphic scenes that can be a trigger.
A few years ago I read the blurb for this book called “Thirteen Reasons Why” about a high school girl named Hannah Baker who before committing suicide recorded thirteen tapes intended for the very people who hurt her and drove her over the edge. After reading the reviews I decided not to read the book but after watching the show I can’t help but share my thoughts on it even though the show is pretty popular right now so any opinion that goes against isn’t always welcomed.
The book/show deals with bullying and suicide but I’m not going to analyze it, high school was hell for a lot of students – myself included – but the message is clear and spot on. Be careful of how you treat people because you can never know what is affecting someone and in what level. This discussion is mostly about the way the show chose to deliver that message and more specifically Hannah’s tapes and the people in it. Now I’m aware that a few might say I’m reading too much into it and I’m focusing on the wrong thing, this is Hannah’s story and not how the tapes affected the rest but the show itself is devoting every episode to these individuals with Hannah’s suicide barely being an inconvenience for most.
Let’s start from the beginning, the school is just now (after Hannah’s suicide and in the beginning of the show) putting up posters for suicide prevention. It’s 2017 and even if the show was set in a different year shouldn’t those posters have been up there? Did it take Hannah’s suicide for them to go oh maybe we should do this?
Hannah uses the phrase “you’re being watched” as she warns her classmates that if they “don’t follow the rules (to pass the tapes from one person to the next) they will be released in a very public manner” and that this isn’t something she did before killing herself, “it’s a well thought out plan” which is true. Taking the time to record them even though they each are just a couple of minutes long (she borrowed Tony’s Walkman one day in school), mapping out important places and mailing them, that’s a lot of work and the most peculiar part is that the people in the tapes variate from not at all related to her suicide to this person needs to rot in prison. And yet there’s nothing there for her parents. Her poor parents had to deal with her suicide and yet they learn the full story behind it weeks later, and only because Tony decided to give them the tapes.
The message the show is sending is so important.
Some will say that’s no reason to kill yourself, some will say well that is just the tip of the iceberg. And both can be true, it’s the way people – teenagers in this case handle it. I’m not going to talk about the reason(s) and if they are valid or not. I’m more disturbed by the way this book and the show deal with bullies.
But at the same time the show is sending two different messages.
At some point Skye, the only girl with tattoos, piercing and black clothing that appears on-screen, tells Clay that self harm is what you do because suicide is for the weak. So the show is giving two answers to slut-shaming, bullying and sexual assault, suicide or if you’re weak, self harm.
Hannah is relying on their guilt to carry out the “project” of passing the tapes but in doing so she is giving them a chance to come together and destroy all evidence (including evidences of multiple sexual assaults and Jeff’s accident). She’s relying on teenagers to carry out this extraordinary thing with Clay, the one person who cared about her and Tony, a friend not on the tapes, as a back up in case one of the guilty parties doesn’t comply.
- Basically she’s putting a target on their backs.
In multiple occasions Justin suggests they just kill Clay, make it look like a suicide and be done with it but the rest don’t agree. What would have happened if they had? And if Tony was next? Are they capable of killing someone, did she even think about it? Which shows her tapes didn’t affect them the way she wanted to if they are even thinking about faking someone’s suicide to protect themselves. Sure they didn’t go through with it and it was shut down immediately but what would happen if they hadn’t?
Rapists are untouchable.
Throughout the entire show Bryce is the least affected by what is happening. Hannah is dead, Jessica has to go through the hell of listening to her own rape on tape, Clay gets to listen to hers and Hannah’s, Justin is lying to his girlfriend to protect his friend because he once gave him his pair of snickers and paid for his school books and the rest are just casually talking about Jessica’s rape like it’s no big deal. Including a girl among them who has by far the most sickening comments on it. Way to go people, way to go. The one thing that needed to be addressed properly – how to deal with reporting a rape – becomes a non-issue.
- Tony is keeping evidence from the police and spreading it around but at the same time trying to help her parents.
What was the purpose of Tony knowing about the tapes if he wasn’t in them? So he could blackmail the rest from his car and then what? He wasn’t even going to give the tapes to Hannah’s parents which were in a state of shock throughout the entire show but Tony kept showing up and “helped” them with their lawsuit against the school. Really Tony? Thanks for your help dude!
Clay did the right thing by leaving when Hannah asked him to.
The scene where Hannah is upset and she asks Clay to leave her alone in tears and he honored her wish, later he finds out that she actually wanted him to stay and confess his love.
Isn’t this what we as a society are telling males of every age to do?
When a girl asks you to leave her alone and stop touching her, you do it.
Without a second thought.
And especially without thinking oh she wants the opposite I’m not going to listen to her. Like Bryce said to Clay. So no. I cannot accept that Hannah is making him felt guilty for leaving her when she asked him to. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
- Clay’s tape foreshadowing.
Until Clay reaches his own tape, there are various characters telling him to listen to his tape and then judge the rest. At some point when he asks someone “did you do it” he gets the same reply “did you?”, same with Tony when Clay asks him if he (Clay) killed Hannah and Tony replies with “yes” which was for the sake of the episode cliffhanger ending and later Tony saves it by saying “we all killed Hannah” but Clay didn’t do anything. And when his episode came up there was such a huge build up to finally find out what he did and it was the biggest let down of the show. Or any show. Ever.
Because despite the material, this is still a TV show so when you use a technic to hype up scenes you better deliver and they didn’t.
Can I just say that this is a shitty thing to do to the only genuine person in the show, he loved her but couldn’t bring himself to say it, he’s the definition of awkward and shy teenager that has no clue about girls and that’s why she killed herself? I just.. come the fuck on!
- Throughout the show Alex is showing signs of being suicidal.
And indeed in the end he attempts suicide and yet no one noticed. No one cared and no one did anything about it. The entire time I was watching the show I kept wondering, are they not going to do anything about Alex? And they didn’t. THEY. DID. NOTHING. ABOUT. ALEX’S. SUICIDE. NOTHING.
- Jessica is in the most awful position.
Her sexual assault is a not so well-kept secret among them but it’s still not something she wants to share with the world in order to make Bryce pay for it. She has to listen to her ex best friend describe how she witnessed her rape but did nothing about it and now a dozen people know including the rich rapist who can run away at any time, who is also friends with most of the people on the tapes and they all have a personal interest in keeping the tapes to themselves. Again the show is basically saying, you got raped but there’s nothing you can do about it so fuck you.
- Teen vigilante.
- Hannah enlists Tony to keep the tapes safe and make everyone listen.
- Clay stalked the peeping Tom and leaked his nude pic as revenge.
- They all took turns to throw rocks at him.
- Clay keyed Zack’s car – to which Tony replied with, you don’t mess with someone’s car. But please keep the evidence from the police, Tony.
- Clay punched Bryce and got his ass kicked to get a recorded confession that might not even stand in court.
The show deals with actual crimes committed and an utterly wrong way to deal with them. The message is there and it is powerful but the execution is flawed. Send the damn tapes to the police. And yes that’s easy for me to say outside the show but that’s the one loud and clear message the show should have focused on. Teachers, parents, counselors, the police, talk to someone, get help, the legal way.
These are all serious crimes that need to be reported and yet Hannah gave them all the option to keep them silent when she’s the only (or one of the) witness(es). But she’s removing herself from the situations in every case. To the last person, her high school counselor she says you can take the tapes back to hell, but he didn’t do anything? At least not as bad as Bryce or Jenny or Hannah herself for not reporting anything, he sucks and he gave her a bad advice but there are good people out there, people who will help you and support you, there is help out there and the show never once addressed that.
Honestly 13 episodes of the show and I’ve never felt such rage, for Hannah never getting any real help, for Alex who no one noticed he needed help, for Clay and Jessica going through hell, for never seeing Bryce getting arrested as a fictional catharsis in the end and for everyone watching the show and feeling like they, too, have no control over their life and no one to help them. As a viewer who never had any suicidal thoughts this made me feel helpless and enraged at the same time, can’t imagine what viewers dealing with the same situations will feel. I can only hope it will help them for the best.
Wherever you are in the world, please know there’s always help: