Inspired by Jay Asher’s 2007 New York Times bestseller of the same name, Netflix Original series, “13 Reasons Why” made its worldwide premiere last month. With its dark and provocative storyline on an extremely sensitive topic, the show’s subject matter is perhaps one of the most controversial series to run on Netflix this year. However, regardless of its polarized critical reception, “13 Reasons Why” is nonetheless an addictive and campy series that has opened the conversation on suicide and its portrayal in the media. The show follows the aftermath of the tragic suicide of high school junior, Hannah Baker. Shortly after Hannah’s suicide, fellow high school student, Clay Jensen finds a set of seven audio cassette tapes left anonymously on his doorstep.
Upon listening to the first tape, Clay is shocked to hear Hannah herself narrating the experiences and people who triggered her suicide. Each story correlates to one side of a tape, and every story revolves around one person Hannah blames for contributing to her depression and loneliness. Firstly, while the cast looks like a group of 25 year-olds dressed as high schoolers, their acting and portrayal of self-conscious teenagers is pretty spot on. They swear, drink and party just enough to make the show believable.
As the show’s primary narrator, Katherine Langford brings Hannah Baker off the page and onto the screen incredibly well. Whether you relate or enjoy Hannah Baker, Langford’s performance is outstanding. She draws viewers into the psyche of a lonely girl drowning in her own feelings of insignificance and self-esteem. Regardless if viewers find the reasons behind her suicide valid or not, Langford does her job in simply telling Hannah’s story. Although scorned by audiences and critics for glamorizing suicide and being unauthentic, “13 Reasons Why” succeeds in representing the devastation and difficulty that suicide results. The reactions of Hannah’s parents, played by Brian d’Arcy James and Kate Walsh, are organic and heartbreaking.
Together, James and Walsh create a dynamic chemistry that captures the anger, confusion and hurt of parents coping with the death of a child and looking for answers behind her suicide. Convinced that Hannah was being bullied, the Bakers launch an investigation and lawsuit on Hannah’s school, Liberty High School, to smoke out the perpetrators. As an equally engaging side plot, the investigation intertwines perfectly with Hannah’s narration, showing two sides of one coin. Endless flashbacks also contribute to representing Hannah’s story and Clay’s deteriorating mental state.
Many of the scenes are provocative, explicitly showing Hannah’s suicide by cutting. Combined with consistent narration, the flashbacks and Clay’s illusions paint a complex picture reflective of the show’s approach to hard subject matter. What really drives the show home is the relatable, yet slightly overdramatized reactions of the supporting cast, many of whom are mentioned in Hannah’s tapes as culprits in her decision to end her life. Some are athletes with scholarships on the line while others are grade-A students desperate to keep their clean slates spotless.
The show is well-structured, as Hannah’s suicide catalyzes guilt and paranoia in each person featured on her tape. This results in each person revealing their true colors and battling the culpability that threatens to expose the skeletons in their closets. Every member of the supporting cast showcases each character in a diversified array of light. The characters are difficult to label, as each subsequent episode peels beyond the surface, revealing more backstory that ultimately shaped their decisions that affected their interactions with Hannah.
Moreover, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint a main villain or hero. Viewers may begin an episode hating one character and soon switch over to their defense as the story becomes deeper. The show serves as an epitomic exhibition of how one’s actions always result in consequences, negative or positive. While many of the supporting characters continue to struggle with accepting responsibility for their actions and mistakes up until the series’s finale, Clay and Hannah’s parents grow the most and consequently end the series with peace of mind. Such character development, while confined to a select few characters in a large cast, are nonetheless satisfying.
Furthering the show’s provocativeness are many other topical issues of today’s world and a disturbingly realistic portrayal of how our society handles (or suppresses) such important and common issues. The harsh realities and shortcomings of the public school system are accurately shown in the series. From homophobia, rape, sexual harassment and drug use, “13 Reasons Why” touches upon majorly controversial topics in an unabashedly realistic way; the show’s diverse cast further supports the truthful claim that such topics do not discriminate. In the end, everyone is vulnerable to evil, regardless of beauty, brains or talent.