Netflix series · Series review

13 Reasons Why

I know this particular Netflix series has gained a lot of attention as of recently and I know I must be only one out of millions of bloggers who have made a post discussing the episodes. Be warned, I will be talking about spoilers. It’s difficult to fully review this series since there’s so much within each episode, so I’ll discuss the things that stood out to me most.

I vaguely recall reading the book 13 Reasons Why years ago, and as I have only just finished watching all the episodes in its entirety, I think I just might revisit the book soon as well.

This series gave me a lot of feels. I could relate to some of the things the characters went through and they felt like real people to me. I also liked that not one character was completely good or bad and all have done questionable things. There were points I found myself feeling irritated at Hannah, the protagonist whose side I am supposed to be on. It was then I realized that the fact I could be upset at Hannah and see the flaws in some of her actions and words meant she wasn’t perfect either and that like at least some of the people who didn’t intend to hurt her, she unintentionally hurt people as well. That’s what it means to human.

An example is when Zach was opening up to Hannah about how he hoped she could’ve been his Dollar Valentine. I get that Hannah, at this point, was so disillusioned by any boy being genuinely interested in getting to know her because of bad thing after bad thing happening to her; the photo debacle with Justin and rumors about her looseness, Bryce who sexually harassed her and then Marcus with his asshole behavior. She acted that way because she didn’t want to get hurt ever again, however, she also wasn’t considering Zach’s feelings and how she affected him by humiliating him so publicly.

I’m not saying that justified what Zach did to her as revenge, but simply pointing out an observation about how Zach was hurt by Hannah while Hannah herself acted the way she did out of hurt too. I do think Zach was genuinely trying to give her a compliment, but the way he said it was probably not the best. This is where I felt it was a missed opportunity for Hannah to have ended up differently had things with Zach gone differently. He said he was into her for other reasons, unlike the other guys who like her for her nice ass, was most likely what made Hannah even more upset because that brought everything back to the stupid list and people gossiping about her for something she didn’t even start. Zach lashed out against her for humiliating him by trying to get even with her, except in the way he did it was perhaps the most immature way possible. I mean, stealing her compliment notes week after week? That is so childish.

A recurring theme throughout the series I picked up on was the decisions these teenagers made weren’t always the morally inclined one, which I felt was attributed to the fact they are young teens navigating a complex social world and that they simply hadn’t attained enough experience yet to be mature and rational about all their decisions. Like how Jessica flippantly brushed off Hannah’s concerns to her about Justin when she found out Jessica and Justin were dating. I can see Jessica choosing to trust Justin despite Hannah’s warnings because she’s had more time than Hannah to get to know Justin. Yet I found it disdainful when Jessica basically brushed the photo scandal under the rug by not holding Justin accountable for his part in causing Hannah’s humiliation. After all, it was Justin who shared the upskirt pic of Hannah. Instead, it sounded like Jessica put the blame solely on Bryce for mass texting it to all the students. I also had a serious disconnect with Jessica’s decision to blame Hannah for Alex breaking up with her all because of the list and Jessica’s assumption that Alex naming Hannah with the “best ass” meant that they had f*cked. I have a hard time seeing how she could draw that conclusion, but I guess she was emotionally hurt by Alex apparently breaking up with her out of nowhere and was looking for someone to blame. At the same time, I have immersive sympathy for these kids because I often forget what it’s like to be that young, impulsive and for every little thing in high school to mean so much to them. On one level or another, I was once in their shoes too.

I’m iffy about the school social hierarchy and the separation of students into “classes”, like jocks, nerds, etc. This kind of trope has appeared a lot in film and television and I can never tell if it’s an accurate depiction of social hierarchies in real schools.

The character I had most trouble connecting with is Bryce. I don’t understand him. I’m sure there are real life people out there like him; rich, arrogant, take-whatever-I-want kind of guy, in addition to the biggest douchebag who has no respect or remorse for women and how he’s preyed on them. However, Bryce seen through Hannah’s eyes is nothing more than a bully and rapist, which he obviously deserves to be called for his sordid behavior, but I would’ve liked to see his backstory a little more. A backstory doesn’t necessarily have to make the viewer have sympathy towards the character. I still would’ve seen Bryce has the lowest vermin to walk the earth even with a backstory, but I just didn’t feel it was compelling for him to be a rich kid who gets away with everything because he has everything. It’s hard for me to see substance in that since his character dances so close to the line of being an almost caricature. The only time he seemed to show a hint of regret or guilt or whatever emotion it was when Justin walked off after basically implying he never wanted to see Bryce again. To me, that seemed to come out of nowhere. What was Bryce’s motivation for feeling bad all of a sudden?

Also, since when does everyone in school has everyone else’s phone number to allow mass texting? Are there really schools out where everyone has everyone’s phone number?

Very random to bring up, but I loved Courtney’s Hello Kitty lunchbox. Aaah! I gave an internal squeal of approval overseeing it since I was obsessed with Hello Kitty during my teen years.

Probably the hardest scene to watch after the two rape scenes (both of which made me visibly cringe) was Hannah’s suicide scene. The sight of the razor blades alone made me sick and by the time Hannah was actually moving to slit her wrist with one, I actually covered my iPad screen with my hand so I wouldn’t have to see it. Her agonized scream as the blade cut into her flesh was awful to hear. I believe it was a raw and realistic depiction of pain at its worst, but I do not think I have the heart to rewatch the scene again if I ever revisit the episode. I imagine some might find the scene too graphic to watch and maybe gratuitous too, however, I feel it was a necessary to see the grim and unglamorous reality of how someone who is lost and in a lot of pain can become so desperate to end their own life. Not desperate like it’s pathetic, but desperate like she tried to get help in the way she knew how to and it didn’t work.

I admit I did wonder why she didn’t try to go to someone else, like Ms. Bradley, after Mr. Porter was so unhelpful to her. But that’s the whole point of her story is she wanted to give life one last try by reaching out to Mr. Porter. And when that failed, I sensed she was just tired of everything and didn’t have the will or motivation to turn back again. I think the message about the suicide scene is to show suicide is not a peaceful release beckoning someone into the light of death and that it’s actually a serious decision for someone who believes she has nothing else to live for.

I saw pieces of myself in Hannah behavior when she was sitting in Mr. Porter’s office trying to verbalize what she was feeling, while nervously fidgeting and giving vague wording that cumulated in her sobbing as she admitted she wanted everything to stop. What hit very close to home with me as well is when she spoke of how people will try to look for signs that led up to her suicide but actually it looks like nothing. I’ve never made an attempt to end my life though I know the feeling of putting on the facade of being okay to those around me when every waking moment feels meaningless.

The best part of the series is the end and how inconclusive everyone’s stories are by then. There is no neat bow tying everything up and solving all the characters’ problems in one final hurrah. I can imagine a lot of what-ifs or maybe there is even fanfiction out there about what could’ve happened to everyone, but perhaps all of it is left open for interpretation because life goes on even when people’s stories are left unrecorded.

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14 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why

    1. Cool, nice to know you are also watching. At first I didn’t really think about giving the series a try because I find it’s hard for me to get on board with a series if I already read the book first because then I keep drawing comparisons or being upset the tv series changes xyz about the characters. But I had read 13 Reasons Why so long ago that I could recall some parts of the book and the overall plot but I forgot enough to not be nitpicky while actually watching the series.

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      1. I had similar feelings about the beginning of the series being underwhelming. A lot of it is setting up and putting down the groundwork for later episodes.

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  1. My boyfriend just told me about the series last night and I’m tempted to watch it! I have heard mixed opinions though, from it being super touching to it sensationalizing suicide. I’ll come back to read your whole post when I finish the series :).

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    1. Yes, I completely agree that the series is a mixed bag. I included some stuff in my blog discussing some aspects of this. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the series.

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      1. Thank you for opening a discussion of the show on your blog! We seem to share a lot of the same feelings about the show. Although I finished the show a while back, I felt like I had to sit back and think about how I felt about it and I have such mixed feelings about it.

        Maybe I couldn’t empathize with Hannah, but I was often irritated with her, especially when she told Clay to go away multiple times but expected him to stay. The tapes felt more for the sake of revenge than for explaining why she committed suicide.

        I might have missed the bigger picture and the message that maybe Hannah wasn’t meant to be a likeable character, and that the show was trying to depict a butterfly effect of how small actions from everyone could cause someone to reach that point. I felt devastated for her after she witnessed the rape and for what Bryce did to her and saw how hopeless/helpless she felt. Watching her mother’s reaction after the suicide of initial disbelief then hurt was agonizing :(.

        BUT WTF? It was like the show was setting up for a season 2 already with Tyler and the case with the gun compartment, the trial, and leaving loose ends with what’s gonna happen with Bryce. So…yay for expecting a season 2? All I really want to know is if Alex is gonna be okay :(, and HOW TONY KNEW EVERYTHING.

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      2. In a sense, I do feel Hannah made the tapes to hold people accountable for their actions towards her and how they affected her. I don’t think the main idea of the show was to prove that she was trying to get revenge in the worst place possible by leaving behind evidence and then killing herself. I think the tapes were an outlet for her to express her deepest pain and to tell certain people things that she would have otherwise had no idea how to communicate it to them. I mean, these are teenagers. At that age, I think clear verbal communication and saying things in an appropriate, concise way is a hard thing to do, especially with the pressures of the social circles people kept to.

        Take how Zach was trying to be nice to Hannah but she took it the wrong way based on her own insecurities and the rumors that spread about her. Or when Clay just stood there not saying anything when Montgomery accused Hannah of being a lesbian and the supposed sexual favors she once gave to Justin. Clay later says to someone else (I forgot who) that Hannah thinks he cares about stuff that doesn’t matter (aka what Montgomery said). I wish he had actually told Hannah this instead of saying nothing when Montgomery was ragging on her. At the same time, when Hannah tried to reach out to Clay after Jeff’s death in order to tell him about the stop sign, he misinterpreted her and thought she was being a drama queen for no reason. Hannah’s defensive front of telling Clay to go away while actually wishing he wouldn’t go is also another example of bad communication. I got the sense she was this way because she hated feeling vulnerable and didn’t know how to be upfront with him about just how much pain she was in.

        If not for the tapes, I don’t think most of the people featured on them would’ve known that their actions affected someone so badly on a mental and emotional level. The thing I could relate most to about the show was the perspective of a teenager, where school felt like my whole world and that whatever difficulty I was going through then would never end. As bad as it sounds, I believe that’s the reason why Hannah gave up in the end and also because she saw Mr. Porter as her last chance at turning things around but he disappointed her. I know it wasn’t outright stated in the series, but I can theorize why she didn’t just unburden herself to her parents. There was a brief scene where her father recalled the reason they moved in the first place was b/c Hannah was being bullied at her old school. And then Hannah telling Mr. Porter that she didn’t want to be a problem for her parents. While Hannah was going through this, her parents were also having financial problems. So I could see why she was reluctant to let her parents know anything b/c then they would be stressed about not only money but about her too.

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      3. At the time I read your comment, I didn‘t know yet that the series has officially been renewed for a second season! Wow. I would definitely like to see how Alex is. 😦 And it is scary to imagine what Tyler will do, yikes. I hope Bryce gets what he deserves.

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  2. Great post Nat 🙂

    I just finished the season and I’m very much in two minds about it like you. It really hit me hard – especially the bathtub scene which is probably because of my self harm history.
    But to be honest I’m so glad this show has opened up the discussion of suicide (even though I feel like there was a lot of blame put on those who received the tapes when they didn’t deserve it as much as others).

    Maddie xo

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    1. For sure, the series was conflicting on many levels because there was one side of me that felt she was justified in blaming those whose actions she was most affected by. I felt all the tapes as a whole did explain how bad thing after bad thing happened to Hannah and how all of it cumulated in her downfall. Life basically beat her down for so long that the final straw with Mr. Porter not being very helpful to her was her way of deciding there was no point anymore. Yet the other side of me felt upset at Hannah. She did have people throughout all this that loved and cared for her, even though at times she may have not always felt as loved or cared for by them. Tony, Clay, her parents. Even Kat, although she had moved away. But I don’t blame Hannah at all for not reaching out to them about feeling suicidal. Even to verbalize something like that is hard, such as when she was telling Mr. Porter that she wanted life to stop and he (in my opinion) was not very helpful at all.

      I also was disappointed in Hannah when she treated Zach badly when he was being genuinely nice to her. Zach’s friends are assholes, but he is somewhat decent. The way she snapped at him reminded me so much of myself in high school. I didn’t have the exact same experiences as her, but I did go through some stuff that made me feel the whole world and everyone in it was crummy, so anytime someone was nice to me, I wouldn’t even be able to see that it was genuine and just assume people were saying nice things to me while actually thinking I’m a loser. Yet, I can also see there were points in the series that people like Clay were wrapped up in his own emotions (like when he dealt with Jeff’s death) and accused Hannah of being dramatic for no reason.

      I heard rumors about a season 2. Ugh, I have such mixed feelings about that! I would love to see a continuation and find out what happens to everyone whose stories were left open. The end with Tyler made me a little ill knowing what his intentions are for people at school, Alex and whether he survived, what Mr. Porter decides to do about the tapes, if Bryce will be prosecuted for his crimes, etc.

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  3. I really liked this show even though it had me in tears numerous times. I can totally relate to Hannah and many of the other characters, Alex in particular. I love reading all the discussion about the show and can understand all these different points even if I don’t agree with all of them. Truth is we will never know exactly what was going through Hannah’s mind at the moment she decided to end it.

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    1. I agree with you about being able to rationalize the characters’ actions but not agreeing with how some of them behaved. Courtney, in particular, I was kinda dumbfounded by that even by the last episode she still pretended not to know anything to keep herself uninvolved. My personal impression is that she looked guilty studying the photo of herself and Hannah during her deposition.

      Up to the point until Hannah actually ended it, it was hard to watch her every step of the way knowing she could’ve changed everything in a single instant if she had just stopped her own plans. Or rather, I felt she could have changed things, but that’s me looking in from a third party perspective. Like when she went to the post office to mail out the package and the guy from her old poetry group asked her to stop by since everyone at the group missed her. It chilled me a little to see her put on a normal face and continue on after that.

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