Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why first made its debut on the streaming giant in 2017. Brian Yorkey’s controversial series took viewers by storm with its explicit exploration of bullying, rape culture and teen suicide that threatened to unearth the dark secrets of the not-so-perfect suburbia town. The central premise of the first season is a decidedly bleak one, centring around the recent suicide of seventeen-year-old Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Hannah leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes, detailing those thirteen reasons why she decided to take her own life. Our present-day lead, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minette) is the vehicle through which we experience Hannah’s tale as he attempts to avenge his lost love.
Adapted from the YA novel by Jay Asher, published in 2007, 13 Reasons Why seemed likely only to grace our screens for a single season, ending with Hannah’s graphic on-screen suicide. We were all mistaken, and sadly might I add. The series stretched ‘the show must go on’ mentality to the breaking point, spanning over four seasons, shifting from a harrowing teen drama to a courtroom saga to a narrative quite at home in Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Finally, we arrive at the fourth season …
13 Reasons Why does have a thing for consistency, beginning once again with a death of another student at Liberty High School. Much of the final season is charged with the burdens of clarifying the loose ends of season three, of those loose ends is Monty’s convenient off-screen death that occurs in the final episode of season 3. We are introduced to some new arrivals, Monty’s sister, Estela de la Cruz (Inde Navarrette), and former lover, Winston (Deaken Bluman), who, among other admirers, seek answers for their fallen warrior.
Next we move to the star of the show, Clay Jensen, Liberty High’s tormented anti-hero. Minette’s performance in the final season is truly admirable, portraying with skill the emotional rollercoaster that comes with playing such a character as Clay. We experience on a personal level Clay’s dissociative mental state, violent paranoia and hallucination as he battles his inner demons in the wake of the deaths of his former classmates.
Audiences that are familiar with 13 Reasons Why will find it no surprise that the series attempts a social commentary that strikes home in our current climate. Tyler’s attempted school shooting, excessive police interference, undercover dealings and protests are only just a few of the matters that make their way into the narrative. Perhaps the most disturbing of the show’s tangle with current events is the corrupt process of law enforcement that allows our moralising protagonists to escape justice for murder. Always handy to have your dad on the police force, right? Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other black Americans, this slightly tone-deaf instance of police injustice only adds salt to the wounds.
Ultimately, season four fails to progress, the fast-approaching futures of our teen protagonists never attaining the focus it deserved for its final season. Miraculously, they all get into college and we are led to believe they live rosy lives once they escape the prison that is high school.
I have to say that I was extremely reluctant to watch the final season of 13 Reasons Why given the show’s trajectory – I wasn’t wrong to be so wary. I read the book as a young teenager and I had come to love and sympathise with the characters that I knew so well. While it may have been hard to say goodbye to these characters, it is undoubtedly clear that we should have let go with the end of Hannah’s story. After all, what is the meaning of 13 Reasons Why if Hannah is no longer part of the story?
The continuation of the series deviates massively from the original premise, going so far as to provide a victimisation of the perpetrators of violence and assault. Somewhere among all of the chaos of the final season, we forget that it is our protagonists that truly need to be held accountable now.
Cover Image by Netflix via buzzpaper.com