Netflix released their highly anticipated teen mystery series “Thirteen Reasons Why” on March 31st. The series based on the 2007 New York Times bestselling young adult novel of the same name and follows both the causes and the aftermath of teenage Hannah Baker’s suicide. It focuses on the events that lead to Hannah’s death and the lives of the individuals whom she blames for her suicide.
The series takes place over 13 episodes. Before her death, Hannah, played by Katherine Langford, recorded thirteen cassette tapes, each tape dedicated to a specific person who caused her pain or didn’t help her when they had the chance. She leaves the box of tapes to her classmate Tony, played by Christian Navarro, who passes them on to each person mentioned on the tapes in a chain-letter fashion. The series begins with Clay Jensen, Hannah’s classmate and former co-worker portrayed by Dylan Minnette, receiving the box of tapes.
Throughout the series, we meet the people who either positively or negatively affected Hannah’s life. Each episode contains scenes of Hannah’s memories along with moments in the present involving Clay and the other characters. Clay has trouble hearing what he and the others had done to cause Hannah to take her own life, so he spends a few weeks listening to the tapes and confronts those who were in them as well. Unlike Clay, some of the other characters do not understand the severity of their actions and are conspiring together to ensure that the tapes remain a secret. As the series progresses, it becomes apparent that Hannah’s fate was completely unavoidable if people cared less about their own secrets and more about the well-being of themselves and of Hannah’s.
Other than suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why addresses several other important topics, such as depression, grief and sexual assault through its characters and scenarios. It presents situations where both the victim and the rapist are protected by the denial of the other characters. It depicts the intense emotions and drastic effects that involve these issues and the social pressures that comes with them. Nevertheless, the show encourages that no matter what effect it will have, it is important to seek help for any of these issues no matter what. Although the novel by Asher was published a decade ago, the issues mentioned then are still as relevant, if not more relevant today with the contributions of social media as a way to spread rumors and threaten others.
The actors portrayal of the characters along with the serious tone of the show is what makes Thirteen Reasons Why a show you won’t be able to forget. Langford and Minnette have a great chemistry that creates an adorable but complicated bond. Alisha Boe, who portrays Hannah and Clay’s classmate Jessica Davis, gives a jaw-dropping performance that brings to life sexual assault and its effects. Brandon Flynn, who plays Jessica’s boyfriend and jock Justin Foley, delivers an excellent performance that makes you hate Justin but at the same time makes you sympathize with him due to his background. Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James, who portray Hannah’s parents, deliver a heartbreaking performance that demonstrate the grief of the loved ones of those who commit suicide and their desperation to get answers.
The unexpected popularity of Thirteen Reasons Why has caused a variety of responses and controversies from reviewers, psychologists and people on the internet. For example, at the beginning of each tape, Hannah addresses the subject of the tape by saying “Welcome to your tape”. This line has become an online catchphrase, used in memes where a person gets an unpleasant response and replies with the catchphrase. Another controversy is a promposal that 17 year old David Sanchez made to his girlfriend, which include cassette tapes that state the thirteen reasons why she should go to prom with him. A picture of the promposal on twitter has been retweeted nearly 18,000 times. An article from the New York Times states the various responses to the post, such as accusing Sanchez of romanticizing suicide or saying that people need to get over the suicide of a fake girl.
In an article for Self, John Mayer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who works with suicidal teens, says that the show is “a sad exploitation of a devastating problem among our youth. [He doesn’t] see the value in it except to sensationalize teenage suicide,”. Dr John Ackerman wrote in a blog post that “It is unrealistic for someone, especially a teenager in the midst of an emotional crisis, to construct an elaborate series of tapes all the while maintaining a sarcastic, witty, and glib tone towards people she blames for her decision to end her life.” Suicide prevention expert Dan Reidenberg said on Good Morning America mentions that "The show doesn't talk about mental illness or depression, doesn't name those words.”
Despite its controversies and mixed opinions, Thirteen Reasons Why is an extremely powerful show. Although its main audiences was meant to be teens, it has clearly stretched far beyond that. It communicates advocacy for being more kind to one another and to never give up seeking help. Although the portrayal of the issues it addresses is controversial, it has gotten more people talking about these issues than ever before and that could be a start to finally creating change in our behaviors.