(Spoilers ahead- Do not read if you haven’t watched the show)
I binge-watched ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ a couple of days ago. Seems everyone’s been talking about it and considering it deals with an issue- mental health- that’s close to my heart, I finished up thirteen episodes in two days.
At the risk of angering a lot of people out there, I’m going to go ahead and say I was terribly disappointed. What could have been an incredible opportunity to address the vitally sensitive issues of ‘identity’ and ‘self-worth’ for teenagers growing up in aggressive and unfriendly environment, was wasted on having a blue-eyed boy with a perpetually hurt/lost/semi-constipated expression running about chasing answers which have already been given to him. I kept wanting to yell, “Just listen to the damn tapes and let’s be done with this!”.
Then there’s the girl- Hannah. Porcelain-skinned, grey-eyed, witty, ever-trusting Hannah. On one hand, she is a bad-ass who storms into a boys’ locker room to yell at someone, stands up to her friend and asserts her right to dignity by refusing to be used as a shield, shoves the student president off her when he tries feeling her up to impress his friends. And then somehow other times, she winds up being a floundering soul who repeatedly makes dumb decisions, trusting the wrong people and navigating through a clearly marked course of self-destruction despite seeming to possess the maturity that most of her school mates lack.
The pivotal night where Hannah witnesses Bryce raping Jessica brings out a lot of the gritty stuff that needs to be talked about- peer pressure, the value of consent, handling rape trauma. Jessica’s denial of being a rape victim was perhaps my favorite characterization in this show. She consistently proves her capability to self-destruct and yet maintains a façade to protect herself and for that I love her.
But Hannah is another story. How does she manage to wander into Bryce’s party a few weeks later, strip down to her underwear to sit in a hot tub in HIS house? Are we meant to be shocked that he’d succeed in raping her? And where was her voice in fighting it?
All of Hannah’s thirteen reasons put forth the same whiny narrative, “I know what you’re thinking… I brought this on myself…I could have done something… but you weren’t there… you didn’t try hard enough…”
Clay makes several attempts to empathize with her and save for a momentary lapse in the pilot episode, abstains from judging her based on her reputation for promiscuity. I was confounded with her reasoning for putting him on the tape. What good is it when you’re so busy feeling sorry for yourself that you choose to stupidly walk away from those reaching out to you
At no point do we see Hannah dealing with her parents or even considering how much they love her. All her reasons include friends from school and even a counselor. And they show that she has a good relationship with her mother and father (unless some plot bombs being saved for possible season 2)
I think they key issue is responsibility. With her thirteen tapes, Hannah is transferring the responsibility of her life to others, intending to plague them with guilt. Clay keeps saying, “We all did it.” Is the stupid shit you do in school something worth bearing such a heavy burden?
In no way do I mean to belittle the struggles of people with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I can never begin to understand what it’s like to not want to live anymore. But what I am challenging is the notion of ending your life based on the expectation that people are meant to save you and keep trying to get you to open up. What is the value we place on the gift of existence when it is so convenient to seek reasons to throw it all away?
I wish this show had been more real and brought out the real dark struggles of a teenager trying to find her place in the world while preserving her sanity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see influential characters empower themselves rather than wallow in self-pity?
The only takeaway for me has been the alluring soundtrack compilation.