The first season of “13 Reasons Why” was meant to open a conversation about suicide and mental health in our culture. It succeeded, receiving both critical praise and tremendous backlash from mental health professionals and parent groups.
The first season boldly tells the story of Hannah Baker’s downward spiral and how she came to take her life. Instead of sugarcoating the story and worming around uncomfortable topics, the show leaned further into them. The later episodes have harsh depictions of sexual assault and suicide that took place on screen.
Many found the choice to depict these scenes in poor taste and felt that the show does more to glorify suicide than discourage it. Despite these criticisms the show was renewed for a second season, which was released on Netflix May 18.
In an effort to assuage those speaking harshly against the series, the show has added a warning at the beginning of the season. Cast members discuss the graphic nature of the show and how it may not be fit for some viewers. At the end of each episode, the series directs those who are in need of crisis resources to https://13reasonswhy.info/, and at the end of the season, the viewer is directed to watch a “Beyond The Reasons” aftershow in which experts discuss the themes of the series.
The source material, a young adult novel by the same name written by Jay Asher, was fully employed in the first season. So, the second season is all original material conceived by the show’s creator Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal,” “The Last Ship”). Sadly, it is in this expansion beyond the novel that the series loses what made it so intriguing in the first place.
The season picks up a couple months after the end of Season 1. Clay Jensen is now dating Skye but is struggling to believe justice will be found for Hannah. Alex is out of the hospital after his attempted suicide but is still recovering his ambulatory skills. Jessica has reported her rape, but she claims she does not remember who it was.
Most importantly, the Bakers have decided to move forward with their lawsuit against the school district. This serves as the main plot frame for the season, much like the tapes did for Season 1. Each episode features a character’s testimony, which is interspersed throughout the episode’s action and used as a narrative device.
The second season gives depth to many more characters than the first season was able to. The first season seemed to feature two main characters, Clay and Hannah. The scenes without one of these two in them were very short and infrequent. The second season veers away from this, and the result is a stronger ensemble cast. Characters like Zach, Tyler and Bryce are given richer storylines with defined motives; Jessica and Alex are also given more screen time.
School counselor Mr. Porter is given a bigger role this season. Trying to recompense for his mistakes with Hannah, he is reaching out to more students and pushing for change in the culture at Liberty High School.
Hannah’s mother, portrayed by Kate Walsh (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice”), is also given a lead role in this season as she tries to organize her case against the school. Her husband has left her, but she is still trying to keep the drug store up and running. As the trial goes on, she is faced with a depiction of her daughter she finds hard to recognize.
There are also new characters brought into the mix. These ancillary characters add to the tension and scope of the show’s conversation. It is interesting how the show is able to fold them in without ever formally introducing them.
The biggest problem with Season 2 is that it falls into many of the tropes that come with teen dramas today. The first season did an amazing job at avoiding cliches, and it ended up elevating the series. This season, some of the plot lines feel trite, and they end up bringing down the quality of the rest of the moving stories.
Despite this, the current season is still emotionally heavy and resonant. The parts that hit you hardest are those that are the most realistic.
The writers do a better job this time around with providing context to the difficult situations they are depicting. This does not mean they bow to the show’s detractors and stop raising extremely sensitive topics. In fact, there is a meta scene in episode nine which mirrors the series’ statements responding to the backlash they received due to Season 1. There are a few graphic scenes that are immensely hard to watch, but, again, they are scenes that are bringing important topics to the forefront of conversation.