*Some spoilers included...*
I finished watching the entire 13 Reasons Why series on Netflix in seven days. Thirteen one-hour episodes, four of them binged-watched, back-to-back. After reading multiple articles about why this series should be removed and no longer made available for streaming, as well as eavesdropping on my students' discussions, I decided to find out for myself where all of the concern and fiery opinions were stemming from.
Episode 1 (Tape 1, Side A) introduces Clay Jensen, a quirky high school sophomore, who has a strange box delivered to his doorstep. He opens the box to reveal a decorated variety of cassette tapes. Upon first listen, the series' protagonist, Hannah Baker, is introduced. However, Hannah is dead. She committed suicide. Her scenes are presented in flashbacks. Of course, Clay freaks out, especially when on the initial tape, Hannah mentions that she's going to share thirteen reasons why she ended her life... and that everyone who anonymously receives the box had something to do with her decision. The episodes thereafter explain each person's relationship with Hannah.
So, what's the inciting incident? Hannah's reputation is ruined when a false rumor is spread regarding her involvement with Justin Foley. She soon becomes known as "easy" when an inappropriate picture, taken by Justin, is transmitted to her peers' and classmates' cellphones. The ultimate effect of bullying is immediately identified as the central idea of this series. Below, I've pinpointed thirteen reasons why it's worth watching.
1. Suicide isn't racist.
Before I delved into this series, I stumbled across numerous posts relevant to its public uproar, while scrolling through my social media news feeds. Some were valid; others were distorted. A particular Facebook friend posted thoughts about how the series does not accurately depict African-American high school students. The majority of the characters are products of privilege, but the scenarios and emotions expressed throughout are universal. Suicide is a voluntary act that is a result of one's mental instability. Rather than color, it is a matter of two choices: darkness or light.
2. It's narrated masterfully.
Hannah's story is narrated from her own point-of-view as the details of her "reasons" are displayed on the screen in each episode. A portion of the plot unfolds via her voice on the tapes and then craftily shifts from past events to present day, showing how those to blame are trying to avoid the possibility of becoming primary suspects in her death.
3. The truth is unbelievable.
By episode 5 (Tape 3, Side A), key parts of Hannah's painful existence are divulged, including: getting slapped by her best friend and being exposed once again by a stalker. More rumors, more heartache. As the viewer is invited deeper into Hannah's story, secrets about other characters are also disclosed.
4. Some scenes are difficult to watch.
Hannah's suicide is actually shown on-screen, vividly and grotesquely. There's blood. Lots of it. Per a PSA that was recently added to the conclusion of the series, the creators of the show intended to make viewers uncomfortable. Not only does it allow us to face the reality of such an unfortunate fate; it offers an opportunity for us to observe the condition of someone who has reached a point of no return.
5. Teen girls don't know how to deal with being sexually assaulted.
At a party, Hannah discreetly witnesses her ex-best friend getting raped and she later deals with the guilt of not intervening. In episode 12, Hannah is raped by the same person who raped her ex-best friend.
6. If you're popular, you're safe.
The guy who raped both Hannah and her ex-best friend—a wealthy, star athlete—remains protected and unpunished by series' end.
7. Parents really just don't understand.
Signs of Hannah's turmoil were not exactly noticeable; however, they were present. She didn't trust her parents enough to confide in them and they were oblivious to the idea that something was terribly wrong.
8. Educators and counselors don't either.
On many occasions, Hannah's teachers had an opportunity to halt the bullying and public shame. They didn't raise their concerns until Liberty High School was being investigated and sued by Hannah's parents.
The school counselor, Mr. Porter, is the subject of episode 13. Hannah admits to being raped, yet he does not assist in a way that is justifiable. While Hannah exhibits obvious fear and embarrassment, Mr. Porter tells her to just move on—the last blow to her dwindling will to live. He recognized the error only after he was confronted by Clay. By then, it was too late.
Recently, one of my students attempted suicide. As her teacher, keenly aware of her severe depression, I offered words of encouragement to deter her from any fatal thoughts, but my empathy could not serve as an adequate method of comfort when the psychological pressure became too overwhelming. She was hospitalized for about a week before returning to school. Alive. Smiling. With an occasional attitude, because deep down, the pain was still nagging, threatening to interrupt her temporary happiness. Ever since her failed attempt, I've made a conscious effort to talk to her. To ask how she's feeling. Lately, she's done most of the talking. And I just listen. Sometimes, that's all she needs in order to survive...
9. Unexpected death teaches us a lesson about regret.
Every nemesis associated with Hannah's death suffered through periods of "what if". From pointless arguments to unintentional insults. They all wished they could change something about their influence on someone who was irretrievably damaged.
10. Friends... how many of us have them?
Hannah's desire to be accepted by her peers impacted her capacity to forgive and forget, but the gesture wasn't equally mutual. With the exception of Clay, every subject's encounter with Hannah was extremely cruel and self-serving.
11. You'll start making a better effort to pay attention.
Whether you are a parent, relative, friend or mentor of a teen, this series will heighten your regard for their well-being. It has surely caused me to be even more inquisitive.
12. Expression of love becomes more urgent.
A mother's grief is the most devastating aspect of 13 Reasons Why. Throughout each episode, Hannah's mother is determined to solve the mystery of her daughter's death. She rummages through Hannah's belongings, searching for an inch of a clue and bombards the school grounds almost daily to demand answers in the process of reminiscing about interactions with her lone child. Hannah's father is just as affected, yet he is not controlled by feelings of anguish. Mrs. Baker, on the other hand, is desperate for a sense of peace and she also wants someone to pay for Hannah's self-inflicted departure.
13. "I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her." - Clay Jensen
Although Clay falls short in his plan to seek revenge on Hannah's behalf, his last good deed suffices for her pre-recorded confessions. He passes on the tapes to Mr. Porter and charges him to make the right choice in sharing them with the proper sources, despite the fact that the school is under scrutiny and on the verge of being legally reprimanded for negligence.
Clay's hidden love for Hannah turns out to be his character flaw. If he had been more confident and tenacious, Hannah may have possibly discovered a viable purpose for sticking around. She makes it audibly known, though, that Clay does not belong on the tapes because he did not deliberately set out to hurt her.
The series ends with the subjects of the tapes being interviewed and one of them resorting to suicide, also. It leaves us on the edge of speculation, wondering about the final verdict and if Hannah's account of her own death was indeed accurate. Hopefully, Season 2 (yes, the series has been renewed) will be just as intriguing and informative. Will you be watching?