13 Reasons Why started as a show about a girl named Hannah Baker who killed herself and left tapes behind explaining why she did it. Across its run, the show attempts to tackle many sensitive topics such as rape, mental illness, substance abuse, and its main topic of suicide prevention. Based on the 28.9% increase in suicides among Americans ages 10-17 directly after the release of season 1, it’s safe to say the show failed at handling these topics.
Now, the most obvious problem with 13 Reasons Why is that it got popular on Netflix and went on to have four seasons. The second season was at least connected to the original season by following a court case filed by the Bakers against the school. However, seasons three and four don’t relate at all to the first two seasons and instead turn the entirety of the main cast of protagonists into criminals who cover up a murder one of their friends committed.
Now the story is horrible and should have never continued, but what I would say is the main problem with 13 Reasons Why is the message, or lack there of. The show repeatedly shows a controversial problem but no solution.
This starts in season 1 when Hannah doesn’t attempt to receive proper help after being bullied and instead kills herself. After she does so, the show displays how everyone then cares about her and she gets revenge on the people who wronged her through the tapes she made which sends the message of suicide being some masterful plan that is a solution.
The best example of setting up a problem with no solution is when a character named Tyler, who gets bullied repeatedly, attempts a school shooting. The main cast figures out what he’s planning and decides to not contact any authorities. Instead, the main character, Clay, goes outside running in front of Tyler’s gun and attempts to talk him down. In this one episode, they show kids that the proper response to bullying is a shooting, that you shouldn’t contact police, and that approaching the shooter to talk is a good idea.
Now, here’s some quick character comments that I think could have improved the show a good amount. Clay who sees ghosts throughout the show should have had schizophrenia to make this make sense. Bryce should of been given some form of depth since the first two seasons as they do a sloppy job trying to redeem him out of nowhere in season 3, maybe his parents made him stay silent for legal reasons, possibly he was made fun of for not being able to keep up with the other kids sexually, or he could of just had a lot of regret and try to make things right sooner. There’s a bunch of ways they could have given him steady development instead of cramming it all into one season. Tyler should have gotten proper help from a professional instead of his teenage classmates who know nothing about how to help with trauma or mental health. Alex being suddenly gay in season 4 should of been a bit more built up across 3 entire other seasons. And for all of the characters they should have more to them than just what happens in the show because if you take away all the tragedies they go through they don’t really have any personality.
The one good thing I’ll say about the show is some of the acting is amazing with performances from Dylan Minnette as Clay, Kate Walsh as Olivia Baker, and Derek Luke as Kevin Porter. It’s just unfortunate that they are not given much of anything to work with.
At the end of the day, the way to fix 13 Reasons Why is to stop romanticizing issues and show that there’s actual solutions out there instead. If you don’t have a plan for dealing with touchy subjects then don’t deal with them at all, especially in the manner this show did.