With such a weak final episode, there are hardly any reasons to justify a third season of 13 Reasons Why.
In the past week, 13 Reasons Why has been renewed for a third season by Netflix. Yet, in watching the last episode of Season 2, it is unclear what interesting direction the show could take at this point – especially with Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) reportedly not returning for another outing. ‘Bye’ is aptly titled, delivering explicit closure to Hannah’s story. With a few tweaks, it could have served as an effective, heartfelt conclusion to what has been a controversial series. Rather, it tries to dangle set-ups for another season that don’t inspire much interest (the Alex-Jessica-Justin love triangle, for example, is standard teen drama fare) and doubles down on the controversy with another graphic scene of sexual assault.
Following the completion of the trial that has dominated the events of this season, Hannah’s parents throw a memorial service to commemorate the life of their daughter. Clay (Dylan Minnette) finally gets to say goodbye; though he hasn’t been given much to do this season, Minnette is still one of the show’s strongest performers. The same can be said for Kate Walsh, who plays Hannah’s mother Olivia. With Walsh also unlikely to return for a third season, there is little indication of where the show can justifiably go from here. Its first season was a fairly straight adaptation of Jay Asher’s standalone novel; the second is entirely the invention of the show’s writers. Unable to draw on existing material, they have struggled to rationalise why 13 Reasons Why required a second season. Now, with its ties practically cut from the show’s raison d’être – Hannah Baker’s suicide – the third season will surely be too far detached from what it was all about in the first place.
In trying to reinvigorate itself by tackling another extremely serious subject, the epidemic of school shootings in the United States, 13 Reasons Why misses the mark yet again. It emphasises how the show is all about addressing talking points, as opposed to giving serious consideration to the complexities of these subjects. It purports itself to be a serious show trying to delve deep into issues of mental health, yet passes off Clay’s visions of a dead Hannah simply as a means for him to work through his grief. In reality, you’d imagine such hallucinations to be a major cause for concern. In depicting the descent of a certain character onto a path of possible rampage, it utilises rape as the primary motivating factor. The repetitive reliance on rape as a plot device (see: Sansa in Game of Thrones) feels exploitative and lazy. Once more, the show’s producers have failed to recognise how triggering the graphic depiction of sexual assault can be. That they could not conjure up a more nuanced way to portray a decline into contemplating mass murder is emblematic of how weak the writing of 13 Reasons Why‘s second season truly is.
This critical misstep comes at odds with and cheapens some of the finale’s better moments. A powerful opening deliberately breaks with narrative immersion, finding the show’s numerous female characters each recounting experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Intensely relevant in this age of #MeToo, it’s a poignant sequence that has been well thought out and neatly executed. The opening half of the episode is generally compelling but, as things start to unravel, the show doesn’t know how to handle its wonky tone. It sandwiches graphic sexual assault with charming scenes of friendship and romance. As the school dance commences, it juxtaposes the preparations of a shooter with that of celebration and emotional relief (one sequence, where the core cast of young characters come together over a specific song, is genuinely moving). This may be the point – that the neglect of the majority is what has caused things to escalate this far for the individual – but the basic approach to editing doesn’t provide the weight you’d expect from such a plot turn. The episode ends on a cliffhanger that isn’t particularly engaging, leaving you thinking ‘when will this end?’ rather than the desired ‘what will happen next?’. Unfortunately, this train doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
13 Reasons Why Season 2 is available in its entirety on Netflix.