What’s There to Talk About? What “13 Reasons Why” Doesn’t Show

By Anne Isman

If you haven’t already seen it, you’ve definitely heard people talking about it; the second season of the viral Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” was recently released, consisting of thirteen new episodes revolving around the students of Liberty High as they testify in Hannah’s trial against their school.  Just as the first season dealt with the sexual assault and harassment, which ultimately led Hannah to commit suicide, this season focuses on how these issues continue to plague a high school where the administration repeatedly fails its students. This season, “13 Reasons Why” is less about Hannah, the individual and her story, and more about her legacy and what her peers have chosen to do about it.

During his testimony in the first episode, Tyler warns, “Just because you have the picture doesn’t mean you have the whole story.”  Not only are Tyler’s words true in terms of how Hannah’s life fell apart in Season One, but they seem to explain the more restrained and far less graphic imagery of Season Two, at least until you get to the last episode.  

Just as we saw Hannah commit suicide in a no-holds-barred scene that left many young viewers disturbed and mental health advocates concerned, this season has become far more aware of itself; speaking of students’ battles with self-harm and rape instead of depicting them once again. Critics of the first season’s insensitive handling of touchy subjects, mainly suicide and sexual assault, claimed these images were unnecessary in conveying the series’ important messages, which is why most of the new episodes seem to refrain from showing such upsetting scenes.

However, this is only the case for some of the season, until the viewer is faced with graphic drug use, an entirely new horrific rape scene, and a literal box full of images depicting non-consensual sex acts.  Hearing the students’ testimonies, in which they describe Hannah’s suicide and the events leading up to it, is far easier to consume than explicit scenes scattered among the final episodes in which their purpose seems simply to provoke, or worse, trigger the viewer.  

To return to the opening quote, it’s easy to look at these disturbing images and wonder what to do with what you just saw; how should I appropriately respond to a teenager’s use of heroin? Producers of “13 Reasons Why” claim that their intent is to spark meaningful discussion surrounding difficult topics, yet the actual episodes, in which characters rarely come forward about what they are experiencing, give little direction as to how to actually approach such conversations.  Instead, we see characters respond to assault with attempts to shoot up their school in retaliation, or as we saw Season One, suicide. Of course, other factors contributed to Hannah’s death, yet how can producers expect to encourage discussion when the characters on our screen don’t?

A third season is already being considered, which seems unnecessary.  A show like “13 Reasons Why” is important, much like addressing the issues depicted on the show is, but “13 Reasons Why” doesn’t know how to address them, despite their many attempts.  When so much of viewers’ response to the show revolves around the merits of the actual series, and not the content as the creators so hope, is this series really starting a thoughtful conversation?  In my opinion, no.