‘13 Reasons Why’ Season 2 Puts Itself on Trial, Does It Succeed?
“Things in the school are worse now.”
Warning: Major spoilers for Season 1; minor spoilers for Season 2.
“Just because you have the picture [or the tape] doesn’t mean you have the full story.”
13 Reasons Why is back with its second season. The Netflix original, which caused quite a stir last year, takes forward the story of high school student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and her friends.
In Season 1, Baker leaves behind thirteen tapes, each addressed to one of her schoolmates, that state her reasons for taking her own life.
Season 2 opens five months after Hannah’s suicide. As her case goes on trial, friends and family are left to figure out who Hannah really was.
“The Truth Is Developing”
In the opening episode of Season 2, Hannah’s friends are informed that the Bakers have refused to settle and that the trial, which they believed would never happen, is on and they may be called to testify.
This trial going forward, it affects the whole town. We have to think about it all over again, how Hannah lived and how she died. And it how it changed our lives.Tyler Down (Devin Druid), 13 Reasons Why (S2E1)
Now, let’s rewind to 2017. This is what the creators of the show had to say about people’s response to the show and concerns regarding graphic content and sensationalisation of suicide and rape.
We suspected that there would be some strong conversation [around Season 1]. What we didn’t expect was the amount of the conversation.Brian Yorkey (as quoted in the New York Times)
With Season 2, the show itself is on trial and boy, have the creators done their homework!
Besides an elaborate warning that advises people who feel triggered by certain topics, to not watch the show, 13 Reasons Why is full of meta-justifications for its existence, and for its aim of creating dialogue on issues that affect teens around the world.
Dennis Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), the lawyer representing Hannah’s parents against Liberty High, for instance, says that for every story about an innocent girl lost, there are stories of the living. Therefore, justice must be done.
Also, the students at Liberty High discuss the new school rule against talking about suicide, saying how f-ed up it really is.
“Things in the School Are Worse Now”
Meta-justifications aside, Season 2 comprises three main plot lines. There is, of course, the trial. Then there are the polaroids that announce that Hannah isn’t the only one to have experienced what she did.
The polaroids are left in Clay Jensen’s (Dylan Minnette) locker, leaving him with the onus of finding out who left them and what they mean.
This is perhaps important to maintain Clay’s identity as the secondary protagonist of the show, so he doesn’t take a back seat as the trial and other students’ voices take over.
A possible third plot line comprises the attempts on Alex Standall (Miles Heizer) — who is back, by the way — and Clay’s part to make Jessica ‘Jess’ Davis (Alisha Boe) confess to her rape by Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice).
With these plot lines are tied issues of victim shaming, consent, accepting and being accepted for one’s sexuality, cyber security and abuse, threats and bullying, gun control, and everything in between. It isn’t about Hannah or Jess or the girl in the polaroids anymore; the show is about so much more.
“Things in the School Are Worse Now”
With such a loaded narrative comes a ton of responsibility. Can the creators of the show handle it?
Things at Liberty High are worse. They’re darker and scarier in the second season. Are the creators of the show equipped to sensitively portray the troubled tracks of high school life?
These questions (and more) continue to haunt exactly like the ghost of Hannah’s past. There are no easy answers.
The show is still graphic and the danger of internalising the narrative of suicide persists, despite the warnings. So, if you do feel triggered by topics that the show focuses on or have seen the first season and felt triggered, maybe steer clear of Season 2.
However, if you think Season 1 was worth watching and want to know more about the characters’ and their stories, go ahead and watch Season 2. Be warned, the season is heartbreaking in parts, with little relief for either the characters or the audience.
The show highlights that there is never one absolute truth and you cannot ever know another’s mind or their struggles fully. Nneither the tapes nor the pictures tell the full story.
Most importantly, the show points a finger, not at individuals, but at systems of oppression that permeate all aspects of our lives.
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