As Netflix’s highly anticipated series 13 Reasons Why takes centre stage, high school drama and teenage angst permeates the halls, depicting an honest adaptation of the best-selling novel from Jay Asher. The story follows Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to thirteen cassette tapes recorded by his classmate that reveal why Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) committed suicide. There are strict instructions that the box is passed from one tormentor to another as a moral message to those who drove Hannah to an early grave.
A box of tissues is advised as the show opens up issues of drunk driving, rape and teenage suicide. Clay appears as the detective and avenging angel, confronting other students in a campaign to get to the truth and repair Hannah’s reputation. Emotionally heart-wrenching? Tick. Shocking? Tick. Disturbing? Just a tad. This show does not offer a rose tinted version of high school, rather it depicts the cruelty of some adolescent teens and their determination to be mean. The bright spark in Hannah eventually fades as she is constantly worn down by life’s disappointments. Hannah embodies that optimism of experiencing true love and that profound sadness as well. It is certainly not surprising that you feel sympathy for a girl that is a victim of high school bullying and never-ending gossip.
What makes 13 Reasons Why so worthwhile is watching Clay’s honest and genuine feelings towards Hannah unfold. These flashbacks play with the potential for both teens to fall in love, if it was not for Clay’s social awkwardness. They both channel just the right sort of warm but awkward chemistry you would expect from two adolescents who cannot quite admit their feelings for each other. The moments of sincere affection seem like a major triumph in the midst of their doomed romance.
Of course, credit should also be given to Kate Walsh as Hannah’s grieving mother and Derek Luke as the school’s embattled counsellor. Yes, the counsellor is pretty clueless at times and aggravates watchers but he is one of the most moral characters. The mother’s emotionally charged performance is memorable as she fights for a court case into her daughter’s death and battles for justice in the hope of gaining insight into why her Hannah killed herself. The brave scene of confronting the school board and questioning their pastoral responsibilities opens up a can of worms, making the school look guilty whilst the mother is relentless in her search for answers.
It is possible that 13 Reasons Why would have benefited from a leaner approach, either with a smaller more condensed episode count or shorter episodes. Regardless, it tells an important story about the troubled lives of modern teens and the ways the education and social system can fail them. Even in the finale, as most remaining loose ends are resolved, the show refuses to provide any easy answers or complete closure. Could this mean another season is on the horizon? Maybe. Like Clay, viewers are left to figure out their own truth about Hannah Baker’s demise.