Your dead classmate left behind a series of tapes, recorded shortly before she killed herself. One day, they arrive at your doorstep, unmarked and unannounced. Meanwhile, your high-school is going through the process of dealing with her suicide. Posters litter raising awareness about suicide, asking people to reach out, and there is a small memorial set up in the name of her.
13 Reasons Why deals with suicide, abuse (physical, emotional and sexual) along with the pain resulting from those. Spoilers ahead.
Clay, the character through whom we primarily explore the tapes and relevant locations, is a classmate and coworker of Hannah, the girl who killed herself and recorded the tapes. Shortly after her death, he receives seven tapes along with a map. Curious, he uses his father’s old boombox to listen to the first tape, only to realize they are from Hannah.
The first thing that bothered me in this otherwise very good series is the restriction on passing on the tapes. They make no sense at the beginning, and by the end, they felt like it didn’t match Hannah’s self-described state of mind. In fact, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the restriction merely served as a plot device. But, of course, she doesn’t need to make much sense in that state of mind, so I’ll shelve it as a minor complaint swept away by wilful suspension of disbelief.
In particular, I can forgive it because it presents a hard-to-understand side of mental health issues that the public doesn’t particularly understand. A very frustrating side, yes, but a real one nonetheless. Clay didn’t seek help from his parents, who were largely clueless to what was happening, and those who he actually wanted to seek help from denied it for far too long due to their own reasons. Whether those reasons are valid or not is an exercise left to the viewer.
Likewise, when Hannah finally sought help, what she found was less than adequate. Although, I don’t believe that by the time she tried she was in any position to actually be helped – not in the state of mind she was, and not in a single session.
The rest of the cast also had to deal with their own issues. The guilt of having contributed to the accidental death of a classmate, or the aftermath of abuse, the fear of coming out, and so on, not to mention the threat of their lives being ruined if not everybody plays by the rules, or decides to make them public. They are, for most of them, running away from the consequences of their actions (and the actions of others). And the cast did a great job at portraying their characters and the entirety crew made a good job at bringing it all to life. A valiant effort which has been paying off.
That said, there are a few more issues I have with it. I understand that the characters are teenagers who are both dealing with a huge mess and who, for better or worse, are involved in her suicide. However, I found it hard to stick with the series because Clay felt too much like an audience standing at the beginning and the other characters would only do things to make me not just dislike them, but simply not be invested in any way for them. It was only by episode 4, or even six that began to want to see what happened and started watching by my own interest. It is too slow at the beginning and while it certainly picks up the pace, I don’t think it is enough to justify sitting through those first episodes if you aren’t enjoying them… considering, of course, we are talking about hour-long episodes. Compounded with Clay’s clay nature, at the beginning I wished that I could have listened to the tapes more and watched things happening less. Now, I simply wish it had begun much later, and moved along a bit more.
Besides being slow, there is one final issue relating to the series itself. I don’t get why we were explicitly shown Hannah’s suicide. I don’t think it serves any purpose to the story, it doesn’t advance the plot… more than that, we are not shown Alex’s suicide attempt, which makes this scene stand out as out of character for the series. And the pacing of that last episode felt off the longer it went.
Still, though, it is a good series with great music selection. It is worth a watch if there is any interest in the subject matter, though beware of those initial episodes, which I’m tempted to say you could just listen to them while doing something else.
And, of course, be safe while watching it.