The premise of 13 Reasons Why revolves around the impact that seemingly small actions can have on one person's life. Every word, every choice has consequences, and together, these relatively minor events can build into something catastrophic.
There are 13 reasons why Hannah Baker committed suicide in the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher's teen book. (Well, technically, there are 12, depending on why you think the show's protagonist Clay Jensen was really included.) At the end of the day though, is there one person in particular who can be blamed for Hannah Baker's unfortunate fate?
While each principal cast member undoubtedly contributed to Hannah's deteriorating mental state in some capacity, some clearly treated her worse than others. So who is really to blame for Hannah Baker's death? Join us as we break down each character's tape, and try to ascertain exactly who is responsible for this tragedy.
Justin Foley (Tape 1, Side A & Tape 5, Side A)
Justin holds the unique 'honor' of starring in two tapes that explain how his actions led to Hannah Baker's death. In the first episode of 13 Reasons Why, Justin secretly takes an inappropriate picture of Hannah while they're making out on the slide. After showing this to his friends, Justin then allows Bryce to spread the picture around school, kick-starting the chain of rumors and slut-shaming which motivated many of the other characters on this list.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Justin later allows Bryce to go see his girlfriend Jessica while she lies unconscious, and this ultimately leads to her being raped. While Justin didn't know that Hannah was also present in the room, he did know that Bryce's intentions were far from honorable. Justin is a weak and selfish boy whose actions are certainly not excused by his shitty home life — although this insight does help us to understand his motives better.
Jessica Davis (Tape 1, Side B)
After Alex breaks up with Jessica, she turns on Hannah, blaming her friend for Alex's decision. While future events reveal that Jessica assigns this blame because of a note that Alex wrote, it's still clear that Hannah was the innocent victim here. By ending their friendship, Jessica sent Hannah down a lonely path where she felt that she had no one left to turn to. Unfortunately, Jessica also undergoes a similar journey later after Bryce rapes her and Justin keeps the assault secret from her. Ultimately, Jessica made mistakes, but these were due to her own insecurity rather than any real malice towards Hannah.
Alex Standall (Tape 2, Side A)
It may just seem like a childish and vaguely innocent thing to do, but by listing Hannah's ass as the best in school, Alex helped ruin her friendship with Jessica while simultaneously "confirming" the vicious rumors that Justin helped start. Out of all the suspects on this list, Alex shows more remorse than most, realizing the impact that his immature and thoughtless actions could have on another human life.
Tyler Down (Tape 2, Side B)
The way in which Tyler stalked Hannah and took pictures of her left her feeling exposed at a time when she craved privacy more than ever. Although his actions were motivated by affection, Tyler ensured that Hannah couldn't even feel safe in her own home, contributing to her lack of self-worth while reinforcing the idea that her body was simply there to be objectified by the boys at school.
Courtney Crimsen (Tape 3, Side A)
Just as Hannah thought she had finally found a friend to confide in, Courtney came onto her and then denied it once pictures of the pair kissing began to circulate around the school. Even worse than that, she then openly outed Hannah, in a selfish bid to keep her own homosexual desires secret from the rest of her peers. Courtney's inability to deal with her own feelings may be relatable to a point, but the malicious way in which she protected herself made Hannah more of a target for the boys than ever.
Marcus Cole (Tape 3, Side B)
Despite his wholesome image, Marcus is one of the most despicable characters in 13 Reasons Why, forcing himself on Hannah in the booth at the diner. While she's able to protect herself in this public setting, this is the first time that Hannah is sexually assaulted on the show, sending her down a negative spiral of confusion and self-hatred.
Zach Dempsey (Tape 4, Side A)
The sad thing here is that Zach seems like a nice boy for the most part, one who genuinely cares for Hannah and tries to help her feel better after Marcus's attack. The problem, though, is that Zach doesn't understand how to process his feelings once Hannah rejects him romantically, and he ends up maliciously taking back the compliments that helped keep her going in this trying year. Zach clearly regrets his actions towards the end of the show, but that doesn't excuse the inherent cruelty of what he did.
Ryan Shaver (Tape 4, Side B)
After already being forced to deal with candid pictures of her being circulated around the school, Hannah found solace in writing poetry, but even this was used against her when Ryan betrayed Hannah and published a personal piece of hers in the school's literary magazine. Ryan may not have set out to hurt Hannah, even keeping the poem's author anonymous on paper, but anyone could see that this was an unkind thing to do without the writer's permission.
Sheri Holland (Tape 5, Side B)
On a day to day basis, Sheri is arguably one of the kindest characters in 13 Reasons Why — but one lapse in judgement turns out to be the most horrific mistake of all. After crashing into a stop sign, Sheri argues that she and Hannah should call the police from home. When Hannah disagrees, Sheri abandons her by the side of the road. The time it takes for the pair to make the call ultimately leads to the accidental death of another student, which could have easily been prevented. Sheri shows a great deal of remorse for her mistake, but it's hard to deny that the guilt which this forces on Hannah was a contributing factor in her own death.
Clay Jensen (Tape 6, Side A)
After Clay and Hannah are finally ready to express their feelings for each other, the trauma of what's happened before takes its toll on her, causing Hannah to freak out and ask him to leave. While she wished that Clay would have ignored her request and stayed, Hannah also acknowledges that Clay doesn't deserve to be on the tapes for what he did. Instead, it was important for him to understand everything that had happened to her. Out of everyone on this list, Clay is the only one who didn't actively contribute to Hannah's death, although his own fantasies reveal that he felt things could have worked out differently if he had stayed with her, perhaps even preventing her death completely.
Bryce Walker (Tape 6, Side B)
While some of the characters on this list made mistakes born of immaturity and insecurity, Bryce is the most malicious of all, deliberately raping Hannah in his hot tub. Sexual assault can have unimaginably devastating effects on even the strongest of people, and this proved to be the final straw for Hannah, whose mental constitution had been gradually broken down over the course of the previous year.
Mr Porter (Tape 7, Side A)
Now that suicide was a tangible option for Hannah, her visit to Mr Porter could have been a crucial turning point — but ultimately, the school counsellor failed to convince her that life is worth living. Porter tries his best, but by suggesting that Hannah should consider just moving on with her life following Bryce's rape, he didn't provide her with the emotional support she needed. While his intentions were good, Mr Porter's lack of understanding and professionalism played an irrevocably damaging role in Hannah's final day on this earth.
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Although a lot of people are implicated in Hannah Baker's death, the character who drove her to consider suicide most was Bryce. If he hadn't sexually assaulted her, tipping Hannah's mental health over the edge, then there's a chance that she could have recovered and begun to find joy in life again. Let's just hope that Bryce receives the punishment that he deserves if Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why ever happens.
Ultimately, Hannah is the one who took a blade to her wrists and ended her own life, but it's important we don't blame the victims of mental illnesses. The mental health issues explored by 13 Reasons Why need to be explored in more depth if we're going to help teenagers who are experiencing these kind of dark, painful thoughts in real life situations. Hopefully, discussions generated by this show will push these scenarios into the spotlight, prompting debate that can help improve and even save lives.
If suicidal thoughts are affecting you or someone you know, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Find more information about suicide here.
Who do you think is responsible for Hannah Baker's death on '13 Reasons Why'? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.