(WARNING: This article contains spoilers for 13 Reasons Why. You've been warned.)
Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is easily this year’s most talked about show. Executive produced by Tom McCarthy (of Spotlight fame) and the reigning queen of social media, #SelenaGomez, this 13-part series is based on a 2007 Y/A book by Jay Asher. The story, which revolves around a teenage girl committing suicide, deals with themes such as bullying, sexual assault and depression.
The show, for most part, has been faithfully adapted from the book onto the screen, though new content has been added to cover more ground and to provide multiple perspectives on a single issue. Unlike most teen dramas 13 Reasons Why is unusually smart, but more importantly, it’s very brave. Whatever topic it touches upon, it does so with complete honesty and without holding anything back.
Many critics have rightfully proclaimed it as a "somber, unflinching" look into the darker aspects of a teenager’s life, and it’s this no-holds-barred approach that has made the show so refreshing and relatable. Much time has been spent debating the merits and pitfalls of the show, as I’m sure was the intention of the team behind it. However, the thing that bothers me the most is the argument that the show has tried to villainize Hannah Baker, particularly in the last episode.
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Is '13 Reasons Why' Trying To Villainize Hannah?
One of the great things about #13ReasonsWhy is the brutal candor behind it. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of. No one among us is perfect, and that includes our protagonist. Clay had the choice to try and stop something that was happening right in front of him (remember when he doesn’t stop people from harassing Hannah at school) and Hannah had the choice to not take her own life.
Don’t get me wrong here, what Hannah went through was horrific and the fact that the show spends so much time on that is reason enough to believe that the show is on her side. But what perhaps a lot of people haven’t perceived is that 13 Reasons Why isn’t just a show for people who bully other people, it’s also a show for the people who are being hurt. When I finished the show, the thing that kept bothering me was why they changed the ending of the show. More specifically, why did they change the way Hannah died?
Why Was Hannah’s Death Changed?
In the book, Hannah commits suicide by overdosing on pills. You’d think that considering Hannah’s parents own a pharmacy this would have been the easier way to go. This question plagued me for days until I finally grasped what the writers were getting at. But substituting Hannah’s suicide method from a seemingly painless one to an excruciating one, 13 Reasons Why reminded viewers that despite everything she went through, Hannah’s suicide was not OK.
The whole suicide scene is so graphic that it’s hard to watch (and it’s meant to be), especially once we see the reactions of her parents. The show isn’t trying to villainize Hannah, especially as it throws Alex’s suicide attempt into the mix — it’s trying to warn and dissuade teenagers who are entertaining the idea. 13 Reasons Why isn’t a Nocturnal Animals-esque revenge story, it’s a tale of a girl trying to wake the people around her and get them to start acting responsibly. All actions have consequences, and the series shows that even if Hannah did what she thought was right, in the end it left the people who loved her scarred for life.
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I’m not disregarding everything she went through, and I’m certainly not supporting those wise asses who are so righteously claiming that Hannah should’ve just talked to her parents from the start. Because really, it’s not easy. From my personal experience with bullying, parents are always the hardest people to talk to.
13 Reasons Why wanted us to understand Hannah's struggles, sympathize with her, relate to her. However, as Hannah’s mind-numbing death showed, it also never condoned it. It did show that there are things each of the 13 could have done to prevent Hannah from taking her life, there is something Hannah herself could have done: open up. Gomez herself clarified this in the documentary Beyond The Reasons:
“We wanted to do in a way where it was honest and we wanted to make something that can hopefully help people because suicide should never ever be an option.”
Something I heard in #NBC’s Blacklist a while back that really resonated with me was how harmful suicide really can be to those around us.
In the end, 13 Reasons Why is such a brilliant series because it’s a cautionary tale for the bullies and the bullied. Its message is really to be more aware of the people around us while also dissuading those who are thinking of taking their own life. In the end, you’re really ending more than one life.
What did you think of Hannah's story?