(WARNING: This post contains mild non-specific spoilers for 13 Reasons Why as well as subject matter that may be triggering if you are dealing with mental illness.)
Perpetually late to the game, I am just now getting the chance to sit down and write about the incredibly moving and sensationally stirring new Netflix Original Series, 13 Reasons Why. Only after hearing about it constantly from friends or seeing infinite amounts of memes about it on the internet did I finally decide to sit down and give #13ReasonsWhy a chance. I knew that I was in for a rigorous and emotionally charged journey through hell and back when I found out the subject matter of the show. Suicide was a very real struggle for me personally and seeing it on the small screen is certainly surreal.
There are many things that make 13 Reasons Why a most binge-worthy Netflix Original Series, but I’ve been able to narrow them down to just five. Read on to find out why you should take the plunge and hit play on 13 Reasons Why.
5. Hannah Baker
Hannah Baker is the tragic leading lady that seems to have a perpetual black cloud over her head with an inextinguishable fire in her heart. Her cool, silky smooth wit is like a gulp of your favorite smoothie on a hot summer afternoon. Far beyond her years and high school peers, Hannah leaves most of the people she encounters dumbfounded, cloaked by a whirlwind sandstorm of both confusion and awe.
I know a lot of critics don’t care for the dialogue as it is definitely beyond the average vocabulary realm of your everyday American teenager, but for me it is incredibly refreshing to have young adults portrayed as just that — young adults. It is more than stereotypical in regular television to have a group of teenagers acting like total out-of-control animals that are just a poops-throw away from being a slightly more evolved group of wild orangutans breaking out of the zoo.
Leaving a wake of many admirers, Hannah Baker has a peculiar duality in her spirit. Much like her tapes, there are seemingly two "sides" to the live-and-in-stereo echo that is Hannah Baker. On Side A, she has unparalleled moxie, a distinct sense of personal style, and knack for wise cracks. On Side B, she is heartbreakingly inhibited with skeletons of many shapes and sizes, hopelessly self-depreciating and ultimately, fatally depressed.
Hannah is easily one of the most relatable characters in 13 Reasons Why, which can either be incredibly dangerous or profoundly impactful. She has the inane ability to connect with and reach a generally unreachable audience that is normally closed off to the unfamiliar. With the kind of responsibility such a role implies, Katherine Langford has decided to put the entire show on her shoulders, making herself a worthy rival to the likes of Atlas himself.
Hannah’s stumble through early adulthood is something that everyone goes through in one way or another. Her tapes bring light to an otherwise heavily camouflaged experience — that of the emotionally-driven, instinct-reliant, compulsive perspective of an alarmingly-mentally ill teenage girl in today’s modern world.
4. Clay Jensen
Clay Jensen is the almost as tragic main man of 13 Reasons Why. He radiates a kind of infinitely adorable, somewhat-oblivious school-boy innocence that just can’t be feigned. While watching, I found myself thinking about how the very role of Clay Jensen seemed to have been custom-tailored for up-and-coming actor Dylan Minnette.
His wide, wonder-brimmed eyes and easy going smile make up the picture of perfection for arguably the most endearing (and at times, rage-inducing) high school kid to have graced the small screen this year. His sweeter-than-a-slush-puppy charm is both infectious and intoxicating. The care with which he treats Hannah Baker is reminiscent of the way a mother holds her newborn baby — with fragile hands and a tender touch. This sets him apart significantly from the rest of the kinds of people Hannah has the grave misfortune of meeting.
Clay’s uncompromising kindness towards most everyone he meets (especially the girl he is utterly infatuated with) is absolutely enchanting. His squeaky-clean sincerity is just truly otherworldly, as if your dream guy was brought to life. Beloved by most, Clay has moral values that you see in the well mannered boy-next-door. He is the epitome of every parents' dream child and the kind of guy any girl would be proud to bring home to mom and dad.
He minds his own business, has more respect for others than almost everyone else at Liberty High combined and is, surprisingly, more than your average "good kid." He is easily the most interesting, complex, intelligent, cunning and somehow still down-to-earth, mildly-popular, social wallflower that I have seen on TV thus far.
Clay Jensen does everything that a truly kind and thoughtful person would do — and yet the poor guy can’t seem to ever catch a freaking break. As luck would have it, we never get to see him and Hannah live out the kind of love story that they could have had — and I realize now how intentional that was.
The frustrating cycle of 'will they, won’t they' that our two favorite star-crossed lovers seem to be perpetually stuck in further highlights the anguishing impact that suicide has. The fallout left over from the spirit-breaking bomb that is suicide makes an incredible impact on their loved ones left behind. As for Clay, he knows better than anyone how it feels to never get a second chance to make things right, to be able to tell Hannah how he really feels. That's the really scary thing - when someone decides to end their life, they aren’t just ending what they are... they are eliminating any ember of hope for what they could be.
3. Tony Padilla
Tony (played by Christian Navarro) has this strangely alluring hold on me; I wish we knew more about him and his incredible story. With every rev of his beautiful Mustang’s engine, I find my attention piqued curiously and my heart rate quicken and shutter loudly inside my hollow cave of a chest. His drive (both physical and mental) is absolutely remarkable. Whenever I catch glimpse of him, I’m instantly ready to know more about his life and his perspective of the Hannah story.
I fear Tony in the same way I fear the great expanse of outer space and the intricate role destiny will play in my ultimate demise. The weight of what he knows and has lived through must be unimaginably burdensome. He also plays a key role in the long overdue unraveling of the series’ antihero: the vomit-inducing, All-American, sexually predatory, town sweetheart, Bryce Walker. Bryce is the seemingly-unstoppable force that meets the eternally immovable object that is Tony Padilla.
Tony stays true to his lion-hearted friend from school, Clay, and defends him mercilessly against what he knows to be a group of ill-intentioned jocks who are only looking out for themselves. He also is a faithful friend to our depressed darling Hannah and her well-meaning post-mortem wishes up until the very end of the season, when he defies one of Hannah's rules and does something that he thinks is in her better interest. His diehard loyalty is as reliable as a Golden Retriever and he is the glue that holds most of our story together. He is what I have referred to as "The Watcher," the person who had been appointed by Hannah to help further aid her wishes for after she's passed on.
While part of Tony’s story is his struggles with the understandable hurdles that an out-of-the-closet gay teen faces, he — like those that have come before him — are more than what his exterior shows. As a Catholic Latino, he has strong personal life commandments that he dare not cross. He has rigid emotional and physical boundaries and he doesn’t allow anyone to overstep them. He is fearless in the face of danger (and of Bryce’s loyal and frightening followers) and he is not afraid to stand up for himself or those that he cares for. As I round out the end of the season, there is no denying that Tony has an unyielding aura of infinite mystery to him that keeps him in my head for many hours longer than he is on my screen.
2. Jeff Atkins
Where in the world do I even begin with Jeff Atkins? Fan favorite and universally the hands down most undeserving of his paradoxically-avoidable fate, Jeff Atkins is another one of many reasons why I just can’t seem to shake 13 Reasons Why. Brandon Larracuente seamlessly portrays the character of Jeff, the kind of jock that nearly nobody sees coming. He is the guy who is really at his core just trying to do the right thing. He remains charismatic yet humble and he never lets his popular, sports-player privilege taint his heart of gold. What was at first glance just another "dumb" jock in need of tutoring from our main character, Clay, Jeff has made the jump from secondary character to the series’ Mr. Congeniality.
Jeff has an against-the-norm kind of rebellious fearless freedom to be his own person. Against the grain of most high school archetypes, Jeff is a man who marches to the beat of his own drum. Befriending his nerdy tutor Clay was just the beginning in a long list of reasons why Hannah Baker wasn’t the only one on the show who deserved better.
He is respectful and considerate of others and his thoughtful and considerate nature is reinforced every time we see him help push Clay outside of his well-maintained socially-anxious shell. Jeff knows how Clay feels about Hannah and tries everything in his power to help get the two awkward love birds together — even when it feels like everything else in the world is trying to drive them apart.
1. The Lesson Behind It All
Rounding out the reasons why I just can’t tear my eyes away from 13 Reasons Why is the message behind the madness. 13 Reasons takes a deeper, rarely seen look into the paper-thin psyche of the American teenage girl. Hannah Baker is sporadic and unpredictable, which makes her the perfect main focus of the show. The show has the uncanny ability to provide crucial and educational insight for parents of otherwise shuttered and scared young adults, giving a chance to every mother and father out there that doesn’t know where to begin this kind of discussion with their children.
How the show chose to depict the often hard-to-watch scenes of cruel bullying and scary sexual assaults are yet another factor that makes this show a must-watch. They even go so far as to include the intense and shockingly graphic depiction of Hannah Baker’s suicide. These scenes, while a tough pill to swallow, help pave the road to enlightenment and understanding. They hold true to the harsh reality that many young adults face today. With the advent of the internet, we now live in a world of seemingly more and more anonymity and less and less empathy.
13 Reasons is also, ironically enough, a great beacon of hope — a proverbial lighthouse during the metaphorical shit storm that is life. The show gives its viewers the opportunity to change the way they interact with the world around them — for better or for worse. After finishing up the last episode of the season, I noticed that the video tapes pulled from the deposition were interestingly dated November of 2017. This means that the figurative Hannah Baker in all of our lives still has time to survive this and that we, as the surrounding support system, still have the time (and the power) to be better for ourselves and to do better for others.
We have an unparalleled ability to encourage and uplift rather than discourage and degrade — a choice that we are constantly facing as teenagers and young adults. I never considered myself a bully, but like a few of the characters we encounter in 13 Reasons Why, you don’t always have to be the quintessential mean kid in order to have a severe and permanent effect on others. Most of us are really just a shove, slap, or even a sentence away from breaking down, and nobody ever realizes what they mean to those around them until it is too little, too late.
13 Reasons Why has been criticized for “glamorizing suicide,” but I couldn’t disagree more. 13 Reasons elaborates on what could-have-been, if not for Hannah Baker’s all-too-sudden end. It delves deep into what happens to the people she left behind, long after the ink on the newspaper headlines dry out. The show is not an enemy for illustrating the very real world of teen suicide; it is merely holding up a mirror and forcing its viewers to take a good, hard, long look. In a world full of filtered, manufactured selfies, maybe that mirror gives us the raw, introspective lesson we all need a little more of.
What are your thoughts at the end of 13 Reasons Why?
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you are NOT alone. Don't hesitate to reach out! If you need to talk, the National Suicide Hotline is always ready for your call, 24/7, 365 at 1-800-273-8255.