Last year, Taylor and I did an Episode of “The Petting Zoo” to discuss the controversial series “13 Reasons Why” as their second season for the show aired. We’d viewed the first season together, as I would suggest any “parental” figure to do with younger audiences. This series struck many chords for both of us, and I wanted to make sure that, should she choose to consume it, it was in a safe space.
Feeling comfortable enough to ask questions and address tough topics, is important. Rather than considering this content outside of her age range, I opted to watch it with her. Please, do the same if given the chance, because there is nothing stopping them from watching it. As much as we’d all like to pretend our youth isn’t having sex, doing drugs, drinking, and struggling with sexual assault and mental illness, THEY ARE. Some much younger than you’d imagine.
SOME research indicates that suicide statistics increased after the series aired. Others suggest that they declined as the conversation continued. In Season 1 we learn that those statistics aren’t always accurate anyhow. Many suicides are considered accidents or never reported. None the less, shortly after the shows premiere date, scenes depicting the graphic nature of “Hannah Baker’s” death were removed or altered. I don’t have a strong opinion on this part one way or another. While the formal showing of the Netflix series will no longer include this scene, it will live on. The internet is unforgiving. In my opinion, there were far more graphic scenes than this but that just goes to show; everyone’s perception is different. The series sheds light on a wide range of very real, very tough topics. What part of that do we loose when we move the act of taking your own life off screen?
Just a quick recap, for those who haven’t seen the series, or read the books….
Season One was roughly based on the novel by the same title. It follows a teenage Clay Jensen as he sees the world through the now deceased Hannah Baker’s eyes, via a series of tapes outlining the events over a few years, leading up to Hannah’s untimely demise. We meet the characters, see how troubled their lives are, and gain a better understanding of how something so small can turn into something so big. It all starts with a list. A stupid, hot or not, list. Circulating the school, pitting two girls, who used to be friends, against one another. The list’s author, a third “friend”, Alex Standall, son of the local sheriff’s deputy, shoves the ball downhill, while other’s in the school, add to it. We watch as Hannah is stalked, groped, and the rumors spread adorning her with a scarlet letter when it’s never gone beyond a kiss. Her friends betray her, she becomes isolated, staff and parents ignore her obvious pleas for help, and eventually, Hannah takes her own life. Clay takes things into his own hands when the tapes are leaked online. The school comes under fire for the bullying exposed within them, and Bryce is arrested for Hannah’s rape.
Season Two seemed to hightail it for more “current events”. It tackled school shootings, male sexual assault, a ring of rapists and a cover up is exposed. The aftermath of the tapes being leaked, and the court cases against both Hannah’s rapist, Bryce Walker, and the school take center stage. Parents come into focus with the repercussions of the teens’ actions on their families. This is not exclusive to the victims, but the assailants as well.
The school and it’s staff slide under the microscope for overlooking Hannah being bullied, knowing about her assault and suicidal idealization, and not taking action. We watch as Chloe, Bryce’s now girlfriend, takes the stand after a photo of her own assault is uncovered, only to defend her rapist. We journey through manipulation and jock culture. Jessica finally comes forward to testify, and we discover that Bryce is not be the only taking part in rape culture. Tyler struggles with his mental health and is sent away to get better, but returns later in the season with a better perspective that doesn’t last long.
While changes were made to pre-episode warnings, they threw caution to the wind, and get even more graphic. The most painful to watch scene, in my option, occurs this season. School photographer and neighborhood “peeping Tom” Tyler Down, faces a handful of jocks after returning from intensive therapy, and a uncomfortable to watch assault. While the rest of the world is still ignoring the clear signs that Tyler may need more help, distracted by the trail and hell bent on finding more evidence of a rape ring, Tyler is planning something big. We end the season with Clay narrowly stopping Tyler from initiating a school shooting, with the hopes it would result in his own death. With the help of local bad boy gone good, Tony Padilla, they seemingly dispose of Tyler’s weapons, and the “Tape Gang” band together once more, to protect his secret.
Which brings us to Season 3. Of course, I can’t cover ALL of Season 1 and 2 here, so if you want to watch them yourself, check it out on Netflix! If you decide to do so, please watch any of the end of season chats, to better understand the narrative, and what the cast and crew were trying to do with this brilliant piece of art! The book is also outstanding. The anniversary addition has a forward that can’t be beat.
SEASON 3 MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
We start the season where we left off. Clay, with his Prius loaded down with too many firearms to count, heads to an abandoned building to meet Tony and a shaking Tyler. After some breakthrough moments, Tyler realized what he’s done, and that he’d better get home and retrieve the note and flash drive he left for his parents. That would be a dead giveaway that the “shooting scare” wasn’t just a scare, and all their work would be for nothing. The boys successfully get to his house before they find out, but Clay and Tony don’t know why he was so eager to get home, and he tucks the flash drive away without any question of what’s on it. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that later.
The primary focus of the season is on 1 single night; Homecoming. We don’t fully understand what happened on that field, during halftime, but we know that was the last time anyone saw our antagonist, Bryce Walker, alive. Imagine that. The most hated character on the show, found dead. Making that into 13 episodes of “who done it” must have been a breeze! So many people wanted him dead, and so many secrets. The big question remains, “Who COULD pull the trigger, if given the chance?”
For me, it was an easy tell, just because I write, and not to toot my own horn, but I catch on to patterns in shows, and the way things are foreshadowed. I knew the who, but I didn’t know the why, or what part they played in the whole thing. I just knew who was most likely involved.
Let me say here, before we get into this much further, this season focused on 18 year old for the most part. We were no longer dealing with 16 and 17 year old. We are dealing with adults. With adults, comes adult content. Jessica learns more about her sexuality, realizing that now boyfriend Alex, isn’t the one. She regains control of her body, after feeling like it’s been ripped away from her, by means of self pleasure. She fantasizes about Justin, and that’s complicates things further. This is a scene I can fully understand and appreciate. Many others, not so much. I’ve heard it called everything from “inappropriate” to “unnecessary”, but it was nothing short of truth for many. I felt it in my soul. While I didn’t regain my body by means of masturbation after I was assaulted, I can say that I took control of my sex life. Most people would consider what I did instead, extremely unhealthy compared to this, yet it’s being demonized.
Later, we see Jessica and Justin sneaking around to be together. She can’t be seen with the “boy who let her get raped” as she forms a group of survivors called HO. Tyler later joins HO as the only guy, and simply an “ally” because he has a secret of his own. While they formulate their plan to disrupt the Homecoming game with a protest in private, we see Justin struggling with a secret of his own.
He’s been using, and his step dad, Seth is in town pressuring him to repay the money stolen in a previous season. Money used to help his heroine addicted mother escape Seth’s abuse. This is a secret that he’s been hiding not just from Jessica, but from Clay, and his new adoptive family as well. We are given the signs pretty early on, but it’s not until nearly the end it’s shoved in our faces. Justin is using again. In fact, he never stopped. To avoid telling Jessica, he breaks up with her, telling her he cheated on her. Good thing Clay is there to fill her in, and stop him from pushing her away too.
A commonly abused drug makes it way into the locker rooms this season, when some of the boys buy “juice” or steroids from Bryce, as well as a dealer at a local gym. The scope of drug abuse extends past the jocks, and into the home of Alex Standall, who after a failed suicide attempt in Season 1, is having a really hard time seeing himself as a man. He starts using, and after a while, befriends Bryce just long enough to try cocaine, break into a house, and scare a kid until he pisses his pants. Steroid driven outbursts are peppered through out the season, as his character steers the spotlight to toxic masculinity. When Jessica leaves him for the Justin, it amplifies things, pushing Alex near his breaking point.
The narrator, is a new character. Ani, who is the daughter of a live in nurse caring for Bryce’s grandfather. Most of the character’s don’t know where she lives, not even Clay, who frequently drops her off down the road after school. A bond between them forms and quickly turns romantic. At the same time, she’s seeing Bryce through his recovery, and as a second romantic partner. Much like the others, she carries this as a secret. Through her eyes, we see the past, and the present, as well as the new Bryce. The Bryce who has helped just about every single person this season behind the scenes, but no one has opened up to admit it. At least not yet.
I won’t spoil it all for you. BUT I will tell you who they frame for Bryce’s murder.
This season, we paint Monty Delacruz as a fiery, often abused, closeted homosexual, who is loyal to his friends, but can’t be loyal to himself. He’s Bryce’s right hand man until he takes matters into his own hands in Bryce’s absence. Some of his outburst as covered up by Bryce, who may be the only one who knows Monty’s secret. We get a glimpse into his home life, while his father beats him with a nightstick in a drunken stupor, with onlookers Ani and Clay nearby. Already trying desperately to find Bryce’s killer, they are staking out his home when this event occurs, after finding steroids he ditched during a locker inspection. We’re reminded that he initiated Tyler’s brutal assault the previous season. We’ve seen his behavior in the past two season slowly build up. It all comes to a tipping point when he meets a boy by the name of Winston at a local “rich kid party,” and finds him alone in a room while searching for a bathroom. They engage in oral sex, and afterwards, Bryce and Monty take their leave. On their way out, Winston asks Monty if he’d like to hang out sometime, and Monty beats him to a bloody pulp. With the help of a lump sum of cash from Bryce, and an understanding of what it is to be ashamed of that same secret, Monty stays silent. That is, until our detectives, Clay and Ani, come calling.
After some of the members are checked off the list of potential suspects, and with the police beginning to close in on Clay Jensen as their primary suspect, Tyler decides to go public about his assault. It’s revealed that his story was recorded on the flash drive at home. Unable to voice what happened to him to anyone other than Clay, he shows various other people in the group the video, including Bryce, who threatens Monty on Tyler’s behalf during the Homecoming game. Police arrest Monty, and we see his father during a visitation in jail. He accuses him of being gay, and then tells him that he won’t live in prison.When his father refers to Tyler as a “little boy” during their altercation, the last nail is hammered into Monty’s coffin. Other inmates overhear this, and Monty’s fate is sealed, but not before his character redemption. In a very revealing scene with Winston after the homecoming game, we discover that he couldn’t have been the one who killed Bryce.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, and the real killers, are brought to light. However, with Monty gone, and a motive under his name, we wrap the season up with Ani telling the police, as she has been during her narration all along, that Monty was Bryce’s killer, and setting them up to convict him, in the season’s final episode, “Let the Dead Bury the Dead”.
During the final scenes in the season, the gang gathers around photos taken through out the year, on a wall in Monte’s coffee shop. A wall of photos dedicated to the people Tyler accredits for saving his life is revealed, and the cast comes together one final time. When leaving the shop, Ani is approached by Winston, who reveals to her with tears in his eyes, that Monty was with him while Bryce was being murdered. He tells her that he’s a person too, and didn’t deserve to die. She agrees and they part ways.
But it wouldn’t be “13 Reasons”, with a 4th season to come, without a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger where the guns that Tony and Clay disposed of in the river for Tyler, are retrieved by an unsuspecting fisherman. I can’t wait to see what happens next season!
This season was cram packed with flashbacks, adult content ranging from sex to drugs, and shrouds of mystery. We wrap things up the same way Season 1 began, with a tape. A tape given to Jessica by Bryce on the night of his death. A confession of all the wrongs he has done, and what he’s doing to be better. A gut wrenching realization, after 13 whole episodes of Bryce secretly helping every one of them, while struggling to fit in at his new school, and learning the hard way what it means to truly be good. The world is pushing back, and refuses to let him be anything more than a rapist, and it’s painful to watch.
Much like Justin Foley this season, it makes you feel conflicted, confused and guilty for feeling genuinely sad for such a terrible character. A spoiled rotten, rich kid, who takes what he wants without asking, and doesn’t care who gets hurt. A sociopath, but one that’s trying desperately to break the cycle with him.
In this moment, I want you to know, that it is okay to forgive those who hurt you, even if they don’t better themselves. If only to better yourself. There are moments in life, where we want to cut people down for who they are, but we don’t often give them the chance to change. Who wants to live in a world where change isn’t the answer? I don’t.
I want to live in a world where I am given the chance to be better, do better.
Cancel culture is real, and if you take one single thing away from this series, this season alone, it’s that people can change. It takes time, and the strides we take aren’t always obvious. We can be a product of circumstances we can’t control. Growth is only human. Mistakes happen, sometimes time and time again. Even big ones. It doesn’t make what Bryce did through out the series right or okay, but it’s a real thing to want to change and have difficulties doing it.
If you are struggling please know there is help. There are programs, counselors, physicians, people, that truly want you to get better. Not many can do it alone. Get the help you need before it’s too late. Don’t be afraid of how others may judge you. They can already see a lot of the things you think you are hiding.
Most of all, help those around you be the better person. Reach out to someone in recovery, even if you don’t know them, and let them know you are there. Tell them you see them and you are proud of them. You have no idea what a difference one kind gesture can make. Hug the addicts in your life and forgive them. Don’t ridicule the friends that never seem to be available, or that have a hard time replying to your messages. Invite them anyway. Tell them you care and are ready to talk when they are. No matter what. Reach out.
When they are ready, they might actually surprise you, just like Bryce Walker.