Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” became available to stream on Netflix this last Friday. I’m going to pack as many spoilers into this review as I possibly can, largely because I don’t want you to have to suffer through it as I did.
Let’s talk first about the good elements of the season, because there are so few of them, we might as well get them out of the way up front. Clay goes to Bryce’s house to shoot him and winds up threatening to shoot himself while Hannah tortures him by reciting tape 12. The trial takes a “Rashomon” approach to addressing the facts of the case.
Clay slow-dances in a group hug with his friends during that one song where he slow danced with Hannah in the first season. Justin falls from grace, becomes a homeless drug addict, and winds up living with Clay as a homeless drug addict. Tyler has issues, resolves those issues, then has them unresolved for him. Clay scolds Hannah for killing herself on three separate occasions. Hannah is seen with long hair whenever she appears to someone in the second season, as though glossing over the time when she signified her coming suicide by getting a haircut.
That’s right, Hannah is back. The girl who killed herself in Season 1 has returned to haunt Clay, her friends, one or two adults and ultimately us. She’s not an actual ghost, of course, but since she makes so many post-death appearances in people’s lives — especially Clay — she might as well be. In Season 1, it would be fair to say that Hannah had issues, but in Season 2, the writers decided to retcon (retroactive continuity) Hannah into an actual horrible person.
Turns out she was a jock chaser, having pursued half the baseball team before giving up and settling on Clay. This includes an early pursuit of Bryce. Though she ultimately rejected his physical advances, she did think it would be fun to ditch a class and head off alone with him to the jock’s clubhouse to get stoned; bearing in mind Bryce already had a reputation by this point, and not a good one.
Turns out Hannah spent the entire summer before everything went bad sleeping with Zack, though she never mentioned it on her tape about him, and he behaved as though he met her for the first time in Season 1. Turns out Hannah continued to nurse her crush on Justin even after he betrayed her and not only writes poetry expressing her longing for him (“why are jocks so hot?” she giggles to Ryan) but sends him suggestive photos of herself.
Throw Marcus into the mix and you’ve got five members of the baseball team that she went on at least one date with before deciding to give Clay a chance. Why is this important? Two reasons: She’s never seen expressing any kind of interest in anyone who isn’t a popular athlete at Liberty High School, and while it’s Clay she knows best and is emotionally closest to, she refuses to see him as a potential paramour until after she’s had bad experiences with the popular guys.
Does this alone make Hannah a horrible person? Nah. But it turns out she bullied another girl at her previous school; bullied her so bad she dropped out because it was too traumatic. This after the first season established that Hannah came to Liberty High because she was being bullied at this other school. Oh, and Hannah decided to kiss Courtney back to make her stop crying and not feel so embarrassed about having a crush on Hannah. The show actually has Courtney expressing gratitude that Hannah returned her physical advances. When was the last time you were grateful your intended crush gave you some pity intimacy?
But this is who Hannah is now that Season 2 is on public record; a jock chasing bully ghost who passively aggressively haunts the one guy that was truly in love with her. I want to say Season 2 is like “Riverdale” with more suicide, but I’ve avoided that show and only watched this one out of morbid curiosity.
The rest of the cast is given a chance to move up to lead roles in respective episodes, but things don’t go so well for any of them. Tony — who apparently is in his 8th year of high school — vacillates between his guardian angel character from Season 1 to hot-tempered felon this time around, and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. Justin gets the largest character range, but he almost literally winds up back where he started the season, only with slightly better living conditions.
Alex has amnesia.
Zack is a good guy, but he’s not, but he is, but he’s not. He finally picks a side in Episode 11.
Monty is an important part of the plot, but we don’t see him until it’s deemed necessary that he become an important part of the plot.
Tyler’s a bad kid. For five minutes he’s not a bad kid. Then he gets violated by Monty with a mop handle (not kidding), and decides to respond by showing up at the Spring Fling dance with a duffel bag full of guns. The other kids think he’s worth saving. I’m not sure why, since Tyler’s guilty of all kinds of questionable behavior such as stalking, emotional abuse, felony vandalism and attempted mass murder.
And then there’s Jessica. She was the one character I thought could carry some integrity through her victimhood while the mystery of whether or not Bryce would get caught was played out in perhaps the most unnecessary courtroom drama ever filmed. Her struggle is real. But, when she finally gets some resolution, she decides to take Alex to the Spring Fling dance, make out with him, then go have sex with Justin in the boys locker room.
Oh, and Kevin is the troubled guidance counselor who goes around getting into fist fights with other adults.
During all this, Clay is reduced to a moping, angsty teenager who has conversations with his dead girlfriend. At various times, he switches gears to resemble some sort of “Special Victim’s Unit” investigator — no really, “We need Chloe’s testimony or this whole case falls apart” is an example of some of his dialogue — but the gears switch so abruptly you wonder if Clay has lost his sanity. In fact, looking at him in this light actually makes his character a little more interesting.
There are times Season 2 almost feels as though the characters stop, turn to the camera, and lecture us on why bad things happen to teenagers in a style reminiscent of an after school special. And while the subject matter is nothing to make light of, the show does this for the sake of ginning up controversy before the audience has a chance to judge for itself. This is not an important, conversation-starting television event. It is, at its core, an exploitation series in which the one-dimensional characters from the first season get an extra half dimension to give the impression of depth where there clearly is none.
But this show’s worst sin is the use of 80’s alternative pop/rock as an attempt to appeal to the parents who should not be watching this show. Their kids shouldn’t be watching either.
I can think of 13 reasons why.