Netflix’s newest hit series 13 Reasons Why is more than just an adaptation of Jay Asher’s bestselling book of the same title. For many (like me), it is an eye opener. It is a reflection of an ugly truth that a lot of people have refused to acknowledge for one reason or another. True, it is a high school drama, but it veers away from the stereotype by talking about something that was once was taboo (for the majority): suicide and all the factors that lead to it.
I’ve watched a lot of films tackling the issue of suicide, but none has had the effect that 13 Reasons Why gave me. If you’re not yet familiar with the storyline, it is about Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide and left cassette tapes where she narrates her story and what led her to do what she did. The tapes were given to a list of individuals who, in one way or another. contributed to her death.
The story is told through Clay Jensen, one of those who received the tapes. The first tape starts with Hannah introducing herself: “Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests.” Each episode talks about a particular character who played a significant role in Hannah’s life. One of the first things you will realize is how much Clay liked – loved – Hannah, and how difficult it was for him to listen to the tapes without being emotional. This is one of the reasons why I decided to binge watch the show (except for episodes 12 and 13, which focused on the suicide). Even before I was halfway through the series, I already fell in love with it.
There are 13 other reasons why I love 13 Reasons Why. These are also the reasons why I encourage you to watch the show.
Yes, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) is the number one reason why I love the show. Her experiences, her story, her life can be anyone’s. She’s not a princess and she’s not perfect. She’s flawed and that’s what makes her real. Hannah can be someone you know; she can be the person you saw at the mall the other day or the new girl/boy in school.
Unlike most teen show characters whose main problems range from which clothes to wear and who to date on Valentine’s Day, Hannah’s problems are major ones. She’s repeatedly bullied and harassed. Men look at her as a sex object. Girls envy her and will do anything to destroy her reputation. Every time she made new friends, they stayed for awhile but would eventually leave her. At some point, even her parents were too busy fighting and did not have time to listen to her.
Hannah’s story is more than enough reason to watch 13 Reasons Why.
2. Clay Jensen
It’s easy to describe Clay Jensen as the only guy who truly loved Hannah, but there’s more to him than that.
Clay is the show’s good guy. He has a spotless reputation. He helps others with schoolwork. He calls his mom to let her know where he was or if he was going somewhere. He does not talk bad about others. He’s one of the most respected students in school. Most of all, Clay was the only one who made Hannah feel safe and accepted. The only weakness he has (or had) is the fact that he is afraid to take risks.
Clay’s transformation after Hannah’s death is something we can (and should) all relate with.
3. Bryce Walker
Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) plays a major role in the life of Hannah, but you won’t find out about this until you reach episode 12 (Tape 6, Side B). One of the most popular guys in their school, Bryce is the kind of person who can bail you out of a difficult situation – but only if you were his friend and are willing to agree with him at all times. He can do this because his family has money. He’s also an athlete who often helps the school win games.
The real Bryce Walker, however, is a scum. Someone who can become extremely dangerous when he wants to. And 13 Reasons Why is a reminder that there are a lot of his kind walking this world – men and women who like to think they are above everyone else because they are rich and popular.
4. Justin Foley
Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn) is Bryce’s closest friend. He is also the boyfriend of Jessica Davis, one of Hannah’s former friends. The first tape is dedicated to him. While some viewers think he is a victim of his situation (watch the show to get the details), I think he is just as vile as Bryce. First, he was the reason people in school started thinking of Hannah as a sex object. Second, he “offered” his girlfriend to his friend – and he goes on to act like nothing happened. Once you know the reason why he did this, you’ll despise him.
I had mixed emotions about Justin at first because of his problem with his mom. But once I put myself in Jessica and Hannah’s shoes, this totally changed.
There are a lot of Justin Foleys in the world. We should all be wary of people like him.
5. Jessica Davis
Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) is Hannah’s former friend. She’s beautiful, aggressive, and can be wild. Her friendship with Hannah was tarnished because of, among other reasons, a guy. She is on the tape because aside from publicly humiliating and betraying Hannah, she’s also a victim like her former friend.
Nobody wants to be a Jessica, and this is a good reason to watch the show.
6. Alex Standall
Alex Standall (Miles Heizer) is the 3rd person in Hannah and Jessica’s friendship circle. Like Jessica, he abandoned Hannah at a time when things were supposed to be turning out well. Add to this the fact that he did something that further complicated Hannah’s reputation in school.
Like Clay, Alex is greatly affected by Hannah’s death, and he is not ashamed to show this even when he starts hanging out with Justin’s group. You’ll find out how deeply affected he is towards the end of the series.
There’s an Alex in each one of us, believe me. And it’s a part that we all should not be proud of or happy about.
7. Olivia Baker
Olivia Baker (Kate Walsh) is Hannah’s mother. She’s on this list because of that.
Oftentimes, when we hear that someone committed suicide, we get too engrossed about what happened to that person that we forget about the people they left behind. In 13 Reasons Why, the grief experienced by a mother who lost her child is given importance. And the picture it paints is ugly, which is just right because depression has never been and will never be beautiful or glamorous.
The most painful realization, I believe, of Hannah’s mom was the fact that she didn’t see the signs. She and her husband were too busy thinking about the family business, and this made it difficult for Hannah to approach her.
Whether you are a mother or not, seeing the agony in Olivia Baker’s face, and knowing what she was willing to do to justify her daughter’s death, should make you want to watch the show.
8. Mr. Porter
The last tape is dedicated to Mr. Porter (Derek Luke), the school’s new guidance counselor. He was the last person Hannah talked to on the day she decided to end her life. If you listen closely to their conversation, you’ll get the idea that he was the last straw. Hannah’s final decision depended on the outcome of their conversation.
Caught between his dedication to his profession and his allegiance to the school he works for, Mr. Porter fails to handle the situation wisely. This character is a message to adults who refuse to acknowledge the consequences of bullying, as well as to those who prefer to ignore the issue rather than talk about it.
9. Tony Padilla
Tony Padilla (Christian Navarro) is my favorite character in the show. Several times, while watching his scenes with Clay, I found myself wishing I had a friend like him.
He’s not on the list, but he figures prominently in the show because Hannah left the tapes and instructions with him. He is the one designated to make sure that everyone on the list follows instructions and listens to the tapes.
I look at Tony as Clay’s guardian angel. He’s the one who pushes him to finish listening to the tapes. The one who gives Clay strength to go on, especially when Clay starts blaming himself for what happened to Hannah.
Tony is also the one who keeps Clay safe from the others (i.e. Justin and company), and is the only one who truly understands how he felt about Hannah (and her death).
Without Tony, Clay would not have been able to finish the tape and everything would have been a disaster.
Aside from the characters I listed above, here are three more reasons why I love 13 Reasons Why:
10. The Way the Show Tackles the Issues of Bullying, Depression, Rape, and Suicide
All these issues are not pretty. Bullying, depression, rape, suicide are ugly truths that most of us often neglect; that some of us think will never happen to us or to someone we know. The show does not hide this ugliness. It does not hide the fact that these issues, especially suicide, can destroy relationships and ruin lives.
What it effectively portrays is the truth that there is no easy way out for everyone involved in situations like these.
The show also includes warning signs related to suicide. Examples: Hannah cleaned her room before she cut herself. Another character, who shot himself in the head, also cleaned his room before picking up the gun.
It is brutally honest.
11. The Visual Narrative
I like how the show helps the audience identify which scenes are flashbacks and which ones are present-day events. Aside from the cut and bandage on Clay’s forehead, the show also uses filters. So when the scenes show Hannah alive, the colors are brighter and more vibrant. Present-day scenes are filled with a lot of grays and are noticeably darker.
In addition to this, most of Hannah and Clay’s most emotional scenes are shown in close-ups. Thus, viewers can better see the pain and anguish on their faces.
The choice of music also helps tell the story more effectively. I like the fact that there are no Billboard Top 40 hits here (although there are two songs by Selena Gomez, who is a co-executive producer of the show).
The visual storytelling in 13 Reasons Why is effective because of its excellent cinematography. Any TV show that values cinematography deserves to be on my list of the best!
12. Cassette Tapes, Walkman, Poetry Reading, and a Handwritten Unofficial School Paper
Hannah records the tapes on a cassette tape recorder. Clay uses a Walkman to listen to the tapes. Tony makes mix tapes. The show effectively incorporates some elements of the 80s. No other TV series has done something like this for awhile. I find this extremely cool.
There’s a phase in Hannah’s young life where we see her joining a poetry reading session and, later on, sharing her original writing to the group. It was one of the times when she was able to truthfully share her thoughts and feelings.
Also, I like their “unofficial” school paper because it was mostly handwritten. We don’t get a lot of that nowadays!
13. Excellent Performances By the Cast – Especially By Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette
Everyone in the show turns in an excellent performance, most notably the two leads. Through Minnette, you’ll see Clay’s transformation from a scared, angry teen to someone determined to expose the truth and give justice to Hannah’s death.
Langford’s expressive eyes are all you need to look at to feel the pain, confusion, anguish, and anger inside her.
There are many more reasons why I love 13 Reasons Why, and why you should watch it, but these are the most important ones.
Consider the fact that while it is classified as young adult material, 13 Reasons Why is not just for teens. It is for everyone who wants to understand what people like Hannah go through and why she did what she did. It is a brutally honest depiction of a problem that society has neglected for years. And while some people say it is too dark, scary, and depressing, I agree with what Brian Yorkey, the show’s screenwriter, said in an interview, “We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.” This is something we should all accept – because it is the truth.
A word of caution though: this is not a glossy show. It is dark, gloomy, and scary…because it’s real. So be prepared (especially emotionally) for some good but unpleasant viewing experience. Hopefully, after the last tape or episode, you will have learned a lot.