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[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why,” including the finale.]
Netflix has decided to triple down on “13 Reasons Why.” The streaming service announced Wednesday that it’s ordered a third season of the teen drama that was initially based on the novel of the same name by Jay Asher. Dealing with teenage suicide, the series has come under fire for its controversial treatment of the subject in addition to other issues high school students face today that include bullying, sexual assault, and school shootings. Season 2, in particular, was criticized for the depiction of rape and a foiled school shooting in its finale.
But before diving into where the show can go from there, a note about Netflix’s disturbing timing for this Season 3 announcement. Just the day before, fashion designer and philanthropist Kate Spade had taken her own life, and this was a high-profile suicide that was covered extensively by the media. “13 Reasons Why” is still identified as a show about suicide, and Netflix dropping the Season 3 news a day later not only feels tone deaf but possibly even like it’s capitalizing on Spade’s death. Sadly, it’s not the first time Netflix has had to deal with the confluence of “13 Reasons Why” and real-world events.
Watch the ominous Season 3 renewal announcement:
The unfortunate conjunction of events, however, does highlight how topical and important “13 Reasons Why” and its subject matter is, and why the series has been the subject of both love (the viewership continued to be strong in Season 2) and criticism.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions about what the show can fix going into Season 3:
1. Live in the Moment
Season 1 was based on Asher’s novel, which framed the story through a series of flashbacks revealed through 13 audio cassette tapes that Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) left in lieu of a suicide note. They named one person per tape whom Hannah blamed for wanting to kill herself. In Season 2, the trial in which Hannah’s mother sued the school for creating an unsafe environment that led to her daughter’s suicide included multiple testimonies from fellow students who revealed details of their relationship and interactions with Hannah.
While Season 1’s unspooling of information through the tapes was a novel storytelling device — one that felt like adding together clues in a mystery — the second season’s attempt to do the same fell flat. While more details were revealed about who Hannah was as a person, the information had a dual effect of both calling into question Hannah’s reliability as a narrator in the tapes and seeming pointless since none of it really had an effect on the story’s plot this season.
In addition, the second season suffered in comparison to Season 1 by having most of the story told through flashbacks from a less compelling storytelling device; it felt passive and therefore less urgent. While Hannah’s schoolmates were dealing with problems in the present, it always felt like an intrusion to have to go back to the trial.
Going into the new season, the show should not look backward — been there, done that twice — as much as it should stay in the present. Season 2 ending with the horrifying rape of Tyler (Devin Druid) and his subsequent attempt to shoot up the school should keep the conversation in the here and now. The finale also ended with a few other storylines ramping up such as love triangle with Jessica (Alisha Boe), Courtney (Michelle Selene Ang) embracing her sexuality, and Bryce (Justin Prentice) switching schools.
2. Give the Tragedy Porn a Rest
This may seem like a nonsensical complaint given that the show is built around the suicide of a teenage girl, but the series’ decision about how to depict the violence and tragedy on the show has been extreme. Hannah’s suicide was not explicit in Asher’s book, but the show decided it would show the entire process. It was a bold choice that ultimately is detrimental to its young and impressionable viewers. Although some kids found the show helped create a dialogue with their parents, the increase in online searches on how to kill oneself rose after Season 1 as a result of the mixed messaging and imagery.
Season 2’s trial served to tarnish Hannah’s reputation somewhat, and the high school’s response to Alex’s (Miles Heizer) suicide attempt — banning the discussion completely on school grounds — is horrifying. Again, this may reflect the reality of our world, but the lack of consequences or reaction to that rule seemed like a missed opportunity.
With Hannah’s suicide and Tyler’s rape, the show has been deliberate in choosing to be explicit and graphic to a degree that may be accurate but is potentially damaging for viewers. This is not a documentary, and this is unquestionably aimed at teenagers; the very people who are needing help the most. Since this show is fictional and uses storytelling to try to have an impact, then maybe authenticity should not be used at the expense of aspiration.
Yes, these problems exist, but now what? Don’t just revel in the problems; address them. Plenty of schools and students have been inspired and active about suicide prevention and anti-bullying. The Parkland students are an inspiration to us all. Which brings us to…
3. Make Clay the Hero
Minnette hasn’t been given enough attention for his performance, which has been challenging since so much of it is a reaction to bad news that he’s constantly learning, sometimes from ghost Hannah (a cheesy and awkward gimmick). But the actor proves he’s capable of so much more when he gets a chance to take action — such as in the Season 2 finale when he talks Tyler down from his murderous rage.
Since so much of the show is built around Clay’s deep connection to Hannah, it seems that Season 3 could be the perfect time for the next step in his evolution. In the first season he was in shock and mourning, and then in Season 2, he came to accept his loss. Now is the time for him to be proactive and work to right the wrongs that had led to the drastic measures taken by Hannah and so many others. Since Langford has officially said goodbye to the show, dredging up her story won’t be necessary either, beyond the obvious tributes. She can be the driving force for Clay and others to fight back.
The added benefit of this will be that instead of just adding messaging as bookends for each episode, which can come off as too much of a preachy PSA, the characters can model hopeful behavior. Show, don’t tell.
4. Let the Parents Help Too
It’s to be hoped that Hannah’s trial, Jessica’s #MeToo case, and the botched school shooting is a wakeup call for the parents in the community. While it’s true that some won’t be moved at all, others will be rightfully distressed. Like the students, they can seek to change the system instead of perpetuating it.
Season 2 portrayed some parents who are positive and in touch with his kids. The father of Cyrus (Bryce Cass) and Mackenzie (Chelsea Alden) showed Tyler what a parent-child relationship could be. Courtney’s dads were supportive of the painful process of her coming out. It was actually heartwarming, and if the show is going to insist on portraying realism, then depicting the spectrum of family dynamics is important as well.
5. For God’s Sake, Let the Show End
Season 1 set it up the revelations of problems in the high school. Season 2 allowed the community to tear out its hair and implode. Let this be a trilogy where the tragedy comes to a close, where the community finds healing and hope, and set the Netflix viewers free.
”13 Reasons Why” Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Netflix.