13 Reasons Why is probably the most argued-about show on TV right now. On one side are parents, teachers and mental health professionals, many of whom advise teens against watching it. On the other are superfans, mostly of school age, who relate strongly to protagonist Hannah — a victim of misogyny, rape culture and casual sexism.
Both sides have a point. It’s extremely questionable to show actual suicide methods on screen (as the programme controversially did in season one) – but a recent study showed 71% of teens were more likely to discuss their problems after watching. Surely, a good thing. Season two — which hits Netflix today — doesn’t contain any scenes as ill-advised as Hannah’s suicide. But it doesn’t steer clear of controversy either.
We pick up immediately after the events of last series. Hannah’s mum is preparing for a long court battle against her daughter’s school Liberty High. She says they didn’t do enough to help her cope and she may be right. In each new episode, a different character takes the stand and we learn a new side to the story. They each — and not Hannah — provide the narration for their episode. It’s more courtroom drama than high-school flick but makes for a welcome change after season one’s restrictive format.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s closest friend Clay is trying to move on. He’s got a new girlfriend — bubbly yet troubled Skye — and seems happy. But when he’s called to testify his newfound stability crumbles. To make matters worse, he’s targeted by a mysterious vigilante who threatens the witnesses to keep them quiet. This series focuses less on Hannah and more on Clay and his classmates’ road to recovery: Tyler makes a new, rebellious friend, jock Zach stands up to rapist Bryce and Tony tries his hardest to stay out of trouble. Each plot line is compelling and more complex than in last season. Yes, some of their decisions don’t make sense — particularly the romantic ones. But when has logic ever ruled love?
Once again, the young cast are impressive with Dylan Minnette (Clay) and Justin Prentice (Bryce) on top form. But it’s Alisha Boe who is season two’s MVP. She plays Jessica, who is still coming to terms with her rape by Bryce at a party. She’s quiet, quick to tears and too scared to sleep in her own bed. Unsurprisingly, boyfriend Justin has vanished. Boe brings a quiet excellence to the role as she jumps from bleak hopelessness to fierce determination. Her’s is a multi-faceted performance that inspires admiration, not just of her but of the character too. Fans will be most invested in Jessica’s story.
For all that season two gets right, there are as many things it gets wrong. For example, it’s far more violent than its predecessor and the show’s attitude to guns is troubling. Little is done to highlight the dangers of possessing a weapon and one scene feels similar to an advert for NRA membership. Hannah’s continued presence isn’t really necessary either — either in flashback scenes or as the quasi-ghost in Clay’s mind. An appearance here or there is fine, but every other scene is distracting.
Ultimately, season two does enough to justify its existence and you’ll likely binge-watch it faster than the first. Those who say it’s run its course are missing the point. 13 Reasons Why was never about one girl’s suicide. It’s about endemic problems with society and shining a light on the shit young people have to deal with on a daily basis. On that merit alone it should get another season – and possibly 13 more.
13 Reasons Why Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix from May 18
FOR HELP AND ADVICE ON MENTAL HEALTH:
- ‘Am I depressed?’ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day