[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why,” including the finale.]
The majority of the second season of Netflix’s teen drama “13 Reasons Why” is spent dredging up the past in order to get a better picture of why teenager Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) killed herself. Sadly, in the process, it reveals that the issues she faced – social pressures, bullying, sexual assault, and violence – are still rampant at Liberty High, perhaps even more so as the trial over her death creates divisions in the community.
This leads to the season’s dramatic conclusion at the school dance that almost ends in a mass shooting. The morning that Netflix released Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” coincided with an actual school shooting in Texas that killed 10 people. The horrifying coincidence prompted Netflix to cancel its scheduled event to celebrate the premiere, but the fact that reality had intruded upon and eclipsed the show couldn’t be ignored. This puts an extra burden — whether it’s fair or not — for the show to address these topics wisely. IndieWire examines how the show’s uneven ability to tackle these topics can lead to mixed messages.
In the finale, everything to do with the student Tyler (Devin Druid) is devastating, disturbing, and potentially dangerous. Earlier in the season, he had gotten a taste for revenge when he started pranking the hypocritical students who had mistreated Hannah. As a result, he was sent to a diversionary program that supposedly helped him deal with anger issues and learning how to react appropriately to others. But upon his return, he discovered the girl he liked was dating someone else, and another friend didn’t want to hang out with him anymore.
Meanwhile, Monty (Timothy Granaderos) is upset that his life has been turned upside-down thanks to revelations in the trial and suspicions that he may have been harassing other students. He needs a scapegoat on whom to vent his anger, and in a harrowing sequence, Monty sexually assaults Tyler in the bathroom. The scene is far more graphic than has been depicted in any teen show before, even compared to Season 1. It is so brutal, in fact, that many viewers online have questioned if it was necessary for the scene to show as much as it did.
Bent on revenge, Tyler arms himself with his many guns, including one that looks like a semiautomatic rifle, and heads to the school dance. Alerted of Tyler’s intentions by a text, Clay (Dylan Minnette) insists that nobody call the police and instead devises a plan. He confronts Tyler in the parking lot, talks him down, and then even offers him a getaway car, courtesy of Tony (Christian Navarro). Season 2 ends there.
The Danger of That Ending
As with Hannah’s suicide, the messaging here is muddled in many ways. We’ve broken it down to acknowledge the merit of the show’s intentions, but also how the execution either falls short or could convey a different message entirely.
What’s commendable: Highlighting that sexual assault can happen to anyone, not just young girls, and that it’s not about sex or attraction.
What’s problematic: This scene is overshadowed by the outcry that it’s far too violent and graphic for viewers. The show may have wanted to be as blunt and forthcoming as possible, but it ends up being far more off-putting than effective in starting a conversation.
What’s commendable: Depicting how Tyler gamely made attempts to handle his emotions despite numerous disappointments and unfair treatment but was only tipped over the edge by his rape.
What’s problematic: Although Tyler ultimately did not pull the trigger, he is a fictional character that was mistreated horribly in order to be given a motivation for his extreme actions. Sadly, as the recent Sante Fe, Texas shootings have revealed, far less provocation is needed for someone who is ready to lash out. It also perpetuates the myth that people who are bullied are the ones doing the shooting, when it’s shown in the Santa Fe case and many others that shooters are often the aggressors. Furthermore, in the effort to try to understand a situation that is so senseless, the idea that learning more about the killer will yield answers, unfortunately, makes them into minor media celebrities.
What’s commendable: Highlighting how easily this can happen anywhere.
What’s problematic: Highlighting how easily this can happen anywhere. The fact that school or public shootings occur with such frequency in the United States is both horrifying and depressing. What’s even more sobering is that many people have become desensitized to it. The usual debates about gun control pop up, but nothing is done. In contrast, we learn more and more about the killers’ methodologies, and although copycat crimes haven’t been a proven result, frequent coverage of these crimes don’t seem to deter shooters either.
What’s commendable: Showing that Clay was able to connect with Tyler and reason with him before it was too late.
What’s problematic: Only law enforcement and crisis negotiators are trained to deal with shooters whose fingers are on the trigger, but the series makes a point to show that Clay does not want the police involved. The time to have talked to Tyler would have been before he had an arsenal prepped, but the show instead went for dramatic appeal. While it showcased Minnette’s heartbreaking performance, this feels like a very risky image to plant in kids’ minds as to how to deal with this situation.
In an interview with IndieWire, executive producer Joy Gorman Wettels said, “Nobody should stand in the way of somebody with a gun. That’s not the safe way to stop violence from occurring. It’s not something that we’re telling kids to do, stand in front of somebody who has a gun. You need to reach out to law enforcement or alert someone else.”
What’s commendable: Having the courage to bring up storylines like Tyler’s rape and the potential school shooting.
What’s problematic: Making this deadly event a setup for a cliffhanger ending treats it as a storytelling device, instead of treating it responsibly. “Here’s one of the biggest, most frightening things plaguing the nation today. Stay tuned for Season 3 to find out what happens next.” The sad truth is that if the show returns, many more shootings will have occurred by then.
Instead, the show could have introduced this story much earlier on in the season, and then shown Clay or someone else reading the warning signs in Tyler — or even Monty — before it got to that point. The remaining episodes could actually deal with the situation.
Of course, that may not have been as dramatic, and that’s a problem the show has been grappling with since the start. Given that suicide, sexual assault, and mass shootings are so prevalent and that the layperson has become more familiar with the conversation surrounding these topics, a show simply can’t treat them as plot devices or for their entertainment value. While the initial premise may have dealt with the aftermath of Hannah’s suicide, the show has been off book this season, and therefore must start to lead instead of running to catch up with its troubled characters.
”13 Reasons Why” Seasons 2 is available to stream on Netflix.