13 Reasons Why is one of Netflix’s most popular and controversial shows. When season one hit the streaming service last year, the show received a lot of criticism for it’s depiction of the teen suicide. Despite this, the show drew in the ratings and was eventually renewed for a second season. Viewers were able to binge through season two over the weekend, which somehow upped the scope of the world within the show and delved deeper into the seldom talked about dramas and issues of modern day teenagers. While season one focused on how people’s actions can affect a person, this season shows how everyone can have an influence on everyone with their decisions.
The second season picks up five months after the season one finale. Everyone has seemingly moved on with their lives. Clay is enjoying his new relationship with Skye. The baseball kids have a chance at State. Marcus and Courtney are prepping for college. However when the Bakers change their mind about the case and decide not to settle, everyone is forced to face the demons they buried with Hannah Baker.
The first season had the benefit of being best of a best-selling novel. The story was told from the perspective of Clay Jensen as he listened to the tapes Hannah left behind listing her reasons for ending her life. As the first season exhausted all of the source material, the new season treads through completely new material. The tapes are no longer a plot device nor a source of exposition. Instead, there are mysterious polaroids being left about Liberty High School that hint to a bigger scandal surrounding Bryce and his cohorts. These aren’t as key to the story as the tapes were but they do propel the mystery along.
The trial is the big focus of the second season. Each episode has a different character testifying, with their testimony being depicted in some scenes while other parts are delivered as an expository voiceover to craft the narrative of each episode. This is a nice switch from Hannahs tapes in season one, with certain characters providing insight that redefines scenes from the original season. However, there are certain times that it is jarring and a bit too on the nose to work as well as the tapes.
What really works for season two is the way already established characters are expanded even further. Season one told its story through the eyes of Clay and how he interacted with the other students as he learned more about them from the tapes. In season two, Clay is still a big player but each character is developed with a compelling arc. One of the more sympathetic characters this season is Alex, who is coping with a physical and mental recovery after his suicide attempt at the end of the first season.
The first third of the season is a bit of a slow take-off, playing out simultaneously as high school soap and a court room drama. Once the season gets over the hill and really utilizes what it can do beyond the scope of the source novel, it sinks its hook in and doesn’t let go. There are many issues present in the present day high school besides just suicide, and the show fully utilizes this. It shows that the show has the ability to find new stories to tell now that they are able to move beyond the story of Hannah Baker’s suicide, especially after that cliffhanger of an ending.
One of the issues with the new season is how they choose to incorporate Hannah’s character. She still appears in plenty of flashbacks scenes, which is totally fine. Due to the popularity of Katherine Langford and her stellar performance as Hannah, its understandable the show would want to find someway to keep her as a series regular. This takes form in some sort of manifestation of Clay’s guilty conscious. She only appears to him in certain scenes to as a kind of soundboard for him to take his frustrations with his inability to understand her decision out on. There is one really powerful scene where Clay yells at her about what “an evil thing” her choice to commit suicide was, but for the most part its an odd choice that breaks up the pacing of some good scenes.
Much like the first season was criticized for the graphic scene depicting Hannah’s suicide, this season contains another graphic scene that no viewer discretion advisory warning can fully prep for how horrifying it actually is. While it is difficult to watch, its inclusion in the season is important. Its important for defining certain characters arcs throughout the season and their motives going forward. More importantly however, this scene needed to be included in the show to show that horrifying things like this do happen to kids these days. It’s difficult to watch, but it can start a dialogue that’ll keep these things from happening.
Season two is a strong follow-up to 13 Reason Why‘s first controversial season. It expands the scope of the show and allows for some of the more interesting characters to be fully realized. As the show hopefully moves forward from the Hannah Baker case into other compelling issues, the show secures its potential for longevity. For fans of season one, this is a must watch. For those hesitant to watch due to some of the graphic scenes, the second season follows up the goal of the first by putting these important issues on display in the hopes of opening up a dialogue. It’s talking, not telling.
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