13 Reasons Why

I do not watch a lot of TV. I find I get interested in some shows and find them really well done, and get engaged in early seasons. Eventually, and pretty much always, writers on the show change, TV studios realize they have a hit and do everything they can to stretch out what might have been a 3 year planned show into a 5-8 year planned show for commercial purposes. In TV the longer a show goes the more the show provides revenue – and more often, the lower quality it becomes.  It is rare that I am gripped by a TV show. I currently only watch one regularly, a comedy (New Girl) which will have it’s final season next year. Besides that I watch sports or documentaries. I prefer to be engaged in my entertainment which is why I play video games.

I started watching 13 Reasons Why on a rainy day after I read about the controversy. If you haven’t heard of it the premise is simple: a high school girl kills herself but before doing so records 13 tape recordings. Each tape is about a person who helped push her towards this decision. The tapes were meant to be listened to in order by the people she put on the tapes – so the first person to receive the tapes was meant to listen to all 13, and then pass on the tapes to the person on tape two, who would listen to them all and then pass them on to the tape three subject person, and so on, until all 13 people heard all 13 tapes. The show is told through the perspective of Clay, who has a tape, as he listens and explores what happened. I am not going to give plot spoilers here directly but will be talking about general themes about it, briefly.

Through the first seven episodes I found it interesting and worth continuing. It was fascinating to read about experts and schools tear the show apart for glorifying suicide when I watched it from two very different perspectives. One was that of a parent and the show did not hide the the many “signs” of a struggling youth. It did it in a very clever way, through Hannah’s tapes (who we know from the outset did end up committing suicide) but also through Clay’s behavior as the tapes and their content change him, his habits, and actions. The viewer knows Clay isn’t suicidal but to a parent much of how he is acting is similar to that of Hannah in several regards. Just for very different reasons. It was an obvious way to show that warning signs might not be true – or they might.

The second way I watched the show was through the lens of my own High School experiences. I didn’t quite fit in any group but jumped in several at any given time. I always felt like an outsider because of that but also managed to fit in “enough” with wherever I happened to be at that moment. I was a good hockey player, so I fit in with the “jocks”. I was on the school computer programming team ,so I fit in with the nerds. I had a whole separate group of friends that I played PnP RPGs with so I fit in with the geeks. I was a skateboarder, so I fit in the ska-loving half head shaved skater kids. I was a social chameleon that fit in everywhere and no where at the same time.

I was very lonely. I empathized with Clay and felt like I understood how he felt. I also understood the different dynamics in tribal actions and thinking in High School. They existed in my days there too.

13 Reasons Why resonated with me – too much. Episodes 8 through 13 became more and more difficult to watch. I cried. A lot. I think it was just a challenge to watch as I have struggled with my own mental health issues for most of my life alone and in silence. The combined pressure of living the show through the eyes of my high school self and the fears and trauma of watching it as a parent of an eleven year old who may face these struggles as well was just too much. For me. I haven’t had a show make me feel, well, anything in so long that when it was done, and I was trying to pull myself back together I just let myself… be. For a little bit. Then I started thinking about the whole experience.

The show is good, and well acted. There are some plot points and moments where you (might) shake your head but they are few and far between. It is very consistent and engaging. I believe it is a good show to watch, especially if you have kids, because they are watching it. It is very popular among the teen crowds. Watch and understand it so you can talk about it. I also think that despite warnings from schools and suicide groups that this may encourage people to commit suicide I believe that the more kids that watch it the better – because it shows how sometimes little, daily interactions can tear someone down piece by piece until they feel they have no other option. It also tackles far larger and more serious interactions. Maybe it will make kids try a bit harder to be positive and engage their peers, instead of doing some of the things in the show that we know are happening in our schools everyday. Maybe it will make people better understand the impact their actions can have on other human beings – both big and small actions. It should raise awareness of  signs when someone is struggling – and if people are aware then that is the first step to getting help.

When I heard they were doing a sequel, a second season, I did get angry. There isn’t a second book. The characters were all honored to the source material and everything was tied up nicely. The only reason to do a sequel is money. The producers realized they have built these characters and connections and have a great setting for another young adult show – a more depressing version of 90210 and feel that needs to be fully exploited. I do not understand why viewers are not allowed to use their imagination on what comes next to completely close off what is most likely going to happen. It’s bullshit and cheapens how I was made to feel throughout the series. It cannot be better, it cannot get better. It can only get worse. I have never been so disappointed in a television show (and sequel announcement).  I will not watch it as I fear it will ruin the whole experience for me.

As angry as I am about the sequel announcement I do recommend the series and thank it for forcing me to take a closer look at myself, and outward to my friends and community.

3 Comments

  1. Asmiroth

    I’ve watched portions of that series, whereas my wife more or less binge watched it. She’s a teacher, so there’s some resonance in her school.

    I can see both perspectives on how adults consume this series, in particular counselors. In fairness, nearly all the characters in the series are quite flawed. It projects a concept that the out is a viable solution to get people to listen to you. I was glad that there was a general lack of full closure, since in real life there never is any.

    There is a lot wrong with the messages that are provided. That wrong-ness has made people talk, and that’s a good thing. The stories I hear from my wife are fairly interesting in that regard. Kids are looking at the characters and talking about what they could have done differently, and how they can relate to certain parts.

    The best disinfectant has always been sunlight. And this series shines a heck of a lot of light on the subject.

    Reply
  2. Jay

    Yeah, as a suicide counselor, this show made me angry. I had a very hard time with it, particularly the central character. I know teenagers are self-centered but she really pushed that to the limit and I really didn’t want to feel conflicted sympathy.

    Reply
    1. Isey

      I did appreciate (and wish they did more of it, and more clearly) when near the end they started using the world “her reality” instead of reality. Viewers automatically believe she is telling the whole truth – and when things start becoming clear that she completely misinterpreted some things (such as Zach crumpling up the letter and throwing it away – he didn’t) the show could have took a turn to show that some of the things that lead her to that decision weren’t what they seem. And that isn’t to lessen the impact, but to provide a counter view that what a horrible decision to make based on (some) wrong information.

      I can’t imagine watching it when it is a reflection of what you deal with every day, especially if it is so wrong. I still believe opening up the discussion (even if it is just around those things) has incredible value.

      Reply

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