Suicide is an issue that one cannot discuss in a casual or flippant manner. It’s an issue that affects many people around the world, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or class. It’s an issue that people often say we must talk about more in the hope it to prevents more people from taking their own lives, but yet we often hesitate to discuss it openly for fear of judgement or causing upset.
The reasons as to why people might take their own lives are numerous, ranging from severe torment at the hands of bullying, mental health issues or through experiencing some kind of trauma, however, in the end, we often will never really know why.
It’s this question as to why someone might take their own life that is at the heart of Netflix’s powerful drama 13 Reasons Why, a series that is not only brilliant in its storytelling, but it also one that has the potential to finally get people talking more openly about the often difficult subjects that it raises.
Liberty High School is in mourning following the tragic suicide of student Hannah Baker and while struggling to come to terms with her death, Clay Jensen, a friend of Hannah’s, receives a package containing thirteen audio tapes recorded by her. Within the tapes, Hannah reveals the trauma, humiliation, isolation and loneliness that she felt in the months leading up to her death, with each tape addressed to a particular person, explaining how they are responsible for her decision to end her life.
13 Reasons Why is, in my view, a rarity among television shows in that as far as I can see, it is near flawless.
The acting is possibly some of the finest that I’ve seen on any screen this year, with everyone from the main cast to the supporting cast delivering truly stellar work.
Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker excels in creating a truly haunting and tragic performance that lingers in the mind long after the credits on the final episode roll. Langford imbues the character with a sort of intoxicating warmth and charm that makes you like her almost immediately, you just like spending time with the character and constantly look forward to the next time she’s on screen.
However, it’s this very same likeable quality that also makes Langford’s performance all the more painful to watch, as you find yourself wishing that things will get better for Hannah so that she won’t feel the need to end her life. Quite simply, by the end of the series, you don’t want her to die, making the eventual scene in which she does, truly heartbreaking.
Dylan Minnette also gives a terrific performance as Clay Jensen, Hannah’s friend and the latest recipient of the tapes detailing why she took her own life, with Clay’s name list amongst the reasons. Minnette succeeds in creating a likeable and sympathetic protagonist, one who is suffocating under his feelings of guilt and loss. The episode in which Clay listens to the tape addressed to him is probably where Minnette gives his best performance of the series, as the character becomes overwhelmed with guilt, sorrow and anguish that he couldn’t save his friend and of his ignorance to the troubles blighting her life.
As strong as Langford and Minnette’s performance are individual, it’s the moments when they’re together that make up for some of the most poignant moments of the series. The back and forth between the two is often funny, often sweet and the developing romantic tension is made all the more believable thanks to their incredible onscreen chemistry.
I simply loved these characters and every moment they shared the screen was simply a joy to watch, making Clay’s attempts to recover from Hannah’s death all the more tragic, with her absence leaving him a guilt-ridden shell of his former self, haunted by the loss of someone who could have been the love of his life.
Props should also be given to the supporting cast that make up Clay and Hannah’s classmates and family with not a single weak performance among them, especially Kate Walsh’s turn as Hannah’s grief-stricken mother is especially brilliant, as she obsessively pursues any and every possible clue in the hopes she can understand why her daughter died.
The series’s fairly long 13 episode story is expertly told throughout with even the lone weak episode of the series still being a captivating hour of television and far superior to some of the supposed “best” episodes of most TV shows, as like Clay you attempt to piece together the reasons why Hannah felt it necessary to take her own life.
Every episode feels like it’s vital to the story with not a single episode ever feeling like it’s only there to pad things out just so the series can reach 13 episodes, something that often blights some of Netflix’s other original series, with the series as a whole making for a deeply engrossing watch.
While it is a brilliant show to watch, it is also not an easy show to watch due in part to the often graphic manner in which it handles the topics of suicide and sexual violence. I personally feel that the series writers and directors handled these topics well, doing so without a hint of glorification or sensationalism, instead, treating them with the delicacy and seriousness that these topics deserve.
Particularly the scene in which Hannah’s takes her own life, which, while being depicted in a very upsetting and graphic fashion, is treated in a serious manner and is specifically done in a manner to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and upset. I’ll proudly admit that I found the scene to be genuinely upsetting to watch and that it did leave me on the verge of tears.
Though I feel that my upset possibly had less to do with the graphic nature of the scene (although it did play a part), but perhaps it was because I had come to care for the character and her story, and to witness it come to an end in such a sad and painful manner was utterly heart wrenching.
However, while I feel that the series was respectful in its depictions of these issues such as suicide, I can understand the controversy and criticism that has arisen surrounding the series from critics, schools and psychologists, and I fully support the decision of Netflix to precede certain episodes with disclaimers warning viewers of the potentially upsetting material.
In addition to this, after the final episode ends there is a short half hour documentary entitled Beyond the Reasons, which features the cast and creators of the series, as well as psychologists and members of charities discussing the issues raised by the series. It’s an informative addition that I recommend everyone watch after the series ends to gain further insight into why the creators handled the topics the way they did, as well as gaining a look at psychological aspects of such topics, as well as a way of perhaps starting a dialogue about the topics raised in the show.
13 Reasons Why is a deeply engrossing and superbly acted drama that I feel everyone should watch. I’m also not exaggerating when I say that it is easily the best television series that I’ve watched this year.
While I’m slightly hesitant about the recently announced second season due next year, especially given that the story is largely wrapped up by the end, save for a few plot points, I’m nonetheless eager to see what the next chapter of the story holds.
I hope that it’s enduring legacy of 13 Reasons Why though is not its brilliance as a piece of television. Instead, I hope that the enduring legacy of the show is that it might finally allow people to begin talking more openly about the difficult subjects that it raises, whether it be suicide, sexual assault or bullying, and hopefully lead to people being able to find some kind of help as a result. And that’s something that I think is the best thing that any film or TV show has the potential to do.
| Graeme Robertson
Drama, Mystery | USA, 2017 | 15 | Available Now | Netflix | Creator: Brian Yorkey | Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Christian Navarro, Bryce Walker, Kate Walsh, Miles Heizer, Michele Selene Ang