Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Hey, it’s Hannah. Hannah Baker. Don’t adjust your… whatever you’re hearing this on. It’s me. Live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore and this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. Because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to this tape, you’re one of the reasons why.”
These are Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) first words in “13 Reasons Why,” the miniseries adaptation of the book by Jay Asher. The series, if you don’t already know, is about the reasons this high school junior ends her life. Hannah chooses to tell us these reasons by by using her voice, like a late night DJ, talking to her audience, from the grave. But it’s not live; it’s recorded on cassette tapes.
The soundtrack includes artists like Joy Division, The Cure and The Kills which have a lyrical content evoking a haunting quality due to the nature of the show. The songs and overall aesthetic of the show work together to elicit the universal feeling of wanting love, giving love and feeling unloved.
Hannah’s tapes land on Clay Jensen’s (Dylan Minnette) doorstep soon after her passing. Each tape tears him apart, but also pushes him to seek justice for Hannah and confront the people on those tapes and grapple with his own grief of her death.
Each tape earns its own episode on the series, which brings to light how each person was a reason why Hannah took her life. We meet Justin (Brandon Flynn) who is the subject of Tape One and is the catalyst for her sexual reputation at the school. Every tape addresses conflicts she’s had with friends or classmates, and we see them grapple with the repercussions of Hannah’s death in different ways. Clay is hassled by the other subjects of the tapes because he listens to them over the course of a few weeks. In the novel, Clay listens to the tapes in one night, never expanding on these people Hannah’s affected by. Clay is protected by his good friend Tony (Christian Navarro) to make sure he gets to the end of the tapes.
Although the story is about Hannah’s suicide, it also highlights cyber bullying and slut shaming, which are prominent issues in high school today. Viral internet content can cause serious repercussions. In this case, one risque photo that shows Hannah’s underwear during her and Justin’s date when he playfully took a picture of her going down the slide is construed as something else and starts Hannah down this spiral. However, neither the book or the Netflix series question if Hannah was already depressed, and if this incident exacerbated it. That aside, cyber bullying and slut shaming are both concerning phenomena,
“You can’t love someone to life” the counselor says to Clay admits he could have saved Hannah but was too afraid to love her. The episodes try to paint Clay as a hero in this story when it’s not about him, it’s about Hannah. Revenge for someone else’s suicide while admirable doesn’t resonate as realistic. Clay is as flawed as everyone depicted on this show and he’s not a hero, he’s someone who has regret and guilt and wants to act on those feelings. While this is understandable, the most effective way to resolve these feelings would have been to reach out to someone else who might need support instead. All anyone can do is try. That’s the message of this pseudo-PSA: Don’t assume you know what everyone is going through. Be kind to one another.