13 Reasons Why: A View From the Front Lines
May 29, 2017

Spoiler Alert: This post reveals important plot elements of the miniseries 13 Reasons Why.

When I decided to write a piece on the miniseries 13 Reasons Now, I had a chance to discuss it with some kids from our group. As with any complicated topic, the reactions are varied. Some of us enjoyed it – others did not. In this review, I hope to present the views of young people, as well as offer my own thoughts.

The series presents the gradual social isolation and eventual suicide death of Hannah Baker. The plot hinges on a series of audio cassettes which, following her instructions, are to be played post-mortem; and which list out the “13 Reasons Why” Hannah made the decision to end her own life. Each cassette is narrated by Hannah. As the tapes are played, a tale is told of a young woman who becomes the subject of vicious rumors and sexual assault. Each tape addresses personally one of the people who, according to Hannah, caused her to make the decision to end her own life. The final episode graphically shows Hanna slit her wrists in a bathtub where she is discovered by her parents. This depiction dispels the myth that suicide is peaceful and shows it for what it is: a brutal act of violence directed against one’s self.

First of all, there is much to say that is positive about this mini-series in terms of its willingness to address taboo topics and place them front and center.


Dasia commented:

    Personally, I finished the whole show in three days and loved it. Yes, toward the end it can be very disturbing and hard to watch, but I think that’s the point. To show the reality of the pain the person is going through, and to not shy away from topics because they are very prevalent in our teenage society today.

To Dasia’s point, teens today face enormous pressures – especially from social media. Hannah’s initial descent begins with an unfounded rumor spread on social media which brands her a slut in front of the entire school. She carries this stigma with her throughout the entire series. Friends turn on her. She makes a few mistakes under the influence of alcohol – and these are captured on social media as well. She witnesses a sexual assault and is ultimately the victim of one as well.

As to who should and should not watch this show, several of our young leaders observed that for many people this show is simply too graphic. I think this is a chief message for the parents of young people.


Nicole wrote:

    It’s not a bad show or a good show honestly. It’s just another movie. They talk about that but I don’t suggest watching it unless you’re totally OK with your own mental stability. I finished in a week but it didn’t really affect me. But others, it could hurt them a lot.

If a miniseries requires one to be confidant of their own mental stability, I would argue it is not a good choice for anyone younger than high school – certainly not without parental involvement. As a suicide survivor, I found the death scene was very strong. My personal response was visceral rather than emotional – I didn’t cry but my whole body began shaking. Again, that is a personal response. Not everybody will feel the same. The scenes of sexual assault are equally graphic. They are intended to shock. And they do.

Another thing I found disturbing was the wall of silence that existed between young people and adults. The lives of the main characters were totally wrapped up in drama and their social interactions. They are completely self-absorbed. I found these characters to be utterly shallow intellectually – even as they issue bitterly ironic existential statements about the absurdity of high school. These are not the smart, engaged, and compassionate young people I know! Not at all!

Ultimately it is worth remembering that this show was created to make money. It’s not intended to offer clarity or solutions. Which is good. Cuz it doesn’t. Several of our leaders commented as such.


Mahiat wrote:

    I finished it in the same amount of time too (three days). I really liked watching it but it was disturbing and hard to watch in some parts. It made me cry a lot toward the end. But I have to say they could’ve done a better job of educating about how people deal with these situations.

Anita noted:

    I liked the book better. I read the book years before the movie came out. The downfall of the movie is that I feel with some teens watching it they missed educating them on mental health and ways to cope.

Nick added:

    I recommend not finishing it. The show is very triggering on many levels, even for those who may not have depression. It doesn’t handle issues regarding mental health very well and doesn’t present viable alternatives to suicide within the show. I thought I initially liked it because other people liked it, but it’s very awful.

This miniseries is all about teen suicide — a hot topic indeed! With this kind of a topic it’s a virtually guaranteed to be a money maker. But nowhere in this miniseries are the words mental health even mentioned. Nowhere is it even hinted that mental illness can be treated — and be treated successfully! There are no solutions given, or even encouragement for young people to seek solutions.

No. This miniseries is not about solutions. It is about blame. And here’s my bitch with this movie. The whole show – indeed the very title – purports to offer the reasons for Hannah’s death. The plot line is driven by the assignment of blame. One by one, various people are informed that they are one of the reasons why Hannah chose to kill herself. That they could have done something but they didn’t. It’s all about shame and guilt. One by one, we watch various people respond with shock, shame, and horror as they learn that they are responsible for Hannah’s death. This is not the way forward people!

After the suicide death of a loved one the natural inclination is to search for all the reasons why. The human desire to assign blame is very deep seated. Very early on in my journey I was asked to consider what kind of reason would justify Sadie’s death. What would such a reason look like? Ultimately, I came to learn that there is nothing that would justify such an act. Nothing. Sadie’s decision was hers. It came out of a place of deep pain and isolation – but it was her action. And it was a mistake. No backsies on that one. The idea that there are rational reasons why someone would take their own life is itself a false premise. And the desire to assign and accept blame comes from a very bad place.

Abigail wrote:

      After watching I tried to analyze the show. I came to the conclusion that Hannah’s death was unreasoned. Ironic right? Because the show is literally about her 13 reasons. She had so many other people she could have talked with (ie Clay) or called a hotline.

So, my own take is that as a show that offers clarity on issues of mental illness this show fails miserably. Mental illness, and positive solutions are not even on the radar. Not at all. Instead, the show wallows in drama, guilt and shame. To this extent, it feels exploitive. The show does address taboo subjects – but never at any depth. Does merely showing a rape really do anything to solve the issue of sexual abuse? I doubt it.

So there ya go. That’s my two cents with some insightful observations from a great group of young people.

Comments are welcome!

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