A show that garnered as much controversy as it did critical acclaim, 13 Reasons Why took the world by storm when it debuted way back in March of 2017. The series about a teenager who commits suicide and then explains her decision posthumously through a series of recorded tapes — split off into two sections after the finale. There were those who felt that continuing the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) beyond the borders of Jay Asher’s novel would weaken its power as an admonitory tale — and then there were those who loved the show (and its surprisingly terrific cast) and simply wanted more. For Netflix, it would have been a foolish decision not continue the drama that struck a chord in every possible fashion and so, here we are; a second season that expands on the story first told in the novel. This season, viewers get courtroom drama, more teenage angst and a lot more swearing. Though 13 Reasons Why kicks off in a rather dull and melodramatic way, it manages to somewhat stick the landing and deliver a season that is ways below the first in terms of quality and entertainment.
Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why picks up in the aftermath of Hannah’s death and the start of our characters’ complex journeys toward healing and recovery. Liberty High prepares to go on trial, but someone will stop at nothing to keep the truth surrounding Hannah’s death buried. A series of ominous Polaroid’s lead Clay and his classmates to uncover a nauseating secret and a conspiracy to cover up the tragedy.
Tying back to the two sections of fan I mentioned in the beginning, I was personally a part of the group that felt that this show should have ended with its first season. It set out to tell the story it wanted and moving past its source material was a big risk. While shows like The Handmaid’s Tale terrifically expanded upon the novel it was based on, 13 Reasons Why mostly squanders its narrative and the viewer will be left asking themselves “why am I still watching?” This season lacks the captivating hook of the 13 tapes left behind by Hannah Baker, where she exposed the toxic nature of her high school’s various subcultures. For season 2, each episode once again focuses on a different character, this time having them take the stand in Hannah’s court case. The trial itself is by far one of the least enthralling and uninteresting trials in recent television history. Every time someone takes the stand, they dance around the truth as threats to various individuals continue to pile up and somehow, no one notices. It is infuriating and yields multiple “are you serious” moments per episode.
Like season 1, the show strives to cover a wide range of topics teens of this generation currently face on a daily basis. Whether it’s sexual assault, bullying, gun violence, the opioid epidemic or homophobia, 13 Reasons Why does not shy away from attempting to bring these subjects into the light. The second season has a greater attempted topical reach than the first season with a broader focus on sexual assault and the double standards placed on women, especially teenage women. Even when its execution is abysmal or superb, this season puts 13 Reasons Why directly into the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Still, the performances for season 2 often work with Devin Druid’s Tyler surprisingly becoming the show’s strongest character. Tyler has the most interesting subplot as the lonely and bullied school photographer flirts with gun culture throughout the season, adding a very menacing and timely connotation throughout the 13 episodes. Brandon Flynn’s Justin also once again shines. Justin represents the show’s attempt to tie into the rising opioid epidemic and, at times, it is heartbreaking to watch Justin’s descent into darkness but his relationship with Clay and work towards overcoming his obstacles make for one of this season’s big highlights. Alisa Boe, who stars as the traumatized Jessica, is another standout as we watch her wrestle with coming to grips with the pain she suffered at the hands of the series’ villain, Bryce Walker. It is through her where we see the struggle of women coming forward after being sexually assaulted and Boe plays the character beautifully.
Dylan Minnette’s Clay Jensen is still the main protagonist this season and is grieving from the loss of his true love. Minnette is a marvel in the role, turning in one of the most committed, captivating and intense performances you’ll see on television. The 21-year-old actor reads as a blank slate when he’s still — maybe a hint of a continuous scowl on his face, but ultimately innocuous. Minnette himself has Clay feel heavier as the season goes on, like having to do any menial task lead to the young man exploding. Minnette plays Clay as a teen on the verge of a nervous collapse, and you cannot take your eyes off him.
Justin Prentice is back as Bryce Walker and if this season struggled with anything, it was its handling of the villains. Bryce at this point has become a downright sociopathic monster and Prentice plays the character so incredibly well that I almost feel disgusted with myself praising him. Unfortunately the writing of Bryce’s baseball cronies is subpar. The “are you serious” moments continue as we watch these jocks constantly push people in the hallways, utter homophobic slurs and commit some rather heinous acts. I will not get into specifics but there is one moment in the final episode that involves the players and is incredibly revolting. Our columnist Mathew ‘JJ’ Simoes will actually be writing an editorial on the matter so stay tuned for that later this week.
The biggest fault his season, which arguably was its biggest strength in the first season, was Hannah Baker herself, played once again by Kathrine Langford. Her helpless but frequently hilarious performance (on a show whose lack of levity reaches painful extremes in these new episodes) runs the scope from radiant to destroyed in the first season. Season 2 desperately tries to incorporate her but in every appearance, it points to how the writers are trying to shoehorn in a beloved actor/character. Should there be a third season (there shouldn’t), it is time to move beyond Langford’s Hannah and with the season finale setting up the narrative for the future, it seems like the show is in fact moving in that direction.
Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why is something we did not need but got anyway. It has a narrative that almost feels like a chore to sit through but is carried well by its star-studded cast. Although the second season tries to speak to some of the criticisms against the series (it more explicitly links self-harm to mental illness and acknowledges the dangers of romanticizing suicide), it cannot help but return to the over-the-top drama it so clearly loves. It never quite justifies its own existence and complicates the original story but remains well acted and somewhat succeeds in balancing each character’s individual story. All in all however, it is an unfortunate reminder that more is not always better when it comes to the small screen.
Rating – 6/10
What did you think of 13 Reasons Why season 2? Let us know in the comments down below!