— By Carly Twehous —
[Warning for spoilers and discussion on suicide.]
Since it hit Netflix last month, 13 Reasons Why has been a subject of debate, discussion, and deliberation among both critics and the general audiences. Whether negative or positive, 13 Reasons has caused quite a stir, given its graphic depiction of suicide in the final episode. School districts all across the country have sent out advisories to parents and the show has even been banned in certain countries with particularly high suicide rates.
Executive producers of the show as well as the author of the book upon which the show is based have stated that the intention of portraying suicide in the manner that they did was to open a discussion on suicide in order to ultimately prevent it.
I guess the jury’s still out on its effectiveness.
The story follows Clay Jensen, an introverted high-school junior who receives a set of thirteen cassette tapes from Hannah, his friend and crush who committed suicide not too long before the start of the first episode. On each of the tapes is a story of a person in Hannah’s life that let her down. Each is a reason why she chose to take her own life.
The good? It’s… brilliant, in one sense. The episodes follow these stories and incidents in intricately woven flashback-voiceover narrative. It’s clever and engaging and absolutely no wonder that this show caught the attention of critics.
It’s honest. It portrays high school in a way that isn’t just cheerleaders and football jocks and they show its dark underbelly. Fact is, high school is horrible and, if you’re anything like me, this show was like watching war flashbacks. In Hannah’s words, “We’re only here four years. If we live that long.”
So, yeah. 13 Reasons is saturated with teenage angst and I know a lot of people who’ll roll their eyes at that. Again, though, this show is real. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration, in the sense that it accurately portrays the futility of high school relationships, the social dynamics of Millennials, and the very real social and familial pressures put on kids.
Ultimately, however, you’re watching a suicide note. You already know the ending and watching it through won’t change that fact.
In that sense, 13 Reasons Why renders itself moot. The audience follows how bad it gets for Hannah and, yes. It’s horrible and hard to swallow and I closed my eyes because there were parts of her trauma I couldn’t bring myself to watch.
But if this is meant to convince people that suicide is not an option… Well, the ending is still the same. It’s graphic and heartbreaking and, man, I don’t want to swallow that.
If a show is meant to dissuade someone from suicide, the best course of action is to give the audience hope, rather than a girl with slit wrists bleeding out in a bathtub.
This might be a real depiction of what actually happens, but it’s not the story you should tell to people in this situation, nor should it be marketed as such.
Fact is, even for Hannah, there was a way out. In fact, there were several. The bad taste left in your mouth after viewing the final episode… I think that’s disappointment. To be frank, what Hannah did was cowardly. She didn’t exhaust every possible avenue to find a reason why to keep going. She had her thirteen reasons why she killed herself and most of them, though not trivial, were finite, high school problems.
Hannah never realized that things get better. You get your diploma, you move out, and you move on with your life. High school doesn’t matter and it ends. Life moves on and it’s so much better.
That’s what was missing. That’s the tragedy of it all, ain’t it? People like Hannah never know that there’s a way out and this show sure isn’t going to give them one. Like I said, it’s a suicide note.
It does open a discussion. I won’t deny that. However, the discussion on suicide prevention needs to include hope. If it doesn’t…. Well, you get a pro/con list with 13 Reasons Why on the left and nothing to keep you going.
High school is tough. You do what you have to in order to get through it. That much, I understand. That much is real. But sooner or later, you have to pick up the pen and start writing your own story instead of letting everyone else write it for you. If you do that, you control the ending.
As for me, it’s like the funny man in the bow-tie always says: “I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”