The following is a review of the second season of 13 Reasons Why — Developed by Brian Yorkey.
When I reviewed the first season of 13 Reasons Why, which I thought was a very good and, certainly, important season of television, I ended up saying that it was must-watch television and that it would be irresponsible for parents to ignore it.
I also said that greenlighting a second season of the show — though warranted by the presumed success of the show and a lack of closure at the end of the first season — could be irresponsible. Mostly, I find myself, having just finished watching the second season, in that same spot. There certainly are irresponsible ways to do this show, and this season isn’t just guilty of being irresponsible and potentially harmful, the show this season is also just a slog to get through.
The second season of 13 Reasons Why takes place approximately five months after the conclusion of season one. Alex (played by Miles Heizer) is recovering from his suicide attempt, Hannah’s mother — Olivia Baker (played by Kate Walsh) — is preparing to go to trial, and Skye (played by Sosie Bacon) seems to have fallen head over heels in love with Clay (played by Dylan Minnette), who insists that he no longer thinks about Hannah (played by Katherine Langford).
But Clay isn’t entirely telling the truth. When Clay finds out that he isn’t being called to the witness stand, he starts to obsess about why he isn’t getting the chance to give his testimony. When Skye wants to sleep with Clay and tests his boundaries, he starts to imagine that Skye is actually Hannah. In fact, Clay starts to see Hannah everywhere and all the time.
But there is still some drama to be found. The Bakers’ marriage is falling apart, Alex doesn’t really remember what happened at the end of season one, and Clay starts receiving new information about Bryce (played by Justin Prentice), who seems to actually be a serial sexual assault predator.
While I certainly do understand that the writing room would want to keep Hannah in the show, depicting her as a figment of Clay’s imagination — or as a ghostly apparition, whichever it is — does feel irresponsible and even slightly exploitative. This is a series that showed us some horribly realistic imagery at the end of the first season, but here the writers are trying to give the character new life in the mind of someone else in a very cheap way, which I do think is a misstep, even though Katherine Langford’s performance is one of the reasons why this show worked so well in season one.
Another problem that I have with the show is how this season is structured. First, this season it isn’t about listening to these very interesting tapes. No, instead the characters discover a couple of polaroid pictures that suggest that Hannah wasn’t the only victim. It has made the narrative device of the first season, which kept viewers on the edge of their seats as they bingewatched the show, into nothing more than a cheap gimmick. If they ever make a third season, I wonder if post-it notes or some other gimmicky presentation of plot-points will remain there.
Furthermore, the season is structured around the aforementioned trial, which is probably the thing I was most interested in seeing at the end of season one, but it is just executed very poorly here in season two, with what I perceive to be unrealistic and illogical depictions of the two opposing lawyers. I just do not think any of this works well, as I found it all to be underwritten, flat, and tedious with almost every character that gives his or her testimony.
It also just seems like each and every key witness — the students on trial — have some kind of revelation about Hannah that somehow belittles the strong narrative that the first season worked so hard to build. There was even a moment when I struggled to make some newly added relationship between Hannah and another character make sense in the timeline of the show, but that may, of course, just be me misremembering some detail.
At numerous points this season characters have said something along the lines of “people don’t know the whole story,” and “people need to know Hannah’s story.” And, to me, each and every time the characters said something like that, it felt like the writers of the show were trying to justify another season’s existence to themselves, even though we all already knew the story we ‘needed to understand.’ Furthermore, a parent, at one point, says to his partner that “movies and TV-shows are wonderful ways to open up a dialogue.” Although I do agree, it did, to me, feel like yet another example of the show trying to explain to themselves the importance of what they were doing.
What still, however, does work for the show are the solid performances. Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, and Kate Walsh are all very convincing yet again — and in a less than stellar second season their talents are possibly the only bright things about the overall season. Do we still care about the characters? Sure, mostly, but new perspectives on what happened with Hannah only blurs our collective image of the first season, which was mostly solid. Retroactively changing Hannah’s story as much as the second season has, doesn’t do the show any good as far as I am concerned.
The honest truth is that were it not for the fact that I really was a big fan of the first season of the show, then I would not have had any interest in finishing this season. But I did finish it, and it never justified its existence the way that I thought the first season did. Sometimes the season felt gimmicky and cheap, and at other times it just felt woefully irresponsible, which is especially true in the way this season ends. I genuinely do not know what the writers were thinking. They — perhaps inadvertently — make a dangerous suggestion to its young viewers.
Needless to say, this show does not need a third season, which it does set itself up to perhaps get. It told the story it needed to in season one, and the second season is little more than just a dangerous follow-up that some may even pejoratively call a dangerous victory lap for the Netflix show. Personally, I think this season is best summed up by the following quote from Mr. Porter (played by Derek Luke): “we can have the best intentions and still fall short.”
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen