WARNING: This review discusses the end of “13 Reasons Why” and includes discussion of rape and suicide.
Since its debut on March 31, the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why” has shocked parents and adolescents alike, subsequently sparking a massive online debate. The series, based on a book written by Jay Asher with the same title, tells the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high school student who records thirteen cassette tapes, listing off the people who caused her death by suicide. The show has been highly criticized for its scenes of graphic rape and scenes that glorify suicide.
Looking beyond the surface however, the show is very necessary. Suicide is taboo, and individual suicide cases are rarely discussed in detail. In this sense, the show helps shed light on mental illness and sexual assault; however, many critics believe that the show is just “too much.” By the end of it, the viewer can’t help but feel traumatized. It is gruesome. It is violent. And it is heart-wrenching.
The point of the show, overall, is not to shock the viewer with the final suicide scene. The viewer should feel horrible at the end, but not because of Hannah’s death. The viewer should feel guilty that they did not predict the series’ final reveal: Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), Hannah’s former friend and classmate, shot himself in the head.
“13 Reasons Why” is not a show about Hannah, it is a show about Alex.
Throughout the show, Alex shows many symptoms of being suicidal. Alex exhibits violent behavior when he fights Montgomery in the parking lot. He begins to abuse substances, as the viewer sees in the dramatic scene of him unconscious in the pool. Alex does not have a plan for after graduation, he withdraws from his friendships and is obviously the most depressed of the group following Hannah’s death. Right before his suicide attempt, Alex cleans his room. These are all important warning signs for suicide. Individuals are much more likely to commit suicide if someone close to them recently did. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in teenagers, and every one of the warning signs Alex exhibited should have been taken seriously.
The viewer should feel horrible at the end of “13 Reasons Why”–because they likely did not recognize Alex’s behavior as suicidal. The show is designed so that the viewer feels guilty for not noticing, for focusing solely on Hannah’s story.
“13 Reasons Why” is so much more than just a story of unfortunate events at one particular high school. It showcases the danger of what happens when people focus on the details of one suicide case rather than acknowledging it as a much larger social issue.
Yes, “13 Reasons Why” is incredibly problematic in that it explicitly shows a teenager committing suicide. Yes, “13 Reasons Why” should have more thorough content warnings regarding its intense and disturbing rape scenes. Yes, by focusing on Hannah’s death, the show glorifies suicide. Yes, the show highlights different causes of depression without providing any ways to seek out help. Yes, it makes it seem like ending bullying will stop all suicides. Yes, parents should be cautious of letting their children watch this show without first having a conversation with them about mental illness.
But, “13 Reasons Why” is still the most important TV show right now (which may have to do with why it is the most tweeted about show thus far in 2017). It does more than generate conversation about a previously taboo topic. It shows what can happen when people don’t look out for each other and fail to recognize the warning signs of suicide.