In the past few years, Netflix has established itself as a home for some of the best TV not currently on TV, and the upcoming release of “13 Reasons Why” is no different.
At first glance, this series might look like your typical teen genre show, with high school hallways and messages from beyond taking center stage. However, if you go in expecting love triangles and mysticism, you’re going to find yourself taking in a very different experience than anticipated.
“13 Reasons Why” tells the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), narrated posthumously by the girl in question. After she commits suicide, Hannah’s friends and classmates receive a set of 13 audio tapes Hannah recorded before her death, where she explains the series of events that caused her to take her own life. Each tape corresponds to a particular person or incident that Hannah holds responsible for her death.
It seems like a pretty harsh thing to do to kids, but when you realize just how harsh these kids are to each other, it begins to make sense.
Anyone who’s ever been bullied will tell you that it’s not one single incident that crushes them. It’s the endless barrage of small attacks that build on each other over time. It’s the way classmates and friends stand by and let it happen, making you doubt whether any of them ever cared at all. It’s the lack of action and favoritism from authority figures, reinforcing the idea that you deserve the treatment you’re getting; that you are not worthy of their protection.
In this avenue, Hannah’s struggle is so painfully and viscerally real that it strikes a chord right away.
“13 Reasons Why” isn’t just Hannah’s story, though. The series is largely seen through the lens of her classmate and friend, Clay (Dylan Minnette), as he receives the tapes and realizes the depth of Hannah’s plight. We also get a peek into her parents’ lives and their attempt to make sense of their daughter’s death amidst their grief.
Perhaps most importantly, “13 Reasons Why” focuses in on the “bullies” in question and each of their perspectives on the events Hannah is describing. We see their messed up home lives, their own insecurities and traumas. It doesn’t make their bullying acceptable, but it makes them complex human beings with real and (somewhat) understandable motives.
Too often, TV villains and bullies are one-dimensional monsters, raining terror down on those perceived to be weaker than them simply to revel in their own cruelty. It’s tempting to see bullies as irrational and irredeemable monsters, but “13 Reasons Why” has no interest in such shallow portrayals. Instead, it depicts the reality of the situation, showing all sides, and lets the viewer determine on whose shoulders the blame should fall.
While this series deserves all the accolades and praise it will surely receive in the coming weeks, we feel the need to caution potential viewers by placing a few trigger warnings on “13 Reasons Why.”
The final few episodes of the series depict events that are incredibly difficult to watch, including sexual assault and self harm. Be forewarned that those lay on the horizon when you start watching. These scenes are treated carefully and depicted respectfully (while still retaining the reality and raw horror inherent in the subject material), and they will no doubt affect audiences profoundly. Nevertheless, remember the warning as you head into your binge.
At the heart of it all, “13 Reasons Why” is a mystery to which you simultaneously already have the answer and yet have no answers at all. You know from the jump that Hannah has killed herself, so there is no murderer to hunt down or arrest to be made, but you’re still sucked in with each episode, hoping to make sense of the series of events unfolding on screen. You’re looking for the metaphorical straw that breaks the camel’s back, and you find it as Hannah’s story draws to a close.
“13 Reasons Why” premieres Friday (March 31) at 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT on Netflix.