Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why has stirred up some discussion, smaller waves than I expected but the debates are out there. Honestly I’ve been avoiding the chatter over the series based on a novel by Jay Asher, released on Netflix March 31st 2017 because it didn’t turn out to be the kind of show the trailers had me thinking it would be. In short, I didn’t like it so I didn’t want to jump into discussions about a show that I don’t think was done well, for more reasons than a mere thirteen.
Also, I believed my perspective on the début season totaling thirteen episodes, starring Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford would not be a popular one. I thought it was bad, disappointingly bad. I have an explanation of course. I’m not just going to throw a single syllable word out there and expect hoards of people to jump on my critical bandwagon. Nothing is more childish to me than disdain or any other form of judgment without explanation. Whatever your opinion, however positive or negative it may be, please be able to back it up. Support your claims, have some evidence, don’t be the foolish ignaramous who hides behind senseless hate through a computer screen. On the flip side, don’t bother with flattery, if you’re going to offer kindness be genuine, invest in compliments otherwise, keeps the words to yourself. Before I get further derailed, let’s get back on track. To my surprise, I was not the only one who felt unimpressed and underwhelmed by the show, seeing others sharing my point of view is what made me decide this article worth posting after all. I thought the show was bad and if you felt the same way, perhaps some of my reasons are yours too.
The fact that the protagonist has all the answers pretty much from the very beginning makes it difficult to watch because we’re not waiting for clues as to what things might lead to, we’re just waiting an hour at a time for this pale faced outcast to push play.
Suspense builds in all the wrong places. The episodes are a drag because nothing going on is ever more interesting or informative than whatever the dead girl recorded on the next tape.
3. Story Structure
The subplots are weak. Maybe if the the people chosen to be on the tapes had depth it would be easier to side with Hannah or anyone really. As a viewer I found it difficult to have true sympathy or rage or any raw emotion towards any of the characters. I didn’t connect to any of the characters or their lives, I mostly just watched and felt mildly annoyed.
The acting was weak. No one onscreen felt authentic to me although, at times some of the adult actors did. Kate Walsh who played Hannah’s mom disappeared into the role of a genuinely hysteric, zealous mother who loved her one and only daughter fiercely, whose singular hope for sanity is seeking justice after losing her child in one of the worst ways possible. Sadly, the adult roles were so minor the better acting was overshadowed by the stiff, melodramatic, largely expressionless younger actors.
5. Stick Figure Syndrome
TV titan, showrunner and owner of Thursday nights Shonda Rhimes has described acting as putting oxygen into written words, actors and actresses bring necessary dimension to words on a page. Rhimes said the script is like a balloon before it is inflated, the actor or actress is the person who breathes into the balloon and makes the creative vision come to life. In 13 Reasons Why no believable emotion showed up in or on anyone. The majority of the cast remained flat, suffering from stick figure syndrome for an entire season. In the few instances when there were flickers of real emotion, the expressiveness quickly plateaued. Dylan Minnette’s character Clay Jensen was largely somber. The main actress Katherine Langford stayed monotone in her words and withholding in her mannerisms, in a way that echoed the uncomfortably of Kristen Stewart in the Twilight film series. She had no intensity in her happiness or her tortured moments. No human endures what this teenage girl did and fails to demonstrate intensity. Where there should’ve been tidal waves of feelings that mimicked the unpredictable stages of grief there was instead a stagnant puddle filled with muck, mire and dirty leaves.
6. Perverted Truths
That whole being in the world but not of it line from scripture is wise to follow. Sadly, more often than not believers fail to follow it entirely. What’s commonly seen is believers who walk around with blinders on the way horses who pull carriages do, fearful of seeing sins that will be there no matter who is looking. Then there are those who have a love for God but not one that is as strong as the way their flesh loves the world. We are called to be in it but not of it. We shouldn’t fear it or emulate it, we should be the difference others need to see. 13 Reasons Why raises up the wrong things and makes those watching think they’re right. Perverted truths like; everyone is alone, help is out of reach and suicide the way to have peace. The best way to be in the world and not of it is to sift everything, even Netflix shows, through the strainer of scripture in order to uncover fragments of truth.
Given that the plot is extremely depressive, characters acting this way is appropriate but there are all sorts of ways to convey suffering and everyone suffers differently. People usually behave differently behind closed doors, so even if all they feel is pain, they would wear the pain differently in private than they would in public. This cast doesn’t do that. There’s no change in rhythm, pace or level of emotion, despite there being changes in events and increasing tensions around them. Lack of characterization makes the viewer feel like things are going nowhere very slowly. Traveling from plot point to plot point is just a pain in the ass when you don’t care about the people who are getting there. Just because Clay, the protagonist, prefers to move like a tortoise does not mean the viewer has to watch things travel as fast as molasses. I mean my goodness, break up the fucking monotony. Flashbacks, character revelations, even some upbeat music. Anything to take the lens off of no face boy who won’t do as ten others did before him and listen to the tapes.
The pace of the episodes isn’t the worst element nor is the fact that Clay is too hesitant between each one, the worst is Clay himself. He’s not engaging, he doesn’t even like himself so why would the viewers? Introverts can be interesting. They’re usually smart and thoughtful and invested in their interests but this kid seemingly has none. He’s a nobody who rides his bike until he doesn’t have it anymore and then he only has the tapes to occupy his time but he doesn’t want to hear them. Perhaps it would’ve been better if Hannah told the story and he were dead. A male perspective would alter the story entirely and the whole leaving creepy messages behind is definitely an action that is more female aligned but still, it may have livened things up.
It’s too plot focused. This may be a matter of preference but in order to have a great story both plot and characters need to be strong. The plot is fierce but the characters are frail. Since it takes forever to hear all the tapes which are the highest point of interest and the characters aren’t people worth investing in, watching it unfold is horribly aggravating. This really bugs, each episode had all this time to inflate these characters into villains, heroes or something like Maleficent but that didn’t happen. Five minutes worth of dead girl monologue and about forty more of bleak nothingness repeated over and over.
By tape number nine the so-called mystery this teenager kept to herself had become so trite. There is tension, there’s suspense and then there’s just unnecessary waiting. At some point you have to get to the fucking point.
11. She Did Not Want to be Saved
I hate to be so curt with an issue like suicide but towards the end of the season it’s clear that this girl wanted attention more than rescuing. She takes her own life, paying no mind to the multitude of reasons why she could’ve kept on living. Reasons that were way more than thirteen. She spent weeks or months recording things about herself and her friends that will haunt them posthumously until they are dead too. That’s a messed up thing to do to someone. She could have gotten help. She did try but she could’ve kept trying. What if she put in half the effort for seeking hope and healing as she did to pointing the finger thirteen different times? All that time she took to record her venting as a victim makes her every move premeditated. We all are guilty of sins, we all hurt people. Placing blame and then not leaving even a chance for redemption, that’s the act of a cold hearted killer. Hannah Baker may have been a victim but she was also a bully.
12. Faux Portrayal of Parenting
Parents are not always on the sideline. It seems like every adult in the series is completely in the dark, blind in front of the piñata, empty handed, unable to swing and seemingly happy to remain so helpless. They ask a few questions, get shut out and the cycle repeats. That’s what teenagers do and most parents know that. Keep in mind that the show starts after Hannah is dead, the episodes follow what unfolds after her psychological grenades are left behind for everyone to hear. After the act of a suicide it’s unlikely that the parents of thirteen other kids would stay uninvolved with their child’s strange, secretive behavior. A girl just died and suicide shrapnel is a real thing. Apparently every mom and dad in this show are fine with their kid not even uttering a complete sentence to them. There’s always at least one set of parents that push hard when they know they need to and it’s unrealistic each one of these kids are constantly ambiguous about everything and no one older questions them.
Speaking of parents, Maria Dizzia who played Polly on Orange is the New Black was Tyler’s mom in this series. How funny it would’ve been to have Jason Biggs play Tyler’s dad. Personally, that laugh would’ve been worth trudging through the whole abysmal season.
Many people took issue with the fact that this show dramatized suicide and made it play out into some form of a soap opera. Depression is cold and lonely and serious. Suicide is severe. They showed Hannah Baker’s last moments in detail which is something that could be a trigger to anyone dealing with depression. “Teenage brains don’t work the way adult brains work. Trauma and pain feel like they’re going to last forever.” Executive producer Brian Yorkey is correct. Having been a teenager before, one who suffered darkly and deeply, that is exactly how life can feel, hopeless and hollow, agony without end. With that being the case, why in the hell would they make a show marketed towards the younger crowd that dramatizes something so traumatic? That’s some sick and twisted shit.
In my mind, I thought they would show the entirety of Hannah ending her own life because that’s what the entire season unwaveringly worked towards. As if Hannah killing herself was the goal, a lie that is seriously not okay to put out there. It was expected to be graphic because it felt like she was the star of her own show and when she was watching her own blood leak out into the bathtub that was the final act on her stage, the closing ballad, the grand finalé. She was finally the star she always wanted to be. How fucked up is that? Don’t make tapes, don’t leave a note, talk to someone. Reaching out is worth it. Every life is valid. Suicide is never the answer but to a preteen watching these episodes, it seems like a solution. In this series suicide seems like a way to find closure and that’s just not true. Suicide does not end the pain, it just transfers it to someone else.
How I avoided being Hannah Baker
Yes, shit is about to get real. As I mentioned above I used to be depressed, most prominently through a few of my teenage years, just like Hannah. Not for any of the same reasons or even things concerning the same subject matter as her but as Cyrus Bean once said; “a broken heart is a broken heart, to take a measure would be cruel.” When the pain is as deep as it can be, it all hurts the same. I definitely had reasons. I’m sure I had more than thirteen. Reasons I was done living. What stopped me from writing the final page in my story? More than the fear that Hell might hold a suffering slightly more severe than what I was going through on earth (note: this was back when I thought suicide was a sure fire ticket to Hell itself, which is not true.) was God. I love God. I love Jesus differently now than I did then but it was real love and it still is. I had a spark of hope in me that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t hurt this bad forever. That was it, that’s all I had as far as reasons not to die. My love for God, His love for me and as a result, hope as small as the flame on the end of a match that some day, some way, things might get better and you know what? They did. I chose not to pick a permanent solution to temporary problems. I chose Christ over my chaos. I chose to believe that not just any kind of love, but agape love, really could conquer all, even my depression, even my demons and I was right. I prayed and Jesus slayed. My God is a gladiator and He’s raised me up with swagger fit for His strongest souldiers. I’m glad I chose to have hope, I’m glad I know Jesus, I’m glad I am strong because now I can help others who are going through that valley of the shadow of death. Keep going, it does get better, it’s just a valley with a shadow, not a well of darkness, the light will shine again soon. It’s up to you to if you want to be around to see the marvelous sun rise.
You are not alone.
You are loved.
It does get better.
There is hope.
You have a future.