The first season of 13 Reasons Why took the world by storm when it was launched on Netflix in March of last year. It gathered a huge following and several positive reviews in spite of concern from parents and health care professionals about its graphic depiction of rape and suicide. Its success and popularity led to a second season getting the green light and now said season has launched. It is accompanied by trigger warnings, an introductory video and a special post-show documentary that have been made to facilitate concerns that have been raised about the show.
13 Reasons Why follows the aftermath of a young girl named Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) suicide on her classmates and family, primarily following a young man named Clay (Dylan Minnette), who was in love with her. Hannah left behind a series of tapes detailing her psychological descent and why she chose to end her life, which get distributed to each of the people she believes had a part in her decision. While the first season is based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, its second season had no such source. While some of the themes and issues raised in last year’s episodes are developed well, it is clear that the season is struggling to legitimise its existence.
All the characters from season one are back and we see them going through more struggles than ever before. Having reignited their relationship by the end of season one, Clay is now seeing Skye (Sosie Bacon), who sometimes self-harms (a storyline that would seem crammed in were it not for Bacon’s tender, thoughtful performance). Clay is still in mourning about Hannah and as with the first season, he starts to see Hannah as a ghost. This time though, she talks back to him.
In one of this season’s major storylines we follow Hannah’s trial as her mother Olivia (Kate Walsh) sues the school for negligence. Through the testimonials Olivia (and the audience) learns there was much going on in her daughter’s life that she was unaware of. Elsewhere, we follow Jessica’s (Alisha Boe) emotional journey as she tries to learn how to live after being raped. Ex-boyfriend Alex's (Miles Heizer) struggle is physical, as he learns to walk again after a failed attempt at shooting himself. Photographer and bully victim Tyler (Devin Druid) has finally found friends and meaning with a punk rock, anarchist group. Bryce (Justin Prentice) continues to live life as king of Liberty High but is also aware that the trial could come up against him.
Fans of the first season of 13 Reasons Why will find much to enjoy in its latest season as it returns to the characters we’ve met and love, but it has numerous problems too. On the bright side, Jessica’s storyline is very compelling, offering no easy answers to rebuilding a life after rape. Seeing Bryce’s attitude to the allegations against him and what eventually happens to the character is all too real, while the unhealthy attitudes developed in macho sports culture within school environments is also dealt with effectively. There are a lot of characters for 13 Reasons Why to work through, and some such as Ryan (Tommy Dorfman) and Sheri (Ajiona Alexus), pretty much get no story whatsoever; others are resolved quickly to make time for more interesting storylines, which happens to Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) and Marcus (Steven Silver).
On the negative side, Clay is a near unbearable protagonist as he gets more mopey and irritating than ever. Second mopiest is Alex, but at least he's trying to redeem himself. Ghost Hannah manages to be unlikeable, even with Langford’s incredible performance, while the additions to Hannah’s story that come out in court don’t always make sense timeline-wise. The polaroids that have been teased in the trailers prove to be a weak plot device, especially when compared with the enthralling nature of the tapes previously. Tyler’s storyline, though predictable, is still gripping, and has a powerful message about exclusion which works well as an expansion of season one. However, romantic elements of the show – including a love triangle and relationship of Hannah's we learn about – while sweet, don’t seem very plausible. Implausibility is also the best word to describe the series finale, and one doesn’t mean to sound old-fashioned, but it really does give a bad example.
Though a little rushed, the ending generally works and the characters’ storylines come to a satisfactory conclusion. Some sad, weak seeds have been planted should the showrunners decide to go for a third season but in this writer’s opinion, it has run its course.