In the photo: Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) (Source)
The main plot of the an-hour-per-episode show, 13 Reasons Why, is about a young girl named Hannah Baker, who tragically decided to end her life at the young age of 17. Clay Jenson, the main protagonist of the show, is given these audio tapes of Hannah telling her side of the story of 13 unfortunate events that lead up to her suicide. The tapes were given to him by a close friend named Tony Padilla, who was responsible for performing Hannah’s final wish, which was to pass on the tapes to the first person of the series of recordings, and to make sure the package was passed on from person to person, in the order of reason 1 to 13.
Seeing this title constantly being mentioned in online media made my curiosity peaked. I was in dire need to be into some sort of series, and, regarding the overwhelming sadness of the main plot, I dreaded to watch the story of the reasons why a young girl committing suicide unfold. Yet, I watched it all the way until the end.
Out of 5 stars, I’d give this a 3. Read more to find out why.
Warning: Please don’t read any further unless you’ve watched the entire series, or you don’t mind having the series spoiled for you.
In the beginning, a high-schooler named Clay Jensen was given a mysterious package. Upon opening the package, inside were a series of tapes and a map. Upon listening to the first tape, he is distraught when he discovers that it is the voice of his dead classmate, Hannah Baker. She talks about the purpose of the tapes, and Clay is bewildered to know that the reason he got the tapes was that he is one of the reasons that Hannah had killed herself.
Tape 1, side A was the vicious rumor spread throughout her school that she was a slut, all from a picture the boy she was dating, named Justin, took of her with her underwear showing as she was going down a slide–which, I believe was taken sort of accidentally.
- For one, Justin never spread the rumor–it was one of his friends, who took a hold of his phone when he didn’t want to say what happened on the date, and they went through his pictures and found the photo. They instantly thought it was proof that he had slept with Hannah, even though he told them more than once that all they did was kiss. I can’t remember if Justin’s friend did it by accident or not, but he had sent the photo to every person in school–while Justin was being held away from his phone.
Justin did not send that photo to everyone in the school, nor did he start the rumor that she was a slut. However, he didn’t try to dispel the rumor, either. She had said how dating Justin was one of the worst mistakes she’s ever done, and if it wasn’t for him, the rumor wouldn’t have started. But, it was not his fault for spreading the photo, so instead of putting him as person 1 for ruining her life, it should’ve been the rumor itself.
Tape 1, side B was a betrayal. Hannah had two friends she began hanging out with, named Jessica and Alex. The last two mentioned eventually started dating each other, thus leaving Hannah out of their small circle. When the couple broke up, Jessica blamed Hannah by accusing her of sleeping with Alex because of the rumor of Hannah being a slut.
- In this case, her own friend–or, whom she thought was her friend–believed the rumor over Hannah’s word. The friendship ended, but I believe that Hannah could’ve found someone else to be friends with and could’ve disregarded Jessica since she would rather believe a rumor over her. But, as a typical teenager, Hannah lacked self-esteem and believed that she couldn’t make any friends, despite her previous success in doing so.
Tape 2, side A was about a list being shared throughout the school, naming who had the best eyes, best lips, best body, etc. Hannah was on the list for having the best behind, and in her eyes, she interpreted it as being an add-on to the rumor of her being the school slut., as mentioned in the first tape.
- If Hannah had higher self-esteem, she would’ve disregarded the list. As far as the rumor of her being a slut, she could’ve simply not cared what other people believed. This wouldn’t have been important after she graduated–however, high school is the hardest part of anyone’s life, and bad rumors can be a terrible shot at one’s ego, and rather hard to dispel. Her ego was already fragile, to begin with.
The rest of the tapes at this point go on to other people who betray her and further agitate the rumor of her being a slut in one form or another, but the story does get deeper. Hannah witnesses an unconscious classmate get raped and discovers that another classmate had died due to a car accident–which would’ve been avoided if a friend of hers had reported the stop sign being accidentally hit and knocked over. The last few tapes, which one of them depicts her thought that the romance she shared with Clay, the one listening to the tapes, was only caused because of the initial thing that started her path to ending her life–the rumor that she was a slut. She had thought that Clay didn’t actually want to be with her. It was Clay’s hesitation to admit he had loved her that made him seem that way, and hearing Hannah’s side of her feelings made him regret never telling her the truth.
The two final reasons, I believe, were the most critical reasons–which was Hannah being raped herself by the same classmate that she witnessed rape the unconscious classmate–and the school counselor, who did not take the steps necessary to stop her from ending her life that same day.
- These two final blows were connected. As she reached out for help to the school counselor, she mentions wanting “life to go away”, which the counselor picked up as a red flag–however, his mistake was disregarding that red flag when Hannah tells him that it wasn’t what she meant. She tries to tell him about the rape that happened to her, but would not give a name. The counselor asked if she had ever said “no” or “stop”, and Hannah hesitated and said that she didn’t say no or stop. The counselor then assumed it was just an “encounter” she regretted, even though it was, in fact, rape.
That brings up a controversial question–if a woman does not say “no” or “stop” and a man forces himself on her, is it considered rape, or consensual sex? In the rape scene, although she did not say no, she still tried to get away as he forced her down.
The counselor did not help all in all–though, honestly, Hannah was being rather vague about her wanting to end her life. In some ways, the counselor should have picked up those warning signs that she wanted to kill herself. In other ways, Hannah should’ve been more direct.
In her final moments, leaving the school, having been raped, denied by the one person she reached out to, and the previous incidents whirling around in her mind, she makes the decision to end her life–blaming herself for everything that has happened to her. As with many suicidal girls, she believes that everyone would be better off without her.
As depressing and gut-wrenching it was seeing this unfold, it does speak truth to my teenaged years, as the thought of suicide crossed my mind more than once at my weakest moments. I feel that Hannah could’ve handled things better–could’ve given the name of the boy who had raped her to the counselor, could’ve been more direct in how she was feeling, could’ve found out from Clay’s mouth how he felt about her versus reading too much into his actions (although, actions do speak louder than words in some cases), and could’ve told her parents about the bullying. The tapes, I think, only made people feel worse about the suicide. Although it was a guide to have justice served, the tapes seemed to be rather passive-aggressive. Were the tapes the only way to tell her story, because people wouldn’t listen to her in person? Was her suicide just an act of attention-getting?
Overall, I think this series gave awareness to how serious suicide can be, and how it can affect other people. It gives awareness to how cruel people can be, and how the world can truly be a horrifying place. Although I disagree with how the main character handled things, I don’t disagree that suicide is not the answer to one’s woes. Though the story is tragic in the events that unfolded, I feel that the story was unrealistic in how someone can become suicidal. The story depicts events at worst-case scenarios, not everyday, typical days of a teenager’s life. The only thing that was close to being realistic was the bullying and the initial rumor of false promiscuity. Along with the level of realism in this series, I think the story gives out too much of an idea to others suffering from suicidal thoughts and depression that being passive-aggressive, like in the way Hannah did to promote her story specifically to the people who done her wrong, is the only way to show them what they’ve done instead of talking to those people directly.
The way Hannah spread her version of a suicide note demanded guilt–and that is not the way anyone should project their feelings, whether they ended their life or not.