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’13 Reasons Why’ is a haunting and worthwhile show

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Courtesy+of+Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

For those who have not seen the show, there are spoilers in this article.

Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” provides one the most realistic and genuine depictions of depression, anxiety and suicide in television history. If you watch or read only one thing about depression, this show is your answer.

It’s never been a secret that high school is one of the most emotionally trying and mentally difficult times in a person’s life. Trying to navigate a social landscape as treacherous as a minefield, making sure to maintain a strong GPA, involve yourself in extra-curricular activities and dealing with hormones and feelings you can neither express nor understand are just some of the struggles high school students battle with.

“13 Reasons Why” addresses all of these issues head on and takes a very dark, mature and somber approach to showing what high school is really like.

The Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel roots itself in the mind of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, a student at Liberty High School. Hannah shocks the entire community when she takes her own life.

The show aims to answer why.

Before she died, Hannah (Katherine Langford) recorded 13 cassette tapes citing the 13 reasons she took her own life. Each tape is created to confront a specific person in her life and details a specific incident where they either wronged, hurt, or let her down. The tapes are meant to circulate from one student to the next, each listening to the series until the last tape dedicated to the last person is reached. In their entirety, the tapes weave together a tragic look into why Hannah took her own life.

The show takes us deep into Hannah’s teenage mind to give us a harrowing and comprehensive look at what pushes people over the edge.

“13 Reasons Why” is centered around Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), an everyday high school boy who had a close friendship with, and crush on, Hannah. Minnette’s performance is compelling because of how effortlessly he moves through the murky emotional state of Clay, who exhibits all the emotions one would expect after listening to something as dour and sobering as the tape.

He feels anger and rage towards those who wronged Hannah, despair and hopelessness after listening to his tape and a genuine and almost heart-breaking sense of desperation throughout the entire series.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Along with Minnette, Langford’s performance is also a standout. As we delve deeper and deeper into Hannah’s agony, Langford lets us know exactly how and why she’s feeling the way she is. As the story goes on, you can both see and hear the life and will to live drain from her face. By the end of the show, the viewer has a better understanding of why Hannah committed suicide.

The supporting cast is also excellent and provides depth to the characters responsible for Hannah’s death. Christian Navarro’s “Tony” is the keeper of the tapes and also acts as Clay’s emotional shoulder to lean on throughout the season. He’s stoic and direct with his approach. He also provides levity and gravity to necessary situations. Brandon Flynn’s “Justin” is at first a simple, one-dimensional bully.

Once Flynn is given more material to work with, Justin becomes one of the biggest enigmas of the show. Kate Walsh is perfect as Mrs. Baker, depicting hopeless desperation that borders on insanity.

The entire cast of high schoolers are believable, genuine and compelling. The casting was just one of the many things the production crew got right in “13 Reasons Why.” The difference in tone and hue between flashbacks and real life is mesmerizing and the script is both mature and realistic. This is no ABC Family drama, and it’s all the better because of it.

The show does drag a little bit through the first six episodes. However, the final part of the season is arguably the best television I’ve ever seen.

“13 Reasons Why” has difficulty balancing the Bakers’ lawsuit, Clay’s emotions, Hannah’s emotions and the happenings of each episode. This can sometimes make it feel either rushed or too slow.

It also struggles with portraying parents other than the Bakers, making them seem underdeveloped and almost inept. For example, Clay’s mother is constantly probing him to make sure he’s feeling okay after Hannah’s death, and then proceeds to represent the school in the legal proceedings against the Baker family.

For those who have not seen the show, proceed with caution. There are spoilers ahead.

A warning to all about how graphic the show gets with its depiction of addiction, sexual assault and suicide. Hannah’s suicide is a haunting and bone-chilling scene that is still ironed into my mind. It is the most memorable scene I’ve ever witnessed.

One triumph that can’t be understated is the way Hannah’s own shortcomings factor into her decision to commit suicide. Her situation is tragic. However, the show runners do a phenomenal job of highlighting the fact that Hannah didn’t do enough to seek out help. She wanted help, she desperately needed it and even she admits at some points that she didn’t do enough to find it. And that really makes the message of this show stick. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

The real success of “13 Reasons Why” is in the way it depicts cyber-bullying, slut-shaming and the perils of high school, and compares them to how Hannah spiraled into depression. You truly understand the level of soul-crushing sadness she’s feeling when she highlights each person on the tapes.

“I started with Justin and Jessica, who each broke my heart. Alex, Tyler, Courtney, Marcus, who each helped to destroy my reputation, on through Zach and Ryan, who broke my spirit. Through Tape #12, Bryce Walker, who broke my soul,” she says.

“13 Reasons Why” is the long overdue window into the teenage mind that young adults have been craving since the inception of high school storytelling. It lets audiences know that people everywhere are hurting and that we all must do our part to make sure these very real life tragedies don’t happen to the ones we love.

It’s an utterly perfect series that must be watched.

Email Thomas at [email protected]

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
’13 Reasons Why’ is a haunting and worthwhile show