13 Reasons Why Season 1 Review
Netflix‘s 13 Reasons Why: Season 1: Episodes 1-13 were a rarity. Based on the book by Jay Asher, the TV adaptation of 13 Reasons Why was atypical. Normal TV series rarely provoke an emotional reaction in the viewer. Most give the viewer what they were expecting or have seen before with new wrapping paper around them. 13 Reasons Why was something different. 13 Reasons Why tapped into something so real the viewer could not help but react. That was one of 13 Reasons Why‘s purposes – to create a reaction in the viewer. Its purpose also was to tell an engaging story. 13 Reasons Why succeeded in both. Multiple times during the season, the viewer wanted to give Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) a hug so that she knew that someone in the world got her, saw her, the real her, and cared about that person.
13 Reasons Why was painful to watch at times but like the intention behind the tapes of its heroine, maybe that pain will help someone in the future.
Like The OA, 13 Reasons Why started one place but by the end of its narrative, the viewer had been transported to aspects of a story they never imagined existed.
The complexity of the interwoven story-lines of 13 Reasons Why, their creativity, and the acting of its unique two and three-dimensional characters made 13 Reasons Why stand hand and shoulders above any other teen dramas on network television. 13 Reasons Why is the type of TV show that could not exist on network television because of its content and its unflinching approach, especially in the later episodes of Season One.
The closest network TV shows that featured some of the realities in 13 Reasons Why are My So-Called Life and Skins (to a certain degree since that U.K. TV series leaned more towards levity).
Told through the narrative mechanisms of cassette tapes, recollection, and hallucination, 13 Reasons Why was intricately balanced between present day and previous instances of: teen angst, budding romance, shifting emotions, nuanced acts of bullying and degradation, sexual violence, and suicide. Without the brutal visual causality shown in 13 Reasons Why, 13 Reasons Way would not have been as strong a story.
By the end of the season, it was almost as if Hannah Baker gave the tapes to the viewer to create change in us so that we, the viewer, didn’t create another Hannah Baker.
*Note – This review has been separated into four pages. When you reach the bottom of one page, scroll to the bottom of the page (possibly underneath Related Posts) and click the Next button.
13 Reasons Why: Season 1, Episode 1: Tape 1, Side A
The greatest narrative instrument in the season was hand-delivered to Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) during Tape 1, Side A – cassette tapes from recently deceased Hannah Baker. Once received, it was the beginning of the dual narrative of 13 Reasons Why.
As a plot device, Hannah Baker’s tapes were a clever innovation. Hannah’s death made all of the people who heard her tapes hyper-sensitive. That state-of-mind made all of the tapes’ listeners more susceptible to the words and emotions expressed on them. Whether by design or happenstance (the latter is most-likely the case since Hannah was not a human psychology prodigy), it allowed the tapes to bore into the psyche of all those that heard them, none more so than Clay, who suffered from a mental condition that previously required counseling and medication.
The dead rarely speak as effectively to the living – save for Ghost and a few other examples – as Hannah Baker began speaking to Clay in Tape 1, Side A. Clay and Hannah’s complicated relationship made the situation for Clay even worse. He felt her loss on multiple undisclosed levels, not on a singular level like the other subjects of the tapes.
Hannah Baker broke down, on a granular level in Tape 1, Side A, the damaging effect of an unfounded and unflattering rumor to the reputation and environment of a girl in high school. The viewer saw how the rumor began to negatively effect Hannah the moment it entered the minds of the male population of her school.
Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn) and Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) turned a seminal moment in a young adult’s life, their first kiss, into something sordid, a social media nightmare. The courtship mind games that Hannah and Justin played on each other were wonderful theater (e.g. the school bus moment) and sweet. That made Hannah’s first kiss with Justin all the more bitter when he let bravado supersede civility.
When Tony Padilla (Christian Navarro) spoke to Clay Jensen at the park Hannah had her first kiss in, it was the moment where 13 Reasons Why took a step above and beyond the expectations the viewer had brought with them to the Netflix series and was forced to expect more. 13 Reasons Why was not going to be a standard-fare TV teen drama.
13 Reasons Why: Season 1, Episode 2: Tape 1, Side B
A theme was established early on in 13 Reasons Why that each episode would feature a new Hannah Baker degradation, mental or physical, during each episode. That was the big story-line in the background of each episode. The upfront story-lines were the trials and tribulations of high school, in Hannah’s case, being a new girl in high school. New friendships for Hannah Baker abounded in 13 Reasons Why but one of the most important to Hannah began in Tape 1, Side B with Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe). Both girls were outsiders thus both could instantly relate to each, at least on that level.
Tape 1, Side B‘s most intense moment was that of loss. When Hannah lost the friendship and companionship of Jessica and Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), it was a blow (literally in Hannah’s case per Jessica’s slap). Hannah Baker no longer had two friendly, familiar, and sturdy pairs of shoulders to lean on and have a positive repertoire with in and outside of school.
Mrs. Antilly (Lisa Anne Morrison), though she only appeared in one episode of the season, could have had the biggest impact on Hannah’s state of mind before Hannah killed herself. Mrs. Antilly’s bubbly, upbeat, and perceptive demeanor might have been exactly what Hannah Baker needed as Hannah was recording Tape 7, Side A.
13 Reasons Why: Season 1, Episode 3: Tape 2, Side A
Perception is a powerful instrument, especially when calibrated by the seemingly unbiased. When Ryan Shaver (Tommy Dorfman)’s best /worst list began floating around, that Alex Standall (Miles Heizer) deleteriously added to, the way that Hannah Baker was perceived in high school was altered forever. Hannah wasn’t just the new girl anymore, she was the new dehumanized object, a being some saw as not having any feelings. A slattern.
Bryce Walker’s “targeting” moment with Hannah Baker in the convenient store exemplified how people now viewed Hannah. Though a virtual stranger to him, Bryce still had zero respect for Hannah because of Justin’s photo, Justin’s bragging, and Ryan’s list.
Alex’s regret over contributing to Hannah’s state-of-mind when she took her life informed the viewer that unlike some of the other contributors disclosed in Hannah’s tapes, Alex felt a deep level of guilt over his involvement.
In many respects, Alex could easily have been Clay in the 13 Reasons Why‘s story-line if he had made different choices. Perhaps that was one of the things weighing on him when he fell into the pool – Hannah was someone who he had once called friend, someone he could have pursued, like Jessica, if he had seen Hannah for what she was before she killed herself.