The second season of Netflix’s critically-acclaimed series “13 Reasons Why” premiered last Friday, allowing fans to breathe a long-awaited sigh of relief. Following its 2017 release, the first season left several storylines hanging in suspense, but in true “13 Reasons Why” fashion, the answers are now here in all their dramatic, albeit questionably executed, glory.
In its first season, “13 Reasons Why” shocked viewers with a story of hardship in the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide. The 13-episode adaptation of Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same name garnered an unprecedented amount of social media buzz for the network, bringing widespread attention to issues such as bullying, sexual assault, and suicide.
The first season of “13 Reasons Why” developed a rich and complex cast of characters, differing from Asher’s novel in which the story is told through protagonist Clay Jensen’s experiences. The story follows Jensen, whose friend Hannah Baker has taken her own life and left a series of tapes detailing her reasons for doing so — implicating many, including Jensen.
The second season further develops these already fascinating characters, giving major redemption arcs to previously infuriating characters including perfectionist and liar Courtney and inadequate guidance counselor Mr. Porter. While the balance of character appearances is not as well-calibrated as in the original season, with the new season seemingly forgetting about entire character arcs for several episodes at a time, the expected depth of the story’s cast comes through with full force.
The new season also echoed the themes of the first. Motivational speaking dominated the episodes, revolving around ideas such as doing more than is required to help others. This phenomenon peaked during a scene involving the now-redeemed Mr. Porter testifying in court about his relation to Hannah Baker’s death. He declares that he did, in fact, do all that was required of him — but that he will always regret not having done a little more. This motif creates powerful moments as the show navigates the nuances of natural dialogue while skillfully producing scenes that are heartwarming yet sincere.
However, viewers are sure to be disappointed by the story’s overall development.
Due to its heavy themes and upsetting imagery, the first season of “13 Reasons Why” sparked controversy. Critics and mental health professionals warned that the show’s focus on — and graphic depiction of — Hannah Baker’s suicide could have a negative effect on its viewers, especially on teenagers who are going through hard times themselves.
In the second season, it is apparent that this controversy did not motivate the creators to be any more careful regarding disturbing content. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Anyone who is planning on watching this second season should be warned that a heart-wrenching assault is portrayed in the season’s final episode, occurring suddenly in the narrative with seemingly no actual effect on the plot afterward. As someone who appreciated the novel and was captivated by Netflix’s adaptation of it, I still finished watching this season feeling sick to my stomach, wondering why the creators felt so much shock value was necessary this time around.
What’s more, the shock value of this second season is amplified by how senseless it seems because the new story lacks the sense of direction that the original one possessed. Both seasons featured multiple writers throughout their run, but its impact feels much more apparent in the new season, probably because there is no source material, such as a new novel, on which to base the overall arc of the story.
For example, this new season introduces a romantic relationship between popular athlete Zach Dempsey and Hannah Baker, not long before her suicide. This presents a contradiction to the first season’s portrayal of him, and to Hannah Baker’s own previous account of their interactions, in which their relationship is too fractured to reconcile. While the creators of the show may have had some artistic reason to make the second season incompatible with the first, it makes the two parts disconcerting to try to process as a cohesive story.
I would only recommend the second season of “13 Reasons Why” to the most dedicated fans of the series — those who can’t bear any more suspense about how last season’s cliffhangers will play out. For anyone else, it may be a better idea to sit this one out. Go outside, appreciate the weather, or study for thirteen hours instead; it will probably be more enjoyable than embarking on the frustrating journey that is this new season.