Spoiler alert: In this post, I spoil season 3 of 13 Reasons Why. You might want to read just so you can save yourself the agony of watching.
One of the final images of season 3 of 13 Reasons Why couldn’t be more fitting: a literal garbage fire.
I’d like to think the writers became self-aware, but it’s probably just a coincidence.
The first season of the show, though heavily flawed, was still thought-provoking television, most successful when it focused on intrigue and storytelling rather than moralizing. But to its detriment, 13 Reasons Why desperately wanted to be a show that Made a Difference. Unfortunately, it did, and the message received was that suicide is an incredibly effective way to mete out revenge. Oopsie.
Perhaps to atone for their sins, the writers doubled-down on the preachiness in season 2 with varying results. But it’s the current season that has trangressed with something much, much worse than sermonizing: lazy writing.
The new exposition… I mean, girl.
Season 3’s mystery centers on the murder of Bryce Walker, whose lenient punishment for rape gives the entire cast motive for his death. Walking us through the story is new girl in school, Ani Achola, who replaces dead girl Hannah Baker as the series narrator. Major downgrade. The show casts Ani as virtually omnipotent, conveniently filling in exposition when showing just isn’t as easy as telling to move the story forward. Laaaaaayyyyyzeeeee.
How is Ani so all-knowing? In a short time, she’s magically infiltrated Liberty High’s favorite group of pathologically secretive teens. She’s best friends with main characters Clay Jensen and Jessica Davis despite having 0 chemistry with either… and she’s also living with Jessica’s rapist Bryce. (Her mom’s a caretaker at the home.) She has total access to every person and piece of evidence, though I’m not always quite sure how, and she freely interrogates students with no one questioning her entitlement. It’s all so unbelievable knowing the characters as we do. Ani has no real connection to the other students, no backstory for herself; she’s a plot device and nothing more. And to top it off, Ani is flat-out unlikeable: insipid and invasive, spouting off faux pearls of wisdom. Seriously, she sucks.
But you know who is likeable? The rapist.
Writers, you know you’re not doing your job when 99% of the characters are less likeable than the serial rapist. Unless that’s what you’re going for, which 13 Reasons Why is most certainly not. Yet, sadly, Bryce is depicted as more compassionate than the shrill, callous girls in the anti-rape organization, the Hands Off Our Bodies Club. Did Brett Kavanaugh ghostwrite this?
I have no issue with showing the grays of complicated subjects or with giving a former villain a redemption arc; in fact, I applaud that. But when the audience cares more for the victimizer of teenage girls than the girls themselves, and you’re purporting to be a show that’s honestly exploring sexual assault, that’s a problem.
There is so much sex in this season, and it’s all creepy. Close-ups of awkward mid-coitus faces, choking, pink plastic doohickies, aggressive thrusting… it came across as exploitative and more than a little gross.
I can fix him with my vagina.
Speaking of creepy sex: back to the sucky new girl Ani. She knows Bryce is a rapist. She knows Bryce is her so-called best friend’s rapist. And she still has sex with him, like a lot. Because she sees the good in him? Yeah, no, awesome message for impressionable girls.
I can fix him with my spreadsheet.
At the end of season 2, peeping tom Tyler Down arrived at Spring Fling armed up to his tiny ears with semi-automatic weapons and itching to go Columbine on his classmates. Clay talked him out of it (by walking in front of the gun, genius), enlisting the rest of the Liberty High dumb-dumbs to help cover up Tyler’s crime. They then spend the rest of the year monitoring him (shifts scheduled out on a spreadsheet, ha ha ho ho) so he doesn’t, you know, commit mass murder. Because see something, say something is a load of horsepoop, apparently.
The adults in 13 Reasons Why are, at best, completely ineffectual and at worst, horrifically abusive. Issues no teen should handle alone—violence, drug abuse, assault, police interrogations—are always kept secret from adults. And it’s not that hard to do, as Clay and his cohorts are unfettered by rules or curfews. I mean, is Justin not a heroin addict? Did Alex not shoot himself in the head? Is Ani not living with a rapist? So, why are they left so laughably unsupervised? In fact, why are they even still in this cockamamie town? My God, parents, at least get your kids to a place where there’s only one sexual predator in the school.
In real life, a teen should go to a trusted, caring adult if they are assaulted, but this show advocates the opposite. The exception is Tony Padilla, who does go to an adult for help: a “fixer” for a cartel. A cartel. How on earth does Tony know a member of a cartel? This show.
He did it. OK.
The Liberty High teens are oddly emotionally unaffected when they discover their friend Alex murdered Bryce. I guess when you harbor a potential mass shooter, a push into the river seems quaint by comparison?
The kids dispassionately participate in concealing yet another major crime, with Ani going full-on psychopath, masterminding the framing of Monty for the murder. She does this after knowing the group for what…? A year? Why would she even do so except for sociopathic kicks? With this latest coverup, the teens go way past broken and arrive at amoral. It’s clear that the show wants us to root for them, but I’m not sure how much season 4 goodwill they’ve got left.
(O.K. not Justin. Justin has lost no goodwill with me. Justin is the second coming of James Dean, and he can do no wrong.)
And in the end.
Overall, the season was too long, too repetitive, and despite the sensationalism, kind of boring. I’ll hang in there for the fourth and final season because I’m a sucker for a mystery, any kind of mystery. Or maybe I’m just a masochist. (I watched all 7 seasons of Pretty Little Liars, so yeah.) My hope is that the writers figure out what made the show great in the first season (hint… it’s not longwinded, sanctimonious speeches) and stick to that. Otherwise, I won’t need 13 reasons to turn off the TV.