“13 Reasons Why”, adapted from the YA novel of the same name, stands on a platform that claims it is forging a conversation on topics that are often uncomfortable and difficult to navigate: sexual assault, bullying, mental health and suicide.
However, for being a show that’s produced by Selena Gomez, a renowned mental health advocate, and having more than enough funding to reach out to mental health experts, the second season, which premiered in May, exceedingly fails to create those conversations and instead chooses to focus on dramatizing the plot.
In the aftermath of the second season, viewers and mental health advocates alike weren’t too pleased, even calling Netflix to cancel the show. The backlash stems from a rather exploitative scene where a student is brutally beaten and raped, something the writers have defended brings awareness to these kinds of bullying incidents. Of course, nothing can ever go without controversy, but the writers had a chance to redeem themselves from last season’s suicide scene mishap and prove that they were going to handle these topics with care and delicacy.
Instead, they packed in more than they could handle and lost sight on how to shed light on the subject matters at hand, specifically mental health awareness.
This season paces slowly through a series of students testifying at a trial about their experiences with Hannah Baker, delving deeper into her past. Along with that, the writers continued to tackle sexual assault, rape culture and bullying, bringing them to the forefront of the show. The amalgamation of new characters and new plot lines created a season that was all over the place and failed to bring about a resolution that was not only satisfying but without controversy.
In the season finale, Tyler Down (Devin Druid), a regular target for bullying, is in the bathroom washing his hands when he gets cornered by three baseball players. One player specifically, beats him up, dunks his head in the toilet and rapes him. Later, when Tyler’s mother asks him how his first day back at school went, he responds in a gleeful manner.
Then, while the rest of his classmates are at a school dance, Tyler suits up in all black and carries a backpack loaded with guns, with the intention of shooting up the school to get revenge for the bullying he’s endured at the hands of his peers.
It’s difficult to create a show that will capture the truth and vulnerability of these sensitive situations that can more often than not be triggering. Yet, the writers failed to be sensitive and did not cease to create provocative scene depiction.
It’s obscene and disturbing to think that this scene is raising awareness on gun violence. Not only does this give teenagers struggling with anger and other mental health issues an idea on how to exert their feelings, but also normalizes school shootings — something more than 215,000 kids and teenagers have lived through. This is unacceptable to include, especially considering the national climate over the gun control debate and the ongoing school shootings that continue to persist.
Furthermore, it seems that the writers are focused more on sensationalizing trauma rather than understanding how this might affect viewers that have experienced heavy incidents of bullying.
“13 Reasons Why” has definitely succeeded in creating conversations, but they aren’t steering towards progressing mental health advocacy.
Other than their website that gives information on how to seek help, “13 Reasons Why” is just another show that prioritizes entertainment value over true storytelling, and won’t bring about any progress for the mental health community.