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TV Review: 13 Reasons Why (Season 2)

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Even if you haven't seen 13 Reasons Why, you've definitely heard of it.

An adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, the Netflix original received an outpour of criticism and backlash upon its initial release in 2017 due to its graphic depiction of numerous controversial themes.

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Adapted by Brian Yorkey, the first season follows the same structure as the book: After Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) tragically takes her own life, she leaves behind thirteen cryptic cassette tapes that ultimately explain her reasons for committing suicide; with each individual tape focusing on a different peer who played a part in the situation.

The story is told though both present day and flashback sequences, mainly from the perspective of Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), a close friend of Hannah’s. With help - and hindrance - from Hannah’s parents and the other characters involved, Clay attempts to configure the truth behind the death of his late friend.

The show was heavily scrutinised, with many expressing that the depiction glorified and romanticised suicide, revenge, and depression, creating a false image and misrepresentation of mental illness. Other people praised the show for bringing awareness to the sensitive subjects, and presenting an opportunity to openly talk about and discuss them.

The finale of season one answered many of the questions behind what happened to Hannah and why, giving the audience a sense of closure - despite the problematic journey. So when it was revealed that there would be a second season, many people were left wondering why.

Set five months after the final events of season one, the focal point of the second season revolves around the court trial between Hannah’s parents and Liberty High, as Hannah’s parents (Kate Walsh and Brian d'Arcy James) try to prove that the school, and it’s lack of support, was complicit in their daughters death.

It’s evident that there are still a number of details to be uncovered surrounding Hannah’s past, as Clay is still dealing with the grief of losing his friend, and apparently still searching for answers. Meanwhile, Jessica (Alisha Boe), and Alex (Miles Heizer), wrestle with their explored struggles and experiences as they return to school, where they have to face the notorious athlete, Bryce (Justin Prentice).

Although the cast still holds up strongly with their often emotive performances, the narrative noticeably grapples throughout the course of the new season, often affecting the overall structure. Whilst season one precisely untangled the mystery with intrigue and apprehension, season two leisurely makes its journey through the new storyline.

There’s a visible attempt to recreate a similar tone to the one presented in the previous season, but the outcome is, unfortunately, strikingly less powerful or as well carried out as it could have been. The use of flashbacks however work prominently better this time round, expanding our insight of previously explored happenings and events.

In addition to the time jumps, the inclusion of Hannah now takes shape in the form of a ghostly hallucination, courtesy of Clay, conveniently appearing every time he tries to get intimate with his new girlfriend, Skye (Sosie Bacon). The increase in the appearance of Hannah works in favour of establishing the emotional tone, especially due to Langford’s outstanding performance, once again.

With Hannah now being able to voice her conscience, both the viewers and the onscreen characters are able to make a point of dealing with the grief and and mourning that wasn’t accessible in the previous season. Whilst this is necessary and positive, other aspects of the show, such as the involvement and attention to guns remains problematic and disputable.

At this point though, it feels as though the show know exactly what they're doing. ‘You’re pretty and sad, people love that’ is a line of dialogue voiced by one of the characters, directed to his friend - a rape victim - within the first half an hour of episode one. Funnily enough, this could not be a better description of the show. Whilst the importance of suicide and all of the other themes involved are absolutely worth bringing awareness to, making a fantasised story, reminiscent of your standard teen rom-com accompanied with a melancholy, nostalgic soundtrack, doesn't seem like the most progressive, or helpful, way to do it.

Overall, season two is a moderate continuation of the original series, highlighting important and relevant themes - albeit in a highly questionable way. At times, it feels as though the execution has been rushed, trying to fill the plot as quickly as possible. The use of the tapes in season one created a balanced and intriguing structure, but the loss of that foundation is significantly noticeable.

The show has undoubtedly become one of Netflix’s most popular shows, but is it for the right reasons? It is clear that the show presents everything with the best intentions, but whether or not this story is the most constructive way to demonstrate the importance behind all of these topics is debatable, regardless of the worthy performances.

13 Reasons Why is available to stream on Netflix.

The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

 

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