After a heavily controversial first season, 13 Reasons Why left the confines of its source material for a second turn. While full of disclaimers so Netflix would cover its bases, the show goes beyond the previous claims of glamorizing suicide. This time around, the show goes deeper – right into unnecessary territory.
A second season of 13 Reasons Why sounded like a bad idea from the get-go. Based on the 2007 Jay Asher teen novel of the same name, the source material ran out on round 1. Quite literally, the 13 reasons had already been exposed at length, for a complete story arc. Unless handled masterfully, continuing the story would have meant either fan service or angering fans.
Cut to one year later and saying fans are angry is an understatement. Without getting into too much detail, the story delves into difficult topics once again, with even less sophistication. Sexual violence is still a key part of the narrative, only this time it’s more graphic. The season’s timing was also unpredictably terrible, as it dealt with school shootings. Season 2 had the misfortune of being released last Friday, on the day of the Santa Fe High School shooting.
There doesn’t seem to be a valid reason to stick around with this story. The characters are still dealing with Hannah Baker’s death and the resulting trial, but the story arc was already fulfilled. Narratively speaking, this feels entirely unnecessary, and the fact that there’s no more source material is palpable.
When I first found out that Katherine Langford would return for season 2, I joked it’d be as Hannah’s ghost. She’d be haunting everyone who wronged her, not letting them move on. This seemed like a ridiculous idea, so out of touch with the tone from season 1. And yet, they went there. Hannah’s “ghost,” or something of the sort, appears to Clay (Dylan Minnette) by the end of episode 1. She basically haunts him throughout the mourning period, as if this were a completely different show.
Langford and Minnette still carry through most of what they’re able to, but their power is limited. Kate Walsh is still powerful as Hannah’s mother, with (clearly estranged) husband Brian D’Arcy James gone. The rest of the cast seems to be doing the best they can with the messy writing they’ve been given. There’s no shine this time around.
There’s no justice, no fulfilled new storylines, no point to anything that’s happening. It may be argued that this is more in keeping with regular life, but this isn’t a documentary. Fiction needs structure, a path to be followed, even if it takes viewers to unpleasant places.
It’s not a storytellers’ job to moralize or serve justice. It is, however, his job to tell stories that are honest and say something about the human condition. At that, season 2 of 13 Reasons Why fails spectacularly.
While an honest portrayal of teenage bullying and hardships, the first season had its issues. Most notably, it was deemed to romanticize suicide, which is why Netflix added numerous disclaimers later on. Season 2 actually begins with a clip of the show’s stars calling troubled teens to speak out.
The multiple disclaimers feel a little dishonest in the aftermath of copycat suicides and controversy. They seem less like a Netflix effort to do good and more like an attempt to cover their bases. Particularly considering how gruesome the story ends up by the end of the season.
There’s no other way to say it: season 2 of 13 Reasons Why was unnecessary. For all its sins, let’s hope this messy turn doesn’t undo the hard work from the more aware first season.