Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why continues to push the TV landscape and harness the types of stories and visuals only seen in indie movies. Giving a sometimes too raw, to the point of seeming for the sake of dramatics, story.
|Andy||Brian d’Arcy James|
|Mr. Bolan||Steven Weber|
|Courtney||Michele Selene Ang|
|Mr. Porter||Derek Luke|
It has been a few months since Hannah’s death and now Olivia and Andy’s trial which seeks for the school to take responsibility is underway. However, unbeknownst to Olivia, the primary person who sits in for every witness, not only is her perception of Hannah limited, but the school hired a beast of an attorney. Sonya, despite the ages of the teens, is vicious. She breaks each and every one of them down, twists their words and makes Olivia’s attorney, Dennis, look like an utter amateur.
All of which bothers the hell out of each kid for failing Hannah, and especially Olivia who some, like Alex, Jessica, and Tony have grown rather close to. Yet, it isn’t just things in the courtroom going horrible, at school they aren’t much better. Bryce remains quite protected by his coach and his peers, and bullying is still a major issue for people like Tyler. Especially since there are those like Mr. Bolan who seem to take note more of the victims than the perpetrators, but what else is new?
But, focusing on each individual’s experience, Jessica is still dealing with being raped by Bryce and her return to school is rocky at best. Though, thanks to meeting a girl like Nina, and finding someone who understands, things get a little bit better. As for Alex? Well, post-suicide attempt, his memories are shot and for a while, it seems his ability to even get an erection has been lost as well. However, with time and effort, both return to him.
As for Ryan? His part in the show gets reduced to being simply Tony’s ex and one of Hannah’s confidants at one time. Courtney and Marcus too are greatly reduced. In fact, after Courtney is decimated by Sonya, and comes out to her parents, that’s it. We don’t see her again until near the end of the season and in terms of Sheri? Outside of aiding Clay in his pursuit of vigilante justice, she is made into a rarely seen or heard person. Oh, and Marcus? Outside of getting blackmailed by Tyler and his new friend Cyrus, he too has a minimal storyline.
Oh, and speaking of Tyler, he has a bit of a whirlwind of a season. He makes a friend in Cyrus, this punk rock kid he meets, almost gets to have a girlfriend in Mackenzie, Cyrus’ sister, and the other tape members, particularly Alex and Clay, they begin to work their way to being friends with him. However, at Alex’s birthday party that gets ruined and because of Tyler’s own insecurities, he alienates Cyrus and a group which seems to accept him warts and all.
Leading to Zach. Out of all the characters of the first season, Zach got the most major upgrade. For on top of being someone who takes part in bringing Bryce down, we also learned he had a full summer romance with Hannah! The kind Clay could only dream of.
Which leads us to Clay. The boy stresses himself out trying to get justice for Hannah, be Skye’s boyfriend, and deal with the real Hannah being revealed day by day. To the point he manifests a ghost Hannah to try to work out his issues. Issues that lead to him dragging everybody in to help him. Tony, who is dealing with probation, and a rocky start to a new relationship, and even dragging Justin from a drug bender so that he could testify. Ultimately leading to Clay getting mixed results as he does learn how to move on but isn’t given the cathartic release he truly needs.
It Remains Uncompromisingly Uncomfortable To Watch
Like many, I sometimes downplay reports about how influential media can be on someone’s psyche. Yet, it is hard to really maintain that perception with 13 Reasons Why. Because the show is really unrelenting. For whether we are witnessing Jessica deal with PTSD from being raped, Justin being a drug addict, learning Chloe was raped, watching Tyler be sodomized, witnessing Skye go into a downward spiral, witnessing Ryan deal with the loneliness which comes with being in a place within a moderate gay population and more, this show can get to you.
Especially since, unlike Freeform and MTV, there aren’t any limitations here. Netflix isn’t reliant on any sponsors besides subscribers so they can go to places the aforementioned wouldn’t dare. Which the writers of this show take full advantage of.
While rape and assault storylines aren’t new, for many they aren’t as central to the show as with 13 Reasons Why. Hannah’s final stray was being raped by Bryce and in season 2, we have multiple people who were assaulted, raped, or just made uncomfortable by a man. In fact, a small portion of the finale deals with how the various women on the show had something done to them.
But, focusing on the stories developed, and not just ran through in the finale, we have Jessica, Nina, and Chloe. As seen in season 1, Jessica was intoxicated and raped by Bryce as Justin attempted to stop it. Something which he hid from her but later came out. This season, she is dealing with the full effects of being raped, and alongside Nina, we get a diverse depiction of the thereafter.
For Jessica, her difficulty comes in the triggers which come from being alone in her room, taking off her clothes, and things of that nature. With Nina, there was a time when her clothes, just feeling comfortable in her own skin, was difficult. Then, to follow up on that, she currently is stuck at this level of being uncomfortable with telling her story to someone she is intimate with. She has this boyfriend, Garrett, who she loves and has been with for months but rather cheat on him than open up about her assault.
Yet, you understand why. As noted in productions like The Invisible War, things change after being assaulted and trying to be in a relationship. Especially one which includes intimacy. So there is naturally this need and desire to not let a moment determine the success of the rest of your life.
But, then there is Chloe’s situation. With Chloe, we shift to the other side of being raped and that is the difficulty of reporting it. Now, Chloe’s issue is a bit of a compound one. First, she is dating Bryce, following that, she is pregnant by Bryce, and it isn’t clear if Chloe would get an abortion or could afford one. Following that is the issue of, like Jessica, her memory of the incident isn’t clear and it wasn’t reported immediately. Making it so the type of evidence which would make a conviction easier to obtain, isn’t available. But, with her dating Bryce, there is always the argument, for his legal team, that she is just getting back at him. Since that argument has worked so well in terms of victim blaming.
Thus presenting one reason why some girls don’t report. Though, on the other hand, we also have Jessica and Nina’s argument. For Nina, it is the aforementioned desire to not let one moment control your life and become a central part of your narrative. After all, as seen with Olivia’s case against the school, what is said in a courtroom can become public record, depending on the age of the accused of course, but it isn’t just the court’s public record which matters. Rumors which find their way to social media and the internet as a whole also become an issue. For then, similar to what was seen in Audrie and Daisy, you can’t really escape your past for it is a Google search away.
Leaving one last thing which must be noted, race. As Jessica notes, being that she is a Black girl, there is a totally different perception than if it was Hannah standing against Bryce. There is a certain innocence and believability that 13 Reasons Why doesn’t get into the history of, but hints at well enough so that if you are aware of what Jessica is talking about, it does come off surprising they went there.
Jessica and Nina’s Friendship, and Jessica finding a Black Community
But, with all that said, you have to appreciate the fact Jessica wasn’t allowed to be a blank slate. In season 2, her being bi-racial is addressed through her mom talking about her hair and Jessica finding solace through Nina and her black predominate friends. Thus pushing this idea that relatability goes beyond sharing one situation or economic status, but culture and expectations as well.
For while Alex and the rest try to be there for Jessica, in their own way, they aren’t able to be on that level Nina is. Heck, one could even argue Mr. Porter steps up for Jessica just because she is a sister. Might have for Nina too but that isn’t gone into much. What is though is this idea that finding your people, is so important in the healing process. Since, even if they don’t know every little detail, there is this nature/nurture connection that just brings about a certain level of understanding.
Making it where when Jessica seemed like she may get a Black boyfriend? After two trash white boys, it was hard to not get a little giddy.
Tyler and Cyrus’ Relationship + Mackenzie’s Part In It
Speaking of finding your people, though it seems short-lived in retrospect, Cyrus adopting Tyler into his group was perhaps one of the few silver linings in Tyler’s story this season. Though not much of a punk kid, noticing Tyler was being messed with, Cyrus and crew decided to not only sit with him but show strength in numbers.
Also, he presented some momentary normalcy in Tyler’s life. He now went over a friend’s house, shared hobbies, and you have to admit it was sweet. Especially when it seemed, despite his past, and even some things he did, Mackenzie was willing and able to look past that since she saw Tyler perhaps the way Clay saw Hannah. Albeit with rose-colored glasses but also the type of infatuation which could have really become something.
Mr. Porter and The Guilt Of Teachers
Switching back to a more downtrodden topic, taking note of Mr. Porter’s guilt felt very important for the overall theme of personal responsibility for the season. For what you personally did to contribute to a situation, especially taking note of how Sonya questions this, is a big deal. And while some like Mr. Bolan take the approach of, “Well, you can’t help everybody” then there are those like Mr. Porter who add onto that line that, “While you can’t help everybody, you can put in a serious effort for those you can.”
And I’d argue his whole episode dealing with how difficult his job is helped you take some of the weight of Hannah’s suicide off him. For it isn’t just about the laws which he has to follow, and procedures given, but also recognizing you are dealing with a human being. You can’t make people come to you, you cannot make them tell you things so that you are allowed to help them.
So, in the case of Hannah, you saw there was some push for her to say the words he needed her to say in season 1, that he could help her report something, but that isn’t what she wanted. The help she seemingly wanted was beyond the scope of what Mr. Porter could give since she wanted him to, perhaps, take the pain away.
Something which, as shown through Nina’s relationship, Olivia’s with Andy, Clay seeking justice, Skye trying to make Clay happy, and so much more, no one can truly take the pain away. They can lessen it, provide a distraction maybe, but they can’t take it away. At the end of the day, you have to figure what works for you in order to cope and survive to the best of your abilities with the tools you find or are given.
Leading to Skye. In many ways, Skye’s story comes off like what could have happened to Hannah if Olivia got to her in time. Also, it presents what perhaps would have happened if Hannah and Clay got together. For while there is this idea all Hannah needed was one person and she would have been happy, then you are reminded of the time she, Sheri, Alex, Jeff, and Clay did Molly and she was talking about death. Hannah had serious issues beyond the dream girl he made Hannah out to be.
And through Skye, I feel like that was sort of the opening to realize how much Clay wasn’t over Hannah. Maybe even was dating Skye as a means to not lose someone else and deal with the guilt of it. However, don’t think of Skye simply as a tool to express Clay’s grief. She has her own story which is quite notable.
In fact, Skye is probably one of the few characters whose storyline seems without bells and whistles and is to the point. She is someone who is bipolar and while she thought maybe being with Clay, trying to use him as a means to be happy and find normalcy would help, it was just self-medicating. Something we usually see with drug, sex, and alcohol, but there are others ways too. And with seeing her go into a treatment facility and even recognize she has to love Clay from afar, it was perhaps one of the best non-central storylines of the season. Played rather well may I add.
Despite how Sonya comes at all the students, with the attitude of “They know what they did” you have to respect and admire how good she is at her job. She made Dennis look like he was fresh out of law school and whether dealing with a child or adult, she discredited them, had them tripping over themselves, yet never really came off like a villain. Nothing felt personal and it was simply about her doing her job to the best of her abilities. Which I commend since we should probably hate how she is the reason Olivia lost and why the kids contributed to that.
Hannah and Zach’s Love Story
While completely out of nowhere and unexpected, honestly, the relationship between Zach and Hannah became the cutest one of the series. That includes the idea of Hannah and Clay together in season 1. For there was just something so natural about these two. Zach is kind of weird and goofy and we’ve seen that side to Hannah on occasion. Plus, while for a lot of guys on the show it seemed being with Hannah dealt with fascination or maybe lust, Zach just found a friend who evolved into something more. A classic love story.
But, what also has to be noted is that it is a love story featuring an Asian male as the love interest. Something you barely see in mainstream media. Especially with teenagers. Add on he was shown to be sweet and a good lover?! The combination makes it sad they didn’t last past the summer.
Sheri and Jessica Presenting The Double Standard
Perhaps the one thing which Sheri does which will be remembered is her correcting Clay about this idea girls just let themselves get into bad situations. Though, more so, Jessica’s whole episode about the double standards girls deal with when it comes to figuring themselves out was gold.