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Let's Talk About '13 Reasons Why'

by Alyssa Vantong 2 years ago in tv

The Conversation We Need to Have

Let's Talk About '13 Reasons Why'

In March of 2017, Netflix had decided to put out a series called 13 Reasons Why. The show is based off of a book by Jay Asher. The minds behind the show include Brian Yorkey as the creator and Selena Gomez as an executive producer. As of May 2018, the show has two seasons.

What exactly is 13 Reasons Why about? A teenager by the name of Hannah Baker, who is played by Katherine Langford, moves to a town in California. She starts going to school at Liberty High. We see a character by the name of Clay Jensen, played by Dylan Minnette, finding a box on his doorstep. In that box contains seven, two-sided cassette tapes, labeled in blue nail polish. From there on, Hannah decides to tell the story of what had happened to her at Liberty High. Each tape is targeted at a specific person. She decides to tell the listeners that if they had received the tapes, they were one of the reasons why she decided to end her life, hence the name of the show/book.

Throughout all of season one, issues like bullying, self-harm, suicide, sexual assault, substance abuse, and rape are brought up. However, there is barely any kind of warning for these things, which can put many viewers at risk. In response to all of the backlash that was received, the show’s second season had contained warnings for each episode—warnings that I did not see. Netflix now has a system that will skip what they see as the “intro.” The Netflix on my Roku is quite old, but it still had the system, so I was quite surprised when I had only seen two warnings throughout the entire season. I know that this is mostly on Netflix’s part, but some viewers and critics, myself included, feel like the warnings were not enough.

Season Two is about the trial of Hannah Baker’s case after her parents decide to sue the school district, hoping that they would be punished for her death. Most of those who testify are the individuals who are on the tapes. These individuals tell their personal stories with Hannah, filling the plot holes for season one. Some of the stories are lies, some are the truth. This was something that I really enjoyed about the show, as it stopped showing Hannah as the sweet and innocent victim, and only the sweet and innocent victim. Like Clay Jensen, the viewer gets to see that Hannah wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought she was, although, even in season one, I did not like her mostly because of what she had done. The season as a whole deals with sexual assault, gun violence, substance abuse, and bullying.

Again, the viewers are given warnings at the beginning of each episode, but how many of them saw it? I know that I didn’t see eleven of them until I had gone back to look for it on a different website, one that didn’t skip the intro. Let’s say that Netflix hadn’t had their system set up to skip intros. Was it enough? No, no it was not enough. In the very first episode, we are met with cast members introducing who they are and who their character is. They tell the viewers about the things that they will be seeing in the show, and they tell them to either turn around or watch with someone who can be trusted if they do not think they can do it alone. The cast then proceeds to tell us to go to their informational website to seek help if need be. The rest of the episodes start with a message, telling the viewer everything that is dealt with in the show, and again, the show’s website; this time, it is on a black screen in white text.

So why do I believe that this was not enough? Because it does not exactly tell us how graphic the scenes are, and it does not tell you exactly how graphic things would be. It is understandable that the show did not want to give away any spoilers in the warnings, but for all we know, “sexual assault” could simply be a person groping another and leaving it at that, which brings me to what this is really about.

In the very last episode, the viewer is given a warning that there will be depictions of sexual assault and gun violence, which had been seen before in season two, and even season one. I knew what I was signing up for when I had watched season one last year. I thought I knew what I had signed up for when I started watching season two. I was even excited to finish it, going in with already wanting a third season. The sophomore season had been darker than I had anticipated, but that was a good thing, right? Wrong.

Tyler Down (Devin Druid) returns to Liberty High after completing a program that his parents had sent him to as a result of his misbehavior, such as vandalism and blackmailing. His actions had not settled well with Montgomery de la Cruz (Timothy Granaderos) after the baseball season had gotten canceled partially due to what Tyler had done. Montgomery was a fan favorite in season one, despite not having a huge role. We had only seen him as a cute, hot-headed jock. I am guilty for having fallen for him…

So what is Montgomery’s response to Tyler once he returns? His response is to gang up on him with a couple of other jocks. While Tyler tries to apologize for his actions, promises that he’ll get better, and attempts to make amends, Montgomery can only see red. His hands shove Tyler harshly against the bathroom mirror, causing it to crack. He then takes his hands to slam the front of the other boy’s head against the edge of the sink, more than once. Realistically, it probably would have killed him.

“You ruined everything, faggot,” we hear Montgomery say as he drags Tyler over to the toilet by his shirt. At this point, Tyler looks out of it. He looks traumatized, and rightfully so. Things only get worse when the jocks shove his head into the toilet, nearly drowning him. As if the scene wasn’t graphic enough, Montgomery does something even worse. I will let you know now that if you have any sort of triggers at all, despite all the warnings, despite anyone who praises the show, and despite what you think you can handle, you should not watch this show. I do not have any triggers myself, but I had to stop watching for a bit after seeing what Montgomery does. I had to run into the bathroom to spill the contents of my dinner into the toilet bowl.

What did Montgomery do? What did our (used to be) beloved Monty do? With a scowl on his face, he grabs a mop that is sitting in the corner of the bathroom. He then proceeds to sodomize Tyler until he bleeds. The other two jocks make sure to hold him tightly and cover his mouth. Tyler is then left on the bathroom floor with his pants pulled down as he cries to himself. His face is wet and the top of his head is covered in blood, as well as… other parts.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call lazy writing. Yes, I am aware that many will say the opposite, as it probably took a lot of time to write out the horribly graphic scene, but I believe that a good writer would have been smarter. What a good writer would have done was show that Tyler had gotten sodomized, but through the method of implication. According to the writers, the scene was meant to bring up a discussion about male sexual assault. They still could have done that without the scene being overly graphic. If I’m gonna be honest here, I believe that the statement is bullshit. I do not believe that it was intended for a discussion. I believe that was just a statement to make because of the backlash. I believe that the scene was written for shock value, because that is what it did. Ever since season two has aired, I have not seen one person really talking about male sexual assault victims. I’ve only seen viewers talking about how hard it was to watch and how much it shocked them. In season one, the creators of the show were told by experts that there were certain scenes that they shouldn’t air, but they did anyway. Season two had been a lot darker. If they were told not to air certain scenes in season one, how could they think that it was okay to show what they did in season two?

Once Tyler realizes that he cannot stop bleeding, he takes extreme measures. Before anything happens, he sends a text message to a girl named Mackenzie (Chelsea Alden), whom he used to date. Mackenzie then shows the text message to her brother Cyrus (Bryce Cass), who is also Tyler’s ex-best friend. The two go to warn Clay and the gang, and they all come up with a plan to try and stop Tyler. Oh, stop Tyler from what? A school shooting.

In this day and age, school shootings have become a sensitive topic. Having Tyler Down trying to shoot up the school on April 20 is just in bad taste. Especially when it became unrealistic as ever. My advice to the writers is this: if you are going to depict a school shooting, do not have your character try to replicate the Columbine Shooting, and do not make it look like a couple of students can just stop it from happening.

When Clay finds out about Tyler’s plan, do you know what he tries to do? Clay tells his friends to not call the police, that they should stay inside and let him handle it. He tries to negotiate with Tyler. He reassures Tyler that he is wanted by many people around, and that shooting the school would not make anything change for the better, that he would only die. Realistically, Tyler would have shot Clay. He would have killed him with no problem. He would not have a problem shooting at Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn) and Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) once they had walked out of the school. Clay Jensen would have been Tyler Down’s first kill of many.

The rest of the scene is just Clay negotiating, and eventually convincing Tyler that he didn’t have to go through with his plan, that they could help him. We then see Clay’s friend, Tony Padilla (Christian Navarro), pull up in his car, yelling at Tyler to get in while we hear police sirens in the background. Clay is able to coax Tyler and grab the assault weapon, one that looks like it could be used in military combat (I don’t know much about guns), from his hands, and he pushes Tyler into Tony’s car. The scene ends with Justin and Jessica coming out to check on Clay, while Clay simply holds the weapon in his hand helplessly.

What I find ironic about the show is that after the scene in which Tyler is sodomized, whoever is narrating (probably Clay) says something along the lines of, “We can get better; we will get better.” I believe when the writers had written that, they didn’t see how incredibly stupid they were. Yes, 13 Reasons Why, everyone has room to grow and to get better, but will you? After season one, you would think that they would have learned by now. A lot of the things show would be considered way too graphic, even for a Netflix series. A lot of it is also depicted unrealistically. The creators claim that the scenes were intended to start a conversation, but I believe that they were there for shock factor, and there is nothing wrong with shock factor. However, if you are going to do something for that reason, at least own up to it when you get called out.

I did enjoy the show. As a teenage girl, shows like 13 Reasons Why are very much entertaining. There were just a couple of things that really set me off. After season one, I had really hoped that the show would have done better. With the darker and twisted aspect of season two, I think they could have done a lot better, but they didn’t. I can’t say I’m surprised. If the show is renewed for a third season, I hope that the writers and creators learn much more from the sophomore season, and I hope take action. Do I want a third season? Not really. I did enjoy the show, but if things are going to remain the way they are, the show is not worthy of my time, and it does not deserve my money either.

Alyssa Vantong
Alyssa Vantong
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Alyssa Vantong

Opinions, narratives, poetry, and (most of the time) hasty writing.

See all posts by Alyssa Vantong