Confession: I’ve been planning this blog from the premier episode. The moment this latest Netflix Original took flight I started mapping out ideas for an original review in my head – plotting how I would take advantage of its success… or lack thereof.
In all honesty, I didn’t have much of a desire to watch it at all. My surrender was not a result of its irresistible allure but because I knew its conversational pull on social media was a window for my creative muse; an opportunity to showcase my work; a means to an end.
But my initial reluctance was both unfounded and unaware. My personal vendetta against “teen” shows holds firm, but this show is very undeserving of such juvenile classification. This show – this heart-lurching, painfully authentic, incredibly vulnerable work of cinematic art (yes, I went there) – is not only something to be watched, but something to be studied.
Before I continue any further on this ranting trajectory, let’s pause, for a moment, and take a closer look (spoiler alert). I’m not going to take the time to summarize the show. If you’ve watched it, great. If you haven’t… well, that’s the whole point. So, without further ado, here’s 13 reasons why you really don’t want to miss 13 Reasons Why:
1. It’s raw. The term “real” doesn’t do it justice. While many shows nowadays successfully depict reality, this show gets to the fleshy bone of the issues it surrounds. This show isn’t, as they say, for the light of heart. It’s honest, yes. Indeed, it organically depicts a couple of the very topics our society avoids mentioning – rape and suicide. But it’s blunt. It’s graphic. It’s even somewhat traumatizing. Some of you reading this might now be deterred from watching, but I assure you my intentions are quite the opposite. This show brings to life certain themes that deserve far more devotion by all age groups because, whether we like it or not, they are real. They happen every day, and hiding behind the walls that entertainment builds is not going to fix anything. So yes, this show bleeds truth – and it’s the first reason why it shouldn’t be missed.
2. It’s controversial. Hannah a villain? An irresponsible depiction of teenage suicide? I’ve heard the whispers. Full disclosure: I’ve yet to read the book. On a personal level, my heart goes out to all you “original” fans; you book lovers who think the televised drama fell far short from the original print version. Any visual rendition, no matter how unaltered, is going to make readers feel robbed. It’s going to put its own twist on characters and subtly alter plot points. Inevitably, it’s going to cause controversy. It’s going to turn subjective visuals into concrete form, and that’s bound to cause an uproar. Especially with such a heated topic. So… Hannah a villain? An irresponsible depiction of teenage suicide? That’s a point for another day. For now, let this point be enough to entice you one step closer toward turning on your TV and joining the debate madness.
3. The acting is seamless. A superficial point, but vitally important. When it comes to media that addresses heavy themes, it’s crucial that those portraying it do it right. Even at first glance it’s easy to appreciate that the actors and actresses in this show are not outwardly perfect. They’re not all objectively attractive human beings, which matters more to the authenticity of a show than we often realize. On a deeper level, you never consider that the characters are a result of performance. On the contrary, the actors become their characters which, especially in the case of weighty subject matter, is far more important than looking the part. You get the sense that they understand. They feel the way they make you feel. That’s acting 101, yes, but it’s not always so universally achieved over an entire cast. So, whether you’re an aspiring actor or simply appreciate watching fiction-turned-truth, this is your third reason why.
4. It’s important. Television fills our minds with useless knowledge and insignificant lessons that, in most cases, do us very little good. Even shows that slip moral teachings in between the lines of the plot don’t serve to better our everyday lives. But this show – whether you’re a teenager or a parent or a two-legged homo sapien with air in your lungs – is valuable. More than that, this show has the potential to save lives. It’s okay if you just rolled your eyes. I get it. Highly doubtful that a television drama targeted at teens could have a lifesaving influence, right? Absolutely. I agree. It is highly unlikely. But this show beats those odds. I was a member of the suicide intervention team at my high school and I have to tell you, folks, all those seminars had nothing on the lessons I learned from these 13 episodes. And that’s only one of the topics on which I gained imperative insight. So if you’re not going to watch this show to be entertained, watch it to learn. It has more to offer by that token anyway.
5. It has layers. All shows have layers – that doesn’t mean they’re good. I know. But I’m not talking about sub-plots and twists and hidden messages – although it manages to accomplish all of those things flawlessly. I’m talking about layers insofar as how the underlying message of this show is unpacked. I’m talking about suicide. I’m talking about how neatly and succinctly this show demonstrates that this tragic act is not a single-faceted decision. Rarely, in my unprofessional opinion, is suicide ever the result of an individual event. Rather it’s a final and desperate consequence; a last resort; an exhaustive move that follows innumerable cruel encounters. This show reminds us of that. It reminds us that while suicide is an arguably complex choice that leaves immeasurable pain in its wake, it’s rarely an act that’s unpreceded by buildup.
6. It raises awareness. Of suicide signs. Of rape. Of bullying. Of teen substance abuse. Of male privilege. Of the failures of North American school systems. These are things we hear about every day – in passing. On statement tees. This show lends substance to that background noise.
7. It’s relatable. Whether you’re a testosterone-filled jock, a quiet café dweller, a closeted lesbian, a busy parent, a victim of bullying, a pretty girl, a counselor or a poet, you’ll understand this show on a personal level. If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health or had a tough time making friends, you’ll relate. If you’ve ever loved someone and been too afraid to tell them, you’ll relate. If you’ve ever lost someone, you’ll relate. If you’re anyone – you’ll relate.
8. It’ll hurt you. Seems like a silly point to list here, doesn’t it? Why would you want to engage with something that will cause you pain? But the truth is, we all like to feel that deep twinge every once in a while. It reminds us that we’re human. From the first few minutes of this show, you are hopelessly aware of the fact that Hannah Baker is dead. There’s nothing you can do – or anyone else can do – to change that. That alone will hurt you. As you grow to know Hannah better (and you will), this will only hurt more. You’ll feel increasingly sad. An integral and ironically alive part of the show despite her death, Hannah weaves her tale so poetically that your stomach will ache anytime something happens to her, from the first act of bullying to the pivotal moment that she slits her wrists in the tub. You will feel all of this with her, and it adds a profundity to fiction that we rarely witness.
9. It’ll make you fall in love. Contrary to the pain, the plot of this show is founded equally on love. You’ll witness it onscreen in many forms – parental love, friendship love, romantic love – and, if you’re lucky, you’ll feel it yourself. Through empathy or in its true form, you’ll fall madly in love with Hannah Baker. You’ll fall in love with Clay Jensen. You’ll fall in love with the grieving parents and the students who, like many of us, have lost their way. You’ll fall in love with the reality that people make mistakes and are inexorably held accountable to them. You’ll fall in love with the honesty of the writing, and you’ll fall in love with the very same truths than cause you pain.
10. It’s a cautionary yet beautiful tale. It takes a lot to turn something so dark into a thing of beauty, but the author, Jay Asher, manages to accomplish this in an incredible way. While he originally intended to have Hannah survive her suicide attempt, he ultimately changed his mind, believing that her death would be more powerful – and it most certainly is that. A warning, a tragedy, a love story, a commentary; it is all of these things and more.
11. It’s compelling. We all like a good story. I can talk all day about rawness and lessons and love but the truth is, no matter how important, a story still needs to keep us hooked. This show accomplishes that; I assure you. From tape 1 through to the finale, the suspense will not unleash its grip. While we’re aware of the ending from the beginning, the storyline is woven in such a way as to keep you speculating until the last scene. Yes, Hannah Baker killed herself, but why? Curiousity surrounding death is a vice all of us are guilty of harboring, and this show plays into that with great success.
12. The ending is satisfying. Fragmented but complete, you will not walk away from this show disappointed or unfulfilled. It leaves you without answers, but not in a frustrating way. You will question the messages that are procured by the plot, not the plot itself. A cliffhanger in its most complete and lyrical form.
13. It clings to you. As if it merges with the air you breathe while you watch it, this show gets under your skin. It leaves you motionless as it takes its clutch – on your mind, on your heart, on your soul. It will make you wonder. A lot. It will make you cry. A lot. It will make you squirm and turn away, only to draw you in again. It will make you dwell, long after the final credits roll. It will make you feel. It will make you hurt. It will make you think. And at the end of the day, I’d say that’s the whole point.
Emily Watson is a freelance writer and certified yoga and medical Qi Gong instructor. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature and has been writing – creatively and otherwise – for ten years. Off the mat and away from the keyboard, Emily can be found hiking, camping and traveling with her wife and fur babies. She currently lives and works for a publishing company in Peterborough, Ontario.