Netflix debuted 13 Reasons Why on Friday. I liked it a lot, particularly for the lead performances by Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, which covered for some structural flaws. Now that people have had a chance to see it, I wanted to bring up some points, with full SPOILERS for the whole season, that I couldn’t discuss entirely, or at all, in that earlier review, coming up just as soon as I find a friend who somehow still has a Walkman that I can steal…
I know that the way the Internet content game works, I should probably have 13 points to bring up, but since one of my concerns with the show is that there were too many episodes, I’m going to trim it down a few. In fact, let’s start there:
1. The season should have been shorter.
“13 reasons/tapes = 13 episodes” makes perfect sense on paper, especially in the TV business, but man did this season get sluggish in the middle, with some stories not being rich enough to carry a whole episode. At a minimum, Brian Yorkey and company could have condensed 13 hours down to 10 by combining Jessica and Alex’s tapes into one episode, Tyler and Courtney’s into another, and Marcus and Zach’s into a third, since there’s so much overlap between the events of each of those pairings. (Similarly, the three episodes set at Jessica’s party could maybe have been merged into two, but the things happening there were big and important enough to justify the breathing room.) Or perhaps there could still be 13 episodes, but some ran a half hour or less? Would anyone miss the rock climbing interlude if i just went away? And whatever nuance a character like Zach might have gained by having a whole hour to himself wasn’t worth the sense of padding and repetition and fake foreboding as other characters warned Clay about what would happen once he listened to his own tape. And speaking of which…
2. Nobody needed to warn Clay about his tape!
This was by far the show’s biggest narrative flaw, as Tony and various members of the jock goon squad suggested that all his vigilante stunts would go away the second he heard his own role in this little tragedy. (And Tony, who was more plot device than man for most of the season, also kept cryptically suggesting that Clay might want to ease off until he listened to his own tape.) That is placing an enormous burden on the episode where he finally hears his tape, and one that the actual story — where even Hannah absolves him of guilt almost immediately — in no way lives up to. Yes, Clay might feel guilty for the role he unwittingly played in Jessica’s rape (tenuous at best) and Jeff’s death (a horrible quirk of timing), but nothing on the tape implicates him in a way that would make him stop his crusade. Just dumb, and the most Pretty Little Liars of the whole thing.
3. The show did NOT flinch when it came to depicting Hannah’s suffering.
Both her rape by Bryce and, especially, her suicide in the finale, could have been depicted obliquely, perhaps by just showing the very start of each terrible act, and then the dazed aftermath (Hannah staggering away from Bryce’s house, Mrs. Baker finding Hannah in the bath). We would have understood what happened and felt terribly for Hannah (and for her parents). Had the creative team stepped carefully around the violent horror of both events, I wouldn’t have necessarily blamed them, and the season still would have been powerful.