When I first noticed 13 Reasons Why was recommended for me on my Netflix account, I decided that it looked ‘too heavy’ and continued to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, a few days later, all of my friends began talking about how hard-hitting the show was and, most importantly, how realistic it was. They raved about the cleverness of the tape-watching process, the character development and the agonising sadness of the final episode. After hearing all of this, I decided that it would only be right to jump onto the bandwagon. Shortly after this, I then started to see articles flying around Facebook stating that the show ‘glamorised suicide’ which, personally, I feel could not be more wrong.
For those that have not seen 13 Reasons Why, it involves the protagonist Hannah Baker telling the story of why she decided to take her own life, through a series of thirteen tape recordings. They detail the people that were there for her, the people that let her down and how she ultimately felt that she had nobody left in her darkest moments. Most of the people in her videos are totally aware of what they have done, such as Justin, who makes up what he believes to be a harmless rumour and inadvertently makes school a living nightmare for Hannah. However, there are others, such as fellow co-star Clay, who are not sure why they are on the tapes at all. This is where the realness lies for me: Clay did not physically hurt Hannah, nor was he obviously mean to her. He simply let her down by believing the rumours about her without asking her side of the story. Also, when he could see Hannah being excluded and singled-out in the school corridors, he chose to watch, rather than comfort her. I realise that it can sometimes be easier said than done to be somebody’s hero, and even easier to assume that you will tell someone how you feel ‘later’. Sadly for Hannah, she didn’t have that much time.
When it comes to Hannah deciding to take her own life, 13 Reasons Why makes it extremely clear to us as viewers that this is a last resort. It is not an impulsive decision, it is carefully thought-out when she realises that she feels that there is nowhere else to turn. It highlights the very important factor of schools doing little to nothing to prevent bullying until it is too late, and also the ever-relevant topic of rape and sexual assault not being taken seriously. After Hannah is assaulted by a boy in her year at school, she is informed by her school counsellor that, unless she can give the boy’s name, she should ‘move on’. Surely there would have been countless things that the counsellor could have suggested to help but, due to his tactless behaviour, Hannah decides that she has no other options left. It is heartbreaking to see the look in her eyes as you realise that she has made up her mind. After taking razor-blades from her parents’ pharmacy, she is seen running herself a bath and getting into it in all of her clothes. She is not wearing a romantic, lacy white dress as the word ‘glamorous’ suggests, but her jeans and T-Shirt. The actual suicide scene was probably one of the most distressing viewing experiences I have experienced in my life; it looks extremely physically painful, and has a heart-wrenching finality that is not usually shown on TV. There is nothing about this scene that would encourage anybody to do something this drastic, nothing about it that makes it look romantic or remotely appealing. It is a lonely, isolated and uncomfortable end for Hannah Baker, topped-off by the fact that her parents obviously have to find her at some point. You have grown attached to her as a viewer, you now care for her. Watching her in her final moments makes you desperately wish that something could have gone differently for her, that somebody would have reached out.
I feel that the decision to have the character of Hannah end her life was the right one. It highlights just how serious and hurtful words can be, even when you think that you are simply making a joke. It forces you, as a viewer, to wonder whether you have ever made anybody feel as isolated and alone as Hannah did, and vow to never take anybody for granted again. Hannah taking her life shows that bullying and sexual assault are not topics to be taken lightly, and must always be dealt with immediately and as effectively as is possible. It is bittersweet that the programme suggests that just one kind word, one supportive act from a friend would maybe have been enough to change Hannah’s mind. Opportunities to make people happy are always available and, after watching 13 Reasons Why, I will not be letting them pass by again.
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