Rumors speculated for years that this would become a movie, then a tv show, that Selena Gomez would star as Hannah and then finally that Selena Gomez and her mom were the people who would finally bring it to life in a 13 episode Netflix series. Even post-teen Rubi was excited. Here are my thoughts on the series that contain much spoilers so beware:
Casting: I really want to applaud the casting for the show. Each character was spot on, but spot on for 2017. Jessica could have easily been a pull out from a B rated Disney show of blonde white girlness, but instead she was Alisha Boe - a Somalian & Norwegian actress. She was the popular cheerleader with frizzy curls and I respect that. I was pleasantly surprised that the actor playing Alex, wasn't over masculine to fit into the stereotype. It was refreshing to see what an actual hipster teen in 2017 looks like who can wear a septum and skinny jeans and still be straight and it not be an issue. There was much diversity across the board.
LGBTQ: We need to give a pat on the back to this show for so many molds it broke with LGBTQ characters. There were three gay people in the series and it was refreshing to see that they didn't interact in really any way and that neither of them DIED. Tony doesn't even out right need to discuss his sexuality until episode 11 I believe. Courtney's struggle with her sexuality was so interesting because at one point Clay mocks her fear of coming out since she has two dads and Ryan mocks her for the same reason on the premise that it's 2017 and she needs to get over it. In the grand scheme of things, they're trying to get the point across to her that her parents and peers are going to accept her but it's important to see that she still isn't ready for that and how the battle is within her. It's less about the fear of everyone else accepting her but herself accepting her and I think a lot of times that gets missed with portraying gay characters on tv.
Rape and suicide scene: It's important to know that in the book, Hannah does not slit her wrists but rather she takes a bunch of pills and the whole act of her suicide is vague on the details. The show however had one of the most graphic scenes of her slitting her wrists and sitting in her bathtub and having her be found by her parents. Watching this scene, I could feel myself not breathing because the intensity of it. I once did a paper about how the heart's conflict with tragedy and why we don't look away when we see painful things - like a car crash and I thought of that when watching this scene. I did not want to look away but I did not want to watch the reality in front of me that people do to themselves everyday. When her mom finds her, she's in obvious disbelief and continuously says that Hannah is going to be fine and seeing the five stages of grief start in front of your eyes had me sobbing. As far as the rape scene, in the episode "Beyond the Reasons," a kind of behind the scenes look at the show at it's conclusion, one of the people who worked on the shows says that they wanted to make the camera stay on Hannah's face during the scene for just long enough to be uncomfortable. You watch as the life literally leaves her face as she's being raped and they discuss how a lot of people describe traumatic events like this as an out of body experience where they're aware of what is going on but since they go into fight-freeze-or-flight mode, the most common one to fall into is freeze.
Mr. Porter: We've heard this case before about a teacher or some form of supervision on someone whose committed suicide knowing about a struggle they were having and possibly being the one that could have saved them. A lot of times, they're portrayed as villains who just don't give the person struggling the time of day. They're busy, or they don't care but that's not always true. I loved the final scene with Mr. Porter and Hannah, where she comes to him as her "last chance at life." and he essentially doesn't know how to help her with what she's putting on the table because it is authentic. The way Mr. Porter responds was an accurate portrayal of how we are conditioned to deal with a girl discussing possibly being raped. It's uncomfortable, and most people want to think that rape is easy to detect. You should know with a firm yes or no whether you gave consent right? Unfortunately the world is a lot more gray that we'd like. Another point they make in the "Beyond The Reasons," episode is that Hannah sets Mr. Porter up for failure when she goes into his office. He wasn't going to change her mind unless he had a hail mary of knowing her plan. It's irrational, but suicide is irrational and we don't like to accept that. That doesn't mean that the way he handled the situation was right - telling her to move on wasn't okay but I loved the scene because like I said, it felt real and this probably happens everyday in different schools. This scene stresses the importance of treating people with kindness and detecting warning signs everyday, not just on their hard days when it might be too late. Mr. Porter throughout the series is the kind of educator we want, he cares and is more involved in the kids' lives than he has too and I don't fault him for the one conversation he has with Hannah where he's less than what he'd like him to be. Putting that kind of responsibility on someone just doesn't make sense but understanding that at the same time is important.
Things that took me a second to get on board with:
The interaction between the people on the tape: Watching the first few episodes, I was confused on how long it was taking Clay to get thru the tapes. In the book, he binges them all and the whole story plays out with Hannah's story telling on the tapes. In theory, I thought that each episode would just be a flashback as he listened but instead they had a lot of back story. In the series, there is so much interaction between the characters on the tapes. At first, I was not on board with it because it assumed a lot about details and made this alliance between all of the people on the tapes against Clay since we learn that he doesn't really belong on the tapes and could out the whole crew. However, as it progressed, I started to enjoy this more and understood that doing this filled in a lot of gaps and questions I had when reading the book about the other characters. It gave more life to them and helped me understand them more and why they did the things they did. For example, Zach having other issues within himself circulating his loneliness and projecting it onto Hannah.
The lawsuit: When hearing the law suit, I was like what even???? There was no law suit discussed in the book, at least from my memory. At first, I felt like it was just an attempt to possibly have more seasons to something that really should only be one season. However, I realized that by adding the law suit into play, it was giving a narrative severely missed from the book - her parents. It's easy to say that parents are the most affected by suicide and giving them more of a voice is necessary. There's a stigma around parents of suicidal teens but as portrayed in the show, you can tell that these people are not bad parents. They are loving and supportive while also having boundaries. It cuts you deep to see someone commit suicide from a loving home.
Jeff: When seeing that Jeff was the person who died in the missing stop sign crash, I was PISSED. In the book, the person who dies from the book is insignificant to Clay. It's not someone he interacts with on a daily, let alone someone who is actively trying to help him get with Hannah. I was ready to throw my tear stained pillow at my TV and call it a night. I wish I could say that I got more on board with this but other than it being really good TV because it shocked me and made me cry, I don't think it was a necessary part to the story other than to inflict more pain on Clay.
Alex: Alex shoots himself in the head and we only know that he's in critical condition in the conclusion of the series. This is an obvious deviation from the book and I did not like that because in a way, in changes your initial judgement of Alex when you realize that he has a lot of issues to work out too. However, I realized that that is in fact another reality of suicide - the repercussions it has on other people. Alex's guilt becomes him and one thing I really enjoyed was how he was the only one that wanted to own up to his actions. When he has the fight, he says it's his fault. When they talk about the tapes getting out, he yells at the rest of the group about how nothing on the tapes are lies. Something I learned in many of my psychology classes in college was about extreme ways to committing suicide are a lot more unsuccessful than the quieter ones. Alex shoots himself in the head, a way faster way to die than slitting your wrists but somehow (as of this moment at leasts) survives that while Hannah died her slow death.
This got way longer than I anticipated and I have so much more I could say but I'll end it here. If you'd like to discuss the series with me, feel free to contact me. I'd like to hear other views on the things I discussed. Overall, I must say that 13 Reasons Why is a gem. A hard conversation to have but one done right.
If you, or anyone you know is struggling - contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. They have an online chat system if that makes you more comfortable.