The second season of 13 Reasons Why does an incredible job at evoking emotion and conversation. One of the main strengths about this season is the outstanding character development. The show’s creator, Brian Yorkley, will make you feel connected with some of the major characters as they try to overcome their battles with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress order. Although the main cast delivers some fantastic performances, there are a few unnecessary sequences that make the show seem unrealistic at times. Instead of having a satisfying conclusion, the second season ends in a forced and rushed manner that might make you question whether it is necessary for the show to continue. Despite some of these issues, the second season proves to be relevant as it showcases a powerful message to people who are struggling with mental health issues.
Last season, we were introduced to Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a 17-year old girl who recorded thirteen tapes for some people at her high school, explaining why they were the reasons that she decided to commit suicide. After she died, her parents, Andy and Olivia Baker (Brian d’Arcy James and Kate Walsh), sued Liberty High, blaming Hannah’s school for allowing their daughter to be bullied. This season focuses on how Hannah’s trial is affecting her family and friends. What makes this season refreshing is that we are now seeing the other characters’ viewpoints. Throughout each episode, a different character is testified in court and must explain details about their relationship with Hannah.
One of the highlights in 13 Reasons Why is the relationship between Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) and Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn). Last season, these characters despised each other. However, they decide to join forces when they realize that their common goal is to take down Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice), who raped Hannah and Justin’s ex-girlfriend, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe).
Flynn is this season’s breakout star, proving that he can add an unexpected depth to his character. He perfectly portrays the struggle of being a drug addict. The topic of addiction is featured when Justin is shown to be using heroin to cope with his depression. You will root for Justin as he tries his best to stay clean. You will also love Clay for trying to help his former enemy recover from his addiction. The transition of the relationship between Clay and Justin from rivals to close friends is realistic and enjoyable to watch. Flynn and Minnette are a wonderful onscreen duo, sharing many hilarious and moving scenes together. One of the most pivotal scenes in this season features Justin being there for Clay when he has a mental breakdown. Flynn and Minnette deliver amazing performances in this scene. When you hear the panic and worry in Justin’s voice as he tries to help Clay, you will be proud that he has grown into becoming a compassionate and loving character.
Alisha Boe also shines as Jessica Davis. Last season, Jessica discovered that she was raped by Bryce Walker. This season shows how she is struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Boe’s performance as a sexual assault survivor is both heartbreaking and realistic. Yorkley is successful at utilizing scenes that represent Jessica’s anxiety, showing why Jessica becomes uncomfortable when she sees Bryce in the halls and how afraid she is to sleep in her own bed. Boe delivers an accurate portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder when Jessica begins to have flashbacks of her rape while she is changing in a mall dressing room. Boe’s acting in this scene is powerful; the tears flowing down her cheeks as she hyperventilates feels so real. You will feel for Jessica when she describes her pain to a group of other sexual assault survivors: “I just feel him all the time. If I kiss someone, I can feel his breath. If I touch someone, I just remember trying to get him not to touch me.” Although this scene might cause you to feel emotional, you will be proud of Jessica for opening up to others about what happened to her.
Like the first season, the second season makes great use of incorporating flashbacks throughout Hannah’s trial. These flashbacks add interesting details to the story as Hannah is shown having new interactions with the other characters that were featured on her tapes. Langford’s performance in these scenes are impeccable and shows that her character still has an important role to the story. A new addition to the show features Hannah being a ghost to Clay. Throughout the season, Clay hallucinates and imagines himself talking to Hannah, asking her many questions as the trial goes on. The addition of Hannah being a ghost was obviously a tactic for Langford to appear in more scenes. However, these scenes with Clay and Hannah are unnecessary because they don’t add depth to the plot. Although Langford and Minnette have an undeniable chemistry, most of these scenes are cringeworthy. The flashbacks that feature Hannah are already good enough for the show because they reveal new mysteries, which makes sense for Langford to appear in these scenes.
The dialogue in 13 Reasons Why is effective and displays a great message. One of the most emotional scenes in this season is featured when Hannah’s mother shows Clay a note that Hannah wrote before she died, titled “Reasons Why Not”, explaining her reasons of why she should choose to live. Kate Walsh’s emotional performance in this scene contributes to the overall message that this season is trying to convey when her character tells Clay: “No matter how many reasons why, there are always more why not.” This scene is significant because it feels like a response to the critics and viewers who have argued that the show glorifies suicide. People who are struggling with depression can relate to this scene as Hannah’s mother expresses how there are many reasons to keep living instead of giving up.
A major weakness in the second season is introducing new storylines that are not interesting. Although the season as a whole is strong, it seems like the show keeps trying to find ways to extend the series, which feels pointless. The second season finale feels out of place because it desperately rushes to display a controversial ending that will shock viewers. Instead of delivering a powerful cliffhanger, the finale feels anticlimactic.
The amazing character development makes up for some of the unnecessary sequences. Fans will be able to relate to their favorite characters from the show. Miles Heizer and Ross Butler give amazing performances as Alex Standall and Zach Dempsey. Their redemption arcs are some of the best storylines in this season. The adult cast also shine too, notably Derek Luke as Kevin Porter, along with Kate Walsh; their emotional scenes are powerful and feel genuine.
Like many critics and viewers, I thought that the first season of 13 Reasons Why should have initially been a stand-alone series. And while I don’t think that a third season is necessary, I’m glad that there was a second season because it has a powerful message that will further many conversations. There are some graphic scenes that may be traumatic for some viewers to watch. Yorkley stated that these scenes were shown to demonstrate how young people experience many difficult and undeserving situations in society. The greatest message this season expresses is that suicide should never be the answer, showing how everyone is worthy of life. The show teaches how there will always be reasons to keep living and that things will eventually get better.
Justin Coloyan is a blogger for CSUITEMUSIC.
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