When I was a junior in high school, our school president committed suicide. It was an event that is crystallized in my mind. He was smart, funny, well-liked, good-looking and he was loved. Before he died, I remember there being times I felt so tired, so sad that I would think, no one would miss me if I was dead. After Zach died, I never thought it again.
13 Reasons Why follows that aftermath. It follows those who are left behind. And it asks, how do you get to a place where it feels like there’s no other choice?
The story follows Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), a socially awkward young man, who loved a girl named Hannah Baker, played by newcomer, Katherine Langford. When the story begins, it’s been two weeks since Hannah committed suicide and Clay receives a set of cassette tapes (which immediately endeared me to Hannah because she forced everyone to figure out how to play these tapes). The tapes are Hannah’s story, from her point of view, of what led up to her suicide and the people who failed her along the way. As Hannah says, if you’re on the tapes, you’re one of the reasons why she’s dead. And that’s devastating to Clay.
The first four episodes focus on those who set Hannah on this path: Justin (Brandon Flynn), Jessica (Alisha Boe), Alex (Miles Hezier, Parenthood) and Tyler (Devin Druid). As we hear the tapes, we see Hannah reaching out to make connections and being slapped down. There’s the boy who betrayed her, the friend who abandoned her, the friend who made her a target, and the boy who made her feel unsafe. And in the background of it all is Clay. Listening to Hannah’s words rocks Clay’s world and makes him question how he saw all these events. He becomes anxious and paranoid as he realizes how many other people have listened to the tapes. And all he wants to know is what he did.
As far as the structure of the series, each episode is formulaic, but compelling. It opens with a voiceover from Hannah and some revelation by the end. It’s a testament to Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford’s acting, as well as the writing that elevates this topic beyond something trite. Although we’re following Hannah’s story, the series is pulling together the threads of bullying, sexual harassment, shaming, and rape culture. Half the time you’re yelling at Clay to listen faster because you want to know Hannah’s story as much as he’s trying to avoid it. 13 Reasons Why will take you on a wild but unbelievably sad ride. And it just gets better.
Beyond the remarkable job this show does at setting up the story, the audience will feel compelled to continue bingeing by the end of these first four episodes. Hannah’s story is intense and because Clay hovers between curiosity and avoidance, it just whets the audience’s appetite for more, as does the betrayal of those around her and the hints of who else might be on the tapes. Also, Christian Navarro is a standout as the ambiguous Tony. His determination for Clay to get through the tapes vacillates between menacing and encouraging but you can tell that he’s the only trustworthy peer Clay has. The adult supporting cast is also outstanding anchored by Kate Walsh playing Hannah’s mother. The next four episodes are sure to be even more intriguing.
13 Reasons Why
S1E1 - S1E4
13 Reasons – S1E1-4 – Tapes 1 & 2 | Starring: Dylan Minnette, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn, Miles Heizer, Kate Walsh. Derek Luke and introducing Katherine Langford