13 reasons why season 3 review: Netflix series tries to be a socially relevant murder-mystery, but fails
If 13 Reasons Why continues to a fourth season, it stands the risk of becoming another Riverdale.
You know you're a legit 30-year-old, when a show like 13 Reasons Why just plain frustrates you. Every subsequent episode I saw of the latest season, I had one crucial query/concern: "why aren't these kids going to an adult about their issues of life and death?"
If you're a fan of the series (and its dark themes that rely on abnormally self-important teenagers), the good news is season 3 is slightly better than season 2. It's...watchable, to say the least, but my tolerance for substandard shows is very high. Not everyone may have the patience for this season of 13 Reasons Why, which is still exploitative (to a point of almost becoming a formula of the show), and will trigger some viewers. It has 13 long episodes, and not one will answer your fundamental question: why is there a third season? So unless you're writing a review for work or hate-watching it, I would not recommend 13 Reasons Why season 3.
If you're still interested in Clay Jensen, Bryce Walker, Jessica Davis, Justin Foley, Alex Standall and the rest of Liberty High — for whatever reason (no judgment) — here's a quick lowdown on what the third season entails.
Season 3 is mainly narrated by a new character, Ani Achola (Grace Saif) who starts school at Liberty High and gets sucked into its controversies. The trial between the school and the Bakers (over Hannah Baker's suicide) has just ended, and Bryce has moved to another school, Hillcrest High. Ani, who is of Kenyan and British descent, is the daughter of Bryce's grandfather's nurse, so she lives in the same house as him. Her conflicting relationships with Bryce (who she forms a consensual relationship with) and Clay (with whom she has a hot-and-cold, are-they-platonic-or-not sort of friendship) forms the crux of the story, which ultimately leads to the main draw of this season: Bryce Walker's murder.
The narrative is divided into two timelines: post-Spring Fling — when Tyler Down has a mental breakdown after a sexual assault episode and ends up at the school with guns, before Tony and Clay take him away — and present day. The present timeline starts off with Bryce missing from his home after the Homecoming game (between Liberty and Hillcrest). All the boys in the school sport multiple injuries from that night, signalling something serious happened during or after the football game that eventually led to Bryce's murder.
With the help of slick flashbacks and some impressive visuals, Ani becomes the primary narrator voice in this season, as it inches closer to revealing who killed Bryce. Each episode toys with a new angle or theory — because naturally multiple people would have a reason to kill a violent and arrogant rapist. Clay, Tony, Zach, Alex, Tyler, Jessica, Justin are all suspects, and 13 Reasons Why takes its own sweet time to get to its (underwhelming) climax.
Along the way, there are small vignettes that toy with relevant themes: deportation, drugs and addiction, gun violence, teen pregnancy, rape culture. While handling these themes, the series' intent can be seen. 13 Reasons Why has its heart in the right place, but in a bid to be binge-able (courtesy: Netflix) and edgy, it toes the line and caves into becoming triggering and exploitative.
The show gives ample space to a new side of Bryce: someone who is coming to terms with his mistakes and trying to better himself and his situation. He's shown to be a loyal friend and a caring son as well. But why the series chooses to do this is puzzling, since they keep dropping hints about his inherent dominant nature. He is an entitled white boy who doesn't really understand consent, and it is important to ask, as a viewer, why the show spends so much time trying to show us his better side.
The question that the series is interested in presenting to its viewers, instead, is this: what happens when a rapist is murdered? Does he deserve justice and/or a voice? Does it matter that he is capable of being a decent human being? We see this conflict through two characters: Monty (anyone who has seen season 2 would know he's the real "villian" of the show); and Jessica, who comes into her own, and whose arc is one of the rare good things about this season. She owns her body, and turns her rage into productivity by becoming the student council president and promises to end rape culture. But when Bryce is murdered and her peers don't care for his death, she asks herself the tough questions.
To its credit, 13 Reasons Why season 3 keeps you guessing till the end about who the murderer is. It is also heartwarming to see all these teenagers form a genuine bond, and stand up for each other in trying times, especially if you've been watching the series since its spectacular season 1 (sigh, it all went downhill from there). Now if only it had shorter episodes and a more holistic approach to high school issues.
If 13 Reasons Why continues to a fourth season, it risks becoming another Riverdale.