How 13 Reasons Why stands firm in its motto of 'love over hate,' despite grave personal loss, mental trauma
The 13 Reasons Why season finale says very less in terms of plot progression, but speaks volumes on mental health
Fraught with controversies and a heavy dose of morbidity, 13 Reasons Why has always been a necessary evil in terms of content. Dealing with a range of subjects, essentially ‘teen issues’ the likes of which include bullying, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, assault, and sexual violence, the Netflix original series always seemed to have its heart in the right place, despite the narrative hiccups over its four seasons.
The final swansong comes in at an appropriate juncture when the Liberty High clique tries to cover up the murder of the show’s main antagonist Bryce Walker (Justin Wright Prentice). The season finale says very less in terms of plot progression, but speaks volumes on mental health and tries a sincere hand at decoding the struggles that teens undergo while coping with trauma.
Having always treaded the edgy path on mental health (even to the point of criticism sometimes), the final climax fits well with the series’ main narrative voice. While season three chose to put the wrongdoers under social trial, the finale deals with the aftermath of the choices that were made by Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), and his band of trusted confidants. As the impending threat of an exposé looms large over them, each tries to battle their inner demons and hold on to the remaining shreds of sanity, miserably failing. In choosing to bear the characters' vulnerabilities even while the season draws to a close, the makers probably aim at portraying a realistic picture of what suffering feels/looks like. No one goes unscathed, and each character endures personal hurdles.
The protagonists seem to battle life on a daily basis after the unfortunate series of cyberbullying and assault, of sexual harassment on and offline, of anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies caused by abuses stemming from casual sexism, homophobia, and sometimes misogyny.
The Guardian provided a much-needed insight into why teenagers across the US were continuing to consume the show and what revealed in its studies was the simple fact that high-schoolers related to the toxicity that brewed beneath the seemingly-innocuous veneer of friendly wokeness.
Understandably then, season four sees Clay, Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler), Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn), Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), and others completely unravel to the point of confronting threatening hallucinations and combating dissociative personality disorders.
Not even 20, these ‘young adults’ are thrust into an atmosphere of extreme pain and helplessness as the school and parental authorities clamp down on their lives through GPS trackers, security cameras installed in campus grounds coupled with armed guards that blithely channel their racial white supremacy over students of colour.
13 Reasons Why holds true in terms of narrative progression. While introducing viewers into Clay and Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) problematic world in season 1, audiences were given a glimpse of the atrocities that the 16-year-old girl faced, slowly and surely pushing her over the edge to commit suicide. While season two dealt with Bryce’s botched up trial, three involved itself in his retribution (of sorts).
Despite rampant criticism that the show truly “lost its plot” when they took the road to depict Bryce as a troubled teen instead of a sadistic rapist, the season and thereby the creative team, probably gave him an equal shot at redemption.
Moreover, the fact that he reverts to his impulsive and hurtful self during his last moments, is probably reflective of the constant back-and-forth that becomes a natural side effect of healing. With the character’s untimely death, the makers presumably harped on the fact that ending someone’s life can never be the solution, whatever the circumstances.
The finale acts as a final nail in the coffin, where the group let their guards down and ultimately reveal their less-than-moral sides to further emphasise the societal pressure that they tackle every day.
Mutual bonds are called to question as the explosive truth lurks behind shared whispers and frightened glances, students are forced to face their mammoth fears even at the cost of losing to them, and the show’s world develops a claustrophobic grip on the audience’s senses as the protagonists gasp for a way out.
But all is never lost, much like Clay’s graduation speech during the show’s climax, they survive because they hold on to the love they feel, which assures them that working their way through the internal adversities will ultimately be worth it — that even if peace comes at a cost, it’s always better than collective chaos.
Friendships stand the test of time, working as the glue that prevents the broken structure from falling apart. The characters choose to shed their haunting pasts as they turn a new leaf with college life.
13 Reasons Why never had an easy field to play in, but the makers firmly decide to not sugarcoat hard realities while still functioning within appropriate creative limits.
The show never claimed to lighten the blow, but it manages to paint a picture of hope and togetherness that is determined to break through dark, isolated corners of minds and reach out for support. High school may never get easy, but it’s always necessary to tell the world ways that it actually might, through such important shows.
13 Reasons Why streams on Netflix.
(All images from Netflix)
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