Thirteen Reasons Why is Haunting for the Right Reasons

If you’ve watched Netflix in the past week or so, then you’ve probably noticed (and hopefully watched) the new show Thirteen Reasons Why. It boasts Selena Gomez as an executive producer, and a talented cast that includes Ross Butler of Riverdale and Kate Walsh from Grey’s Anatomy. The show is an intense exploration of suicide, its causes and repercussions. Despite the graphic scenes and hard-hitting issues such as rape and drug abuse, it is an important show. Thirteen Reasons Why takes us into the dark, sometimes hopeless world for some that is high school. The main character Clay Jensen receives a series of tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a girl who has killed herself and leaves the community reeling. Clay was her friend, and harbored a quiet love for her. So when he starts listening to the tapes that explain the thirteen reasons that pushed Hannah to take her life, he feels overwhelmed. Each reason is a different person who said or did something to Hannah that negatively affected her life, and ultimately, her death.

Each episode takes Clay back through Hannah’s memories, tracing the painful path to her final choice. Seeing this path through her eyes as well as through those who hurt her gives a lot of insight. It makes you think carefully about what you’ve said or done in your life that could have hurt people. It’s incredible how even the simple act of passing someone every day without saying hello can affect them. Hannah tries to reach out— to her parents, her peers, her counsellor— but they brush her off, and some of them cut her out of their lives. She begins to feel isolated, wishing for someone to be there and understand. If only we all had the courage to see these isolated people and be their friends. Who hasn’t been there at some point, after all?

That seems to be the point of Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s not that every person on the tapes directly killed her or that the outcome was inevitable. The truth is that, although the morbid tape recordings and suicide were Hannah’s choice, they could have been prevented if someone had simply listened to her cry for help and reached out.

At the beginning, Hannah seems to be so strong and unbreakable, which makes her easy to root for. However, each episode (and reason) reveals how the things people do or say can add up and destroy a person’s life. From the beginning, Clay’s friend Tony tries to guide him through his grief over Hannah. His words are powerful: “She killed herself, Clay, that was her choice. But we all let her down. We didn’t let her know that she had another choice.” Thought-provoking. People need to know that they have another choice. They can fight, and they need people to fight with them. We need to be kind and empathetic, and reach out to those who might be struggling. We need to hold ourselves accountable to the people around us whose lives could depend on a kind smile or gesture. Hannah’s story is disturbing, but we need to see it. Her character is haunting, and maybe that’s just what we need.