So first up I need to throw out a big ole spoiler warning for 13 Reasons Why season 2. If you haven’t seen this yet and think you might one day. Please save this article for afterwards. Not only will I spoil some stuff for you – this piece really requires an understanding of the season as a whole to be read and understood. Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you again soon.
So, I have written and re-written this piece 4 times over the last couple of weeks. Primarily because the first two versions read far too close to what basically amounted to me having a whinge about creative differences with a team who are clearly more successful than myself. That is not a look I have ever wanted for myself, so those two drafts were out. The next one just wasn’t punchy enough – because make no mistake this is a topic about which I have more vitriol than I want to admit to.
I have a serious amount of time for the TV adaptation of 13 Reasons Why. Or rather, I have had that time in the past. The final scenes of season two have made me reconsider my position on the show as a whole – or at the very least how I view its messages. I thought that season 1 and the way it dealt with depression, suicide and rape was bold, confronting and important. The series and its creators didn’t seem to be cowed by the fact they were marketing very heavy, very involved discussions to a vulnerable audience. They didn’t seem interested in babying the future generation of adults. Nor did they seem interested in continuing the worrisome trend within modern society of allowing the infantilization of our youths to continue far past a point where such practices are useful. Season one famously broke a number of guidelines about depicting suicide and rape in media in order to drive home the true, brutal and lifechanging impact that these events can and do have on individuals and groups. Season 2 continued this trend almost all the way to then end. And then pulled its final, and I think, most valuable punch.
Despite continuing to strive boldly in showing the horror of rape and systemic protection of rapists in a realistic and informative light, season 2 of 13RW seems to have no real interest in exploring other significant issues despite having spent considerable time over both current series developing a B plot around Tyler as an emerging school shooter. This is where my break from the show has begun to emerge.
After seeing the initial set up in season 1 with Tyler’s large chest of weapons and seeing how he was routinely mistreated by the bad ‘Jocks’, the heroic outcasts and the broader school community I had an inkling that this would be developed as the series went on. Lo and behold, THE B plot of season 2 centred on how the type of routine abuse that Tyler was subjected to; abuse that seemed to fall beneath the radar not only of the school as an institution but of people who had told Tyler they cared lead to a serious break for this young man. This culminates in him being all but abandoned by anyone even resembling a friend in his life, regardless of social ‘station’, and literally sodomised with a mop handle in a truly brutal attack that bears the shows signature dedication to making the audience feel the true impact of teen issues. After this Tyler goes home and in his pain and true misery, seemingly plans to conduct a shoot-out at the prom that night
Now when I say that seeing so much time and effort put into building this plotline ‘excited’ me – I feel that I 100% need to clarify, I wasn’t excited to see simulated tragedy. The thing that had me so excited was the idea that a powerful voice in the ongoing #metoo movement was willing to show that despite having a significant portion of the current public attention that there were other sinister issues that needed to be addressed within western society. Issues, which much like rape and rape culture that have festered in the darkness of social invisibility. I was excited that a sane and rational voice from within a movement that can currently be described as ‘powerful’ was willing to reach in and elevate the visibility of another issue that we need to face together before we lose more young people to tragic and avoidable deaths. I was excited to see such a nuanced degree of self-awareness from a portion of progressive society that has, in my opinion, languished in retributive justice ideology and reactionary philosophy for far too long. I was excited to see a group of people with a platform willing to share that platform with others, equally at risk as themselves and boldly tell the world that it was time for us to face another demon.
But they balked, they choked – they copped out. Dues Ex Machina. Clay talks Tyler down – an M16 pointed at his head, whilst Tyler is literally still bleeding from his anus as Clay does so.
Yes – this might still encourage some discussion on a critical issue. Yes season 3 might spend some significant portion of its runtime on exactly this issue. However, the refusal to take Tyler’s plot through to its ‘full’ horrific end state, in a show that has not pulled any punches to date on horrific tragedy and violence smacks of disingenuousness within the creative staff. It says, to me at least, that this issue isn’t as important to the creative staff as Rape, or suicide. I simply cannot accept this. Not after having seen so much potential in the character arc that had been established for Tyler and the type of revelatory message that was ‘lost’ with this ending.
Just before I binged through season 2 of 13RW I happened to watch the Munk debate on political correctness. During this debate – Stephen Fry admitted to being afraid when he made public statements on his position. This shocked me, as within the conduct of the debate both the for and against members expressed a considerable love and respect for Fry and his personal philosophy. Fry has always seemed to me to be a fairly beloved centre in debates around touchy subjects, so to hear him espouse fear was truly unnerving. This ‘fear’ is the only way I can make sense of why 13RW took the easy way out at the end of season 2. It felt as if the creative team behind the show had bowed to this great fear that Fry had hit on. Either because of the minority of shrill reactionary members of the #metoo community that wouldn’t approve of a voice in their court sharing ‘their’ spotlight. Or because of equally shrill gun positives within the broader US community shouting the show down for perpetuating violence ‘myths’. In either direction a show and a creative team that had for 2 years not pulled a punch in their crusade for nuanced and real discussion around some of the biggest issues affecting our young people backed away from that quest at the exact moment I had hoped they would double down.
It leaves me feeling – horribly, truly – hollow. Like even those voices within our social narrative that have the power to truly say something, do not have enough strength to rise above the maniacal forces of single issue zealots, people obsessed with a retributive system of social justice or those who have a vested interest in preserving a monstrous status quo. And, I just do not know beyond screaming into my own corner of the internet abyss and trying, desperately, to open up some of these discussions about what we can do to fight for a world that we want. What we can do to send the right messages to finally create a world we can be proud of.