Ghostly spectre unconvincing
Warning: This article contains spoilers for season 2 of 13 Reasons Why.
When a second season of controversial teen drama 13 Reasons Why was announced, I baulked. What more could be said about the horrors of modern teenage-hood? A child dies in that show, isn’t that the ultimate price for any society to pay for its hubris?
Apparently not, said Netflix, which launches season two of the show today. Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) is dead. Long live Hannah Baker, says the streaming giant.
The girl whose graphically detailed death was central to season one returns in season two, haunting would-be paramour Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) like some kind of spectral, hallucinatory Greek Chorus to his grief.
Her appearance is a chilling metaphor for the show’s main theme: that our deepest hurts stay with us long after they seem healed; that ‘‘moving on’’ is next to impossible for the traumatised teens Hannah left behind. But, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a safe or healthy image.
For anyone who missed the hysteria, 13 Reasons Why – which includes a graphic depiction of suicide – was so controversial last year that questions were asked in Parliament.
Critics panicked that the depiction of Hannah’s depression and death would prompt copycat suicides. The censor’s office responded by creating a rating especially for the show RP18, and requesting Netflix – which had previously been exempt – use it.
Season two picks up where the previous season left off, with Liberty High and the town of San Luis in crisis.
Hannah’s mother (Kate Walsh) is pursuing a court case against the school for failing to support or identify her daughter as an at-risk student. Her husband (Brian d’Arcy James) has left her and she’s determined to get justice for Hannah.
The courtroom drama is the backdrop for more personal dramas then, as the teens left reeling by Hannah’s death are forced to tell their stories in court.
Still stalking the halls of Liberty High are rapist Bryce (Justin Prentice) and his alphadog pack of jock buddies. Meanwhile, their victims Tyler (Devin Druid), Alex (Miles Hezier) and Jessica (Alisha Boe) are still struggling to make sense of a world that is, despite everything that’s happened, still dumping on them from a great height.
Then there’s Clay, so damaged by the revelations in Hannah’s confessional/ accusatory tapes, he sees her everywhere. A much harder boy now, Clay resorts to tattoos, street art and black clothes to express his anger and alienation.
Like season one, the new season refuses to flinch from the nasty side of teen life, at times serving as an uncomfortable window onto a period most adults prefer to forget.
Clay’s relationship with the ghost-like Hannah, alternating between blame, pity, rage, loathing and love at the kinds of dizzying speed only teenage feelings can muster, is painful to watch, mostly because she isn’t real.
But while an entertaining concept, and one that allows the luminous Langford to return to the show indefinitely, her return undermines the show’s cherished grittiness.
Never letting us experience the gaping hole that suicide leaves behind seems irresponsible. It’s nonetheless compelling viewing, with mysteries to uncover and plenty of shocks. But the drama feels less urgent and more sensationalist this time around. Sure, they touch on online bullying, violence and drug addiction, but it all comes in such a deluge of all round crappiness we’re never given the space to feel the horror of it.
If high school really is a nightmare of rape, drugs and bullying these days, 13 Reasons Why doesn’t make me believe it. Instead, it just feels like overkill.
Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen, A much harder kid in season two, haunted - literally - by his lost love.