Ghostly spec­tre un­con­vinc­ing

The Press - - Entertainment -

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.

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