‘13 Reasons Why’ de-mystifies suicide

Series examines sexual assault, slut shaming


By Reggie Santini, Spotlight Editor

Most of us can agree that high school was not the best time of our lives. We struggled to find ourselves, and dealt with low self-esteem and all the drama that raging hormones cause.

The struggles of being a teenager in the Facebook era are now amplified and broadcast to thousands in a matter of seconds.

Everything from receiving a failing grade to slipping and falling on wet grass is constantly being shared for the world to see and comment on.

The reality is that teenagers have always been horrible to each other. Add in the fact that kids today are able to easily bully each other from the anonymity of their computer and you find yourself holding a much larger, squirming sack of problems.

Whatever your reason is for hating those four long years of your life, you can bet that Netflix’s latest series, “13 Reasons Why,” will have a character you can relate to.

The series begins a few weeks after the suicide of a junior classmate Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford).

The series unfolds with the narrative help of 13 cassette tapes recorded by Baker before her suicide. The 13 episodes of the series represent the 13 tapes, which deal with the excruciating details and buildup to, and aftermath of, Baker’s suicide.

The tapes give insight into Baker’s mind. They allow viewers to experience 13 impactful moments in her life. By stepping inside her head they are able to connect with the character on a personal level.

Viewers experience everything from her thoughts about the cute boy in her class to her growing insecurities regarding her body. We get to be part of the happy and sad moments, like when she kisses the boy she likes, or when she is shamed and laughed at for things she did not do.

Baker’s story is tough to watch, but it raises awareness of many taboo topics.

Bullying, rape, sexual assault, slut shaming and many other forms of abuse are all represented in this show.

As someone who grew up with HBO, I believed graphic scenes of violence did not have much of an effect. However, after watching the rape scenes of Baker’s best friend Jessica Davis, and of Baker herself, my opinion changed.

As we are forced to watch a helpless, drunken and almost blacking out Davis be raped, we are left with a lingering feeling of sadness and helplessness.

This feeling is only mirrored and multiplied when we are forced to watch Baker raped by the same person.

The camera stays focused on Baker’s face for the majority of the scene. We witness her fists slowly give way and her body go limp as her rapist continues to force himself on her. We are forced to sit and watch as her body goes limp and her head scrapes against the cement boarder of the hot tub with each forceful thrust. Her face goes from shock and despair, to the still gaze of a girl who has just had the essence of her personhood murdered.

The harrowing scene leaves a melancholic and vile feeling within its viewers.

And thanks to the many talented directors Netflix provided, each topic is handled with respect and the purpose of raising awareness and putting a stop to it.

The tapes eventually end up with Baker’s classmate Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), who is struggling to cope with Baker’s death.

Jensen is the physical driving force of the series.

Guided by Baker’s tapes, Clay takes us on a haunting journey as he looks for answers and retribution for all the horrible things done to Baker.

One of the most jarring results from Baker’s tapes comes from Clay’s development from an awkward introvert into an outspoken fearless teenager.

As Clay listens to each tape we are further introduced to the multiple layers of each character. The cast understands the material being dealt with.

Each actor in the show does their part to bring one of the diverse characters to life.

The more viewers learn about each of the people who came in contact with Baker, the more they see how the show paints these characters as real humans, not just two-dimensional characters.

No character is inherently evil or good, despite some of them making truly abhorrent decisions. Each motive and action comes from something deeper than just being bad.

As viewers watch the emotional and physical abuse of Baker, they see Langford’s amazing portrayal of Baker go from a happy, up beat student to a shell of who she was. She is able to display the sadness and hope her character faces in a fantastic portrayal.

Minnette does a great job of playing the stoic and troubled Jensen. His portrayal of the grieving friend who might have something to do with Baker’s suicide is a treat to watch. Minnette nails the paranoia and thirst for retribution perfectly.

As the story unfolded, and I learned more about each character, I found myself feeling pity for them. I even began to understand the reactions they had to specific situations.

This especially comes to mind thinking back on the story arc of Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn).

Foley, a character I hated from the start of the show, slowly turns from a douchey jock into a victim of poor upbringing and abuse.

Jay Asher, who wrote the book on which the series is based, serves as its main writer and does a fantastic job. There have been many teen dramas, but never one with such believable characters.

As the plot progresses, viewers are introduced to the adults who failed Baker.

The program shows viewers that teenagers are not the only ones to fall prey to the unhealthy social hierarchy of high school.

Counselors and school officials fear dealing with subjects that could lead to potential negative attention to themselves, their star students or the school. Baker’s story gives us a horrifying look at the helplessness that teenagers can feel when those who have been given charge of their lives fail them.

The show doesn’t hold back. It is stark and often difficult to watch, and has little closure.

By showing the buildup and aftermath of those types of abuses, alongside its amazing cast, “13 Reasons Why” is able to elevate itself above the average teen drama.