The Netflix original series ’13 Reasons Why,’ about a teen who leaves tapes to explain her suicide, will be back for a second season.
I’ll admit it: I saw through all 13 episodes of the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why. When I was in college, I took, as an elective, a class on the sociology of suicide. It was an interesting class that looked not only at the statistics behind suicide but also society’s reaction to it.
One of the most interesting facts I learned was that many of the people who actually make the decision to kill themselves don’t give outward signs of it: they’re more likley to hide their plans rather than to “cry for help” as many suggest. Some may actually seem to get a bit happier (or at least slightly less stressed out) before they kill themselves out of the “relief” of having finally made the decision.
I was somewhat surprised (though not really) to hear that the show will get a second season on Netflix. More on that in a few moments.
If you’re the type who doesn’t like spoilers, you’ll have to click away now because I’m going to reveal a few of them…but only vaguely. Maybe it’s not a spoiler at all to reveal the opening premise: that Hannah, a female high school student, decides to record cassette tapes explaining the reasons she’s going to kill herself and arranges that the collection of tapes be delivered to each of the 13 people she claims are responsible. Clay, the star of the show, is one of the people who gets the boxes of tapes, and he’s the main one who’s trying to get to the bottom of the truth and make sure whoever is really responsible is exposed.
It’s an odd story when you think about it: one protagonist, Hannah, is already dead by the time the series begins, so it’s difficult to pull for her since there’s no “saving” this character. It may feel good to people who’ve considered suicide to know that she’s still having an impact after she’s gone and she’s still causing angst to people she feels wronged her.
But that’s only when you can get past the “Poor Me Syndrome” that inundates this series. In pointing her finger at more than a dozen around her, she conveniently forgets to point at the 14th reason: herself. Regardless of how much angst she feels, it’s still true that she’s the one who made the decision and carried it out. No matter how much pain or how many slights she felt at the hands of others, she and she alone made the decision to end her life. That she blames everyone else and not herself is typical of many of the people who attempt suicide.
The other protagonist, Clay, the “survivor,” is the one who’s trying to get to the real truth, trying to figure out who is ultimately responsible (other than the girl), so that that person can face some kind of justice. Even though he’s trying to be the hero, he’s the victim, too. It’s the 11th episode of 13 before we finally get to his tape, and Hannah comes right out and says Clay doesn’t deserve to be on the tape.
But he is, anyway.
It’s the classic “I’ll show them” feeling that everyone who’s contemplated killing themselves feels, even if only for a moment. It’s the feeling that may give that person temporary satisfaction.
I’ll make a little confession here: when I was in college, I tried my hand at writing a novel. Trust me: it’s a novel that’ll never see the light of day because I wasn’t pleased with it. It focused on two best friends, one of whom had decided to kill himself. My attempt at a novel, just like the 13 Reasons Why series, forces the audience to switch its allegiance back and forth between someone who makes a selfish decision and, therefore, can’t be saved, and someone who knows something’s wrong but can’t act quick enough to stop it, making him a victim and failure.
I realized after I’d written it — I wish I’d realized it sooner — that I was setting the audience up for a letdown. It was an unsatisfying ending because little or nothing could have prevented it.
I had a flashback of this sensation as I watched this series. The only surprise was that this series seems to have pulled in so many viewers. But it didn’t make me regret, even for a moment, not doing something with that little 1991 literary project of my own.
’13 Reasons Why’ Gets Second Season
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a show that pulls in a large audience will return. But it’s a bit of a surprise here, since, after listening to 13 sides of the seven cassettes Hannah left behind, one wonders what’s left to tell.
(One also wonders how many high school teens still use cassette tapes, but that’s another story.)
Deadline reports Season 2 will pick up in “the aftermath” of Hannah’s death and “the start of the characters’ complicated journeys toward healing and recovery.” Yes, that’s really the only place they can go, since most of her backstory was already dealt with in the first season.
The Hollywood Reporter listed five questions that were still left floating around in the minds of viewers by the time they made it through the final episode. Among them, whether another character’s gunshot wound at the end of the series was self-inflicted or caused by another character who was shown buying a gun and explosives. Explosives? Where’d that come from? Is there going to be some kind of bombing?
Nowhere in their list of questions was there any mention of the cassette tape thing, so maybe that was just me.
But one of the leading criticisms of the series, predictably, wasn’t about the storytelling. It was all about paranoia.
People feared that a series about suicide would make people commit suicide.
It’s a common concern. It pretty much always has been: if we don’t talk about suicide, maybe it won’t occur to anyone to actually kill themselves. It’s as if we think that no one who might be depressed enough to commit suicide would ever realize it was an option until someone said the word, then that person would just run right out and do it.
It doesn’t work that way. Someone who’s likely to commit suicide has already considered that option long before most of us would ever bring it up, and often, long before any of the rest of us realize the person is upset enough to think about it.
The Canadian site CrisisCentre states it this way:
There is no research evidence that indicates talking to people about suicide, in the context of care, respect, and prevention, increases their risk of suicidal ideation or suicidal behaviours.
Further, it makes it clear that talking about suicide openly allows potentially-suicidal people know that they don’t have to be and that there are others in their lives who care and want to help.
The National Institutes of Health likewise has tried to investigate the common myth that talking about suicide can lead people to commit it. They reviewed any available research on that topic:
Our findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce, rather than increase suicidal ideation, and may lead to improvements in mental health in treatment-seeking populations.
Maybe it’s time that we stop hiding in a fear that keeps us from bringing up the subject and start reaching out to those near us who we worry about a little more often. Maybe that level of concern is what might keep those people comforted more than you or they could imagine.
If a television show can start those kinds of dialogue, that should be a good thing.
Perhaps it might even be a life-saving thing.
That might be worth 13 episodes of viewing.