The absence of Hannah Baker is palpable, although the series is high on drama and loaded with relevant topics. But the real question is - Is it worth it?

13 Reasons Why Season 2 Review The series reveals all its dark secrets
Flix Netflix Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 18:43

*Spoilers ahead

In 2017, when Brian Yorkey’s adaptation of Jay Asher’s bestselling novel Thirteen Reasons Why made its debut on Netflix, it was an instant hit across the world. The series delved into the life of Hannah Baker, a student at Liberty High School, and her struggle to find love and relationships, left a long-lasting impression.

It wasn’t just yet another teenage drama about how hard life at high school is - 13 Reasons Why did not just underline the trials and tribulations of a young woman, grappling with loneliness and heartbreak, but was also a scathing commentary on the bullying and systematic lack of failure to address the issue that has taken a toll on thousands of students across the globe.

The first season followed the journey of Hannah, as she explains several reasons and introduces people at her school who were either partially or directly responsible for her suicide. However, it never found its closure and towards the end of the series, we are left with quite a few questions - will Hannah’s parents sue the school for their negligence or will they reach a settlement? How will Clay Jensen, a friend of Hannah's, come to terms with everything that Hannah confessed in her tapes? Who’s responsible for Hannah’s suicide?

The second season of the Netflix series delves into all these questions and tries to weave an elaborate story behind the toxic culture in Liberty High School. In the process, it veers far away from the original story to give a wholesome picture of the events that led to Hannah’s suicide.

One of the reasons why 13 Reasons Why (Season 1) worked so well is that it made us sympathise instantly with Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford. Her loneliness in a world filled with people who are mean and opportunistic couldn’t be more stark, but more than that, it was about a young girl questioning her faith in people around her. Except for Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), who loved her unconditionally, Hannah’s tryst with her fellow students almost always ended in a tragic way.

After portraying Hannah Baker as a victim, the second season shifts its focus on the students on the tapes and slowly, we begin to realise that there was more to Hannah’s story than what she revealed in the tapes. We are told that she was still in touch with Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn), despite what he did to her in the beginning of her school life. And more surprising is the fact that Hannah and Bryce Walker were friends for a little while, long before she bears witness to his monstrous side.

But all this pales in comparison when we hear the nature of relationship which Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler) has with Hannah Baker, which prompts Clay to ask, “Could it have been me, if I was around that summer?”.

In its pursuit of truth and connecting the dots, 13 Reasons Why Season 2 distorts the image of Hannah Baker that we have formed so far, and there lies one of the biggest issues with this new season. It makes you wonder if it was really necessary to reveal all the details about her life that the first season never addressed.

If the idea was to give a deeper understanding of the events that led to the tragedy, then this just doesn’t make any sense. Her absence from the series leaves a big void, but Brian Yorkey, who adapted the series, finds a clever way to keep us thinking about Hannah through Clay’s eyes. However, the void is too big to fill, even when you see bits and pieces of Hannah’s life coming together, and it makes you restless after a point.

To be fair, the show runners also highlight Hannah’s flaws - that she herself was a bully in a previous school and she ended up doing things which one would come as a big shock. This new perspective on who Hannah Baker really was slowly degenerates the impact of the story itself, but in the process, the series also turns more dramatic especially in terms of how it treats the characters coming to terms with their shame and guilt. This is what salvages the show after the first few episodes which struggle to rise up to the occasion.

Two episodes in particular, one which focusses on Zach Dempsey’s version of what happened to Hannah, and student counsellor Kevin Porter’s (Derek Luke) confession are thrilling after the initial lull in the series. To see a grown man breaking down into tears, in a courtroom, when he comes to terms with his guilt is easily one of the defining moments of the series.

Since the narrative is flipped from how Hannah sees the world around her to how the world saw and treated Hannah Baker, the second season expands into the nature of relationships between various students in the school. For instance, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) learns from her new friend Nina Jones (Samantha Logan) that she can’t let her past define who she is; Justin’s newfound respect for Jensen’s family makes him yearn for a better life; Dempsey learns to speak up; and Marcus confesses what a monster Bryce Walker truly is in front of the entire school, after he’s forced to choose between his friend and his future.

And then, there’s Tyler Down’s (Devin Druid) meltdown from being a misfit into a teenager who’s utterly confused about how to vent out his frustration. As unnecessary as the first few episodes of Season 2 might seem, 13 Reasons Why manages to tie its loose ends to give a clear picture that high school is a brutal place, which takes a major toll on the lives of students.

Neither their parents nor the teachers themselves are aware of what happens in the alleys at school, and it brings up another important question - Who’s responsible when something goes terribly wrong?

The series also does a fine job in breaking down the overwhelming support that athletes get from the school authorities and how it leads to some of them turning into bullies, since there’s no one around to question their authority. As it reaches its season finale, 13 Reasons Why makes its intentions clear that it’s not going to restrict its environment to addressing mental health issues and bullying in schools. And in doing so, it leaves us stranded in the middle of the road because it’s not the same anymore. It was always about Hannah’s life and the people who failed her, but the more we delve into Season 2, it shifts the narrative to Clay and Bryce and his acolytes and turns the series into a reflection of the harrowing gun culture and sexual assaults in schools and colleges in the US.

There’s one particular scene in the series which is bound to make you squirm and it’s an image so disturbing that nothing will prepare you to deal with it long after watching the show. The second season might have built upon the foundation which its predecessor had laid down, but the new structure and themes that it addresses take the series into a different direction altogether. And towards the end, when you see that it isn’t going to end soon, it makes you seriously question - is it even worth expanding the series long after Clay Jensen tells the whole world how much he loves Hannah Baker?

For me, that’s where the series reaches its finish line. But then, the temptation to continue milking a popular series is hard to resist, I suppose.

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