NOTE: This post contains discussion of suicide. If that is upsetting to you, this post might not be for you. Please proceed with caution.
Here is a short opinion post. My opinion is: a couple of the common criticisms of the new Netflix show are incorrect and are the result of either a) an inability to see nuance or b) watching the show from like two rooms away while also maybe wearing sound canceling headphones. I don’t address them all because I tried and I got too mad, so instead here are some vague talkings-about of reasons why I really like this show (sadly not 13 reasons), starting with a quote from Jay Asher (author of the book the show is based on):
“Regarding the subject matter: A close relative of mine attempted suicide when she was the same age as Hannah. Thankfully (and luckily), she survived. Over the years, we discussed the events and emotions that led her to make that decision. But she could never talk about one specific circumstance without telling me what preceded it or what followed. That idea that everything affects everything, as Hannah says in the book, intrigued me.”
The snowball effect, Hannah calls it in the book. And I’ve seen posts calling the show’s approach to depression and feeling suicidal simplistic, which I find frankly bizarre, as the main conceit of the show is to demonstrate that everything is complicated and everything had repercussions that you cannot necessarily predict. Rather than one simple event driving Hannah to the point of ending her life, it is a series of interconnected events creating feedback loops that gain immense power over her life. It’s not one person calling her a slut; it’s a reputation that, given the society we live in, suggests to some people that Hannah might be someone they can take advantage of. Someone who will be “easy”, give them what they want. And after a while, it’s a vicious cycle, the rumors feeding people her way who are not interested in her as a person, only as an object – and the same people perpetuating the rumors when they don’t get what they want. She becomes an easy scapegoat – for Courtney, the crazy lesbian who wants a threesome, shielding Courtney from having to come out, for Justin, proof of his sexual prowess, for Marcus, a psycho drama queen who wouldn’t just be chill and let him fondle her under a table (like a cool girl would). And fighting back against that just makes more people think she’s weird or dramatic.
The effects of her suicide, and the tapes, are not minimized. And the effects aren’t always good. Leaving a suicide note is certainly a striking way to get your message out, but it’s also got some pretty major flaws. No chance to change what you said; no chance to hear the other sides of the story. And no chance, no chance to help the people you just dropped a bomb on. Did Hannah want Clay to stand at the edge of a cliff, thinking about jumping off? Did she want Alex to shoot himself in the head? Did she want Jessica to have to relive and relive her rape, knowing that so many uninvolved people now knew about it? Probably not. But those were all consequences of her actions. She, after talking about the choices people make, the effects they have, becomes a reason why Alex puts the gun to his head. Being depressed, suicidal, is a strange state of mind. You get self-centered. Everything is a personal affront. One of the strengths of Thirteen Reasons Why is that it shows this clearly: Hannah is a hard person to be friends with. She’s a lot of work, she freaks out all the time, she makes everything about her. Dealing with a person who is in a dark place is hard, and people in that state of mind are not always fair or just or good, and that is a necessary part of any conversation about mental illness. By killing herself, Hannah lost the opportunity to make it right with some people. Most importantly, she lost the opportunity to make it right for herself. She deserved that opportunity.
So many writers pull their punches, and I am unambiguously glad that the writers of this show did not. The scene showing Hannah killing herself is graphic, brutal, and upsetting. And necessary. Suicide should not be hidden behind a tasteful fade to black or pan to the side, but should be shown for what it is: violence. And no less violence for being inwardly rather than outwardly directed. Here, there is no mystery, no illusions. We, the viewers, watch Hannah die, alone and in pain. We watch her face, her eyes. Is she regretting it? Does she, in that moment, wish she could take it back? I remember hearing somewhere once that many people who have survived jumping off a bridge realize, halfway down, that all their problems are solvable. Did Hannah realize that, once she had made the fatal cuts? We don’t know, and will never know. But we have to consider it. We have to witness her pain, the effort of each breath as she dies. The camera doesn’t pull away when we want it to. That’s how it is in real life; there’s no fade to black when you slit your wrists or swallow pills. Without that scene, it would be more comfortable. But it would also be less true.
In the end, Dorothy Parker says it best:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
If you’re feeling suicidal or just need someone to talk to, help can be found here.