Some Thoughts About 13 Reasons Why (Season 4)
Some Thoughts About 13 Reasons Why (Season 4)
In its concluding fourth season, the controversial and problematic series “13 Reasons Why”, originally based on the young adult novel “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher in 2007, continues past the Netflix’s first season’s direct adaption of the book. At its release in 2017, the sensitive subject matter (of teenage suicide, rape culture, lack of accountability for ones’ actions, etc.) and and the series’ writers execution of that subject matter have constantly been under scrutiny as well as praise from critics, mental health professionals, and average watchers alike. With the second season released 2018, because the Netflix writers had no more source material to depend on, a general negative response was received as a result of where the team took the characters and their newfound experiences from the death of Hannah Baker, the story’s lead heroine who tragically committed suicide due to “thirteen” reasons she explains on a set of tapes that place the blame (or at least, force to be accountable) on her fellow peers.
Up until now, the story of Clay Jensen, the narrator and lead male character who loved Hannah before her passing, and the other named students from the tapes have been chaotic and messy, to say the least. This concluding season is no different, nor does it leave behind some bizarre and aberrant circumstances and situations these poor haunted teenagers are forced within. Of course, this was expected, given the curse of the previous seasons, where an incident plagues everyone implicated in a heinous but somewhat (justified?) act, that a newly introduced character has the power to unravel. So, we have an antagonist to our group of protagonists alongside petty but angsty squabbles between characters as they approach graduation from high school. It is the same concept as seasons two and three, except minor differences in those character interactions and Clay Jensen, who has gone from tormented guilty good-boy to schizophrenic amnesiac adrenaline-junkie. The sudden heightened level of pettiness and the blatant unsupportive nature of Jessica Davis towards her friends is baffling, especially after remembering the absolutely atrocious experience she has gone through. These characters, who we’ve come to know and maybe root for, are put in strange scenarios that deviate from their character growth thus far. Some aspects of this season, and especially the third reason, contradict the message of the first season by forcing the viewers to empathize with the antagonists (the rapists, the bullies, the wrong), while simultaneously infuriating casual and engrossed fans of the show with their poor portrayal of the characters’ actions (murder, rape-baiting, gun-violence).
I understand the writers’ intentions with these mixed-messages: exhibit how there is always grey between black and white and everyone, especially young, stupid, and scared teenagers, make mistakes. However, that message is rendered ineffective given how almost no one of the so-called “good-guys” face consequences for their actions. You’d think Clay would be getting exhausted carrying so much plot armor around. In season four, things just happen and they graduate. That’s it. Nothing comes of the season three introduced antagonist. Nothing comes from ridiculously outlandish behavior Clay exposes to his friends and the school. Essentially nothing has come from the death of Hannah Baker, except slight character development (and the one character with the most development is suddenly killed off in the finale at a desperate last resort for the writers to force the viewers to be sad and cry and “be sad at this undeserved and medically ridiculous death”). The taboo and not-as-talked-about themes of this show, I appreciate. The representation of the LGBTQ community, I appreciate. The actors/actresses great performances, I appreciate. The writers’ attempt to keep the show interesting enough to watch but true to toxic high school form, I appreciate. But it has become so unsettlingly bizarre, that it is incomparable to the first season. Rather than these issues of mental health, drug abuse, rape culture, and sexuality be handled properly, with shrewdness and professional/realistic intellect, they are fed to us with seemingly no consideration or concern outside of making entertaining media. Which is a shame because, regardless of your feelings of the series overall, it has started a discussion that perhaps wasn’t being understood, looked into, or talked about enough to and for everyday teenagers that could relate to the characters or Hannah Baker, as well as adults with adolescent children of their own.