Hey, it’s Jose. Jose Lopez. That’s right. Don’t adjust your screen. Get a snack. Settle in. ’Cause I’m about to go off on how the hit Netflix teen drama 13 Reasons Why went completely apeshit crazy.
Now that it has wrapped up its fourth and final season, if you’ve managed to complete this unapologetic delirium of a show (and I hope you have, because you’re about to get spoiled), then you already know what I mean. The show is no stranger to controversy ever since its debut by tackling many unspoken real-life issues, primarily suicide, in its first season. Once the show went beyond its first season, and the novel it was based on, it seemed like the writers couldn’t quite crack how to keep it going for another few seasons and decided to just make the randomest shit up as they went along.
Below is my list of 13 things that I can’t believe this show got away with and how they completely missed the mark:
We’ve seen Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) hallucinate the ghost of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) in the first two seasons. However, by the time we get to the final season, everyone is downright tripping balls. Clay, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), even newcomer Winston (Deaken Bluman) are all just hallucinating the ghosts of Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) and Montgomery “Monty” de la Cruz (Timothy Granaderos) and no one seems to notice or bat an eye to the fact that everyone is experiencing the exact same thing? What the hell is in the water at Liberty High School?
12. Case Closed?
We spent all of season three wondering who killed Bryce — the rich, drug dealing serial rapist of Liberty High. What we get are these endless loops of episodes that set up someone as a suspect but by the end, we find out that they didn’t actually do it. It becomes so frustratingly repetitive that by the sixth episode it already had me screaming, “Shut the fuck up, we know you didn’t actually do it!” And rightly so, since we don’t actually end up finding out who did it ’til the finale and by then everyone just ends up being OK with framing Monty.
11. Horrible Parents
This show is chock full of terrible parents; no wonder these kids are all mentally unstable. Justin Foley’s (Brandon Flynn) mom and stepdad were physically and mentally abusive junkies. Bryce’s parents ignore or deny the red flags that their son sexually assaulted several women. Deputy Standall (Mark Pelligrino) literally helps his son cover up a murder. Clay’s parents (Amy Hargraves and Josh Hamilton) only seem to give a shit in the first few seasons, when their son has actually done little to nothing wrong, but say little in the final season when he’s actually mentally unstable and going around like he’s one step away from becoming a serial killer. We find out that Monty’s dad is abusive and homophobic in season three and clearly doesn’t care about his daughter, Estela de la Cruz (Inde Navarrette) either, as he decides to send her to the same school where her brother sexually assaulted another student, without thinking about the repercussions.
10. Along Came Ani
In season three, we’re introduced to the character of Ani Achola (Grace Seif). She seemingly takes the place of Hannah as our narrator that season, so we experience events from her point of view. What seems so unbelievably ridiculous about her involvement is that she starts out as the new girl in school and ends up intertwined with all the drama of the main characters of the first two seasons. And I mean ALL the drama — so much so that fans of the show unequivocally hated her character in season three. Ani is the new kid in school, but for some reason, she is immediately focused on some rich white boys, who have literally gotten away with serial rape and murder. With Ani being one of the main characters, we’re given no real backstory other than she is an immigrant Black girl and she has changed schools a lot. Maybe if we had gotten more of her background, it would have allowed us to make more sense of her inexplicable involvement in everyone else’s mess.
9. A “Fake” School Shooting
In the sixth episode of the fourth season, Liberty High goes on full “Red Alert” as there’s an announcement of a school shooter and everyone needs to hide and block all doorways. Faculty and students are terrified as they hear gunshots on school grounds and someone trying to open the blocked entryways. Everyone’s already on edge based on the several tragedies that have already occurred at this school, but then it turns out that this “shooting” was just a drill issued by the principal. The gunshots? Came from military officers there for the drill. ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME? A school has a mock shooter drill and no one knows it’s fake? The principal and the school would be sued almost immediately. And how come no students called the police or their parents?? One of the many baffling choices this season made.
8. Standing Up To Others..But Not Yourself
A long-running theme in seasons two and three was that you should say something and stand up to your friends if you knew they did something wrong. Jessica was a strong proponent of this when calling out the Liberty High football team for knowing about Bryce’s past transgressions of taking advantage of unconscious girls in the equipment shed behind the field. She even created an after school group of survivors of sexual assault to protest and make sure that Liberty High remains a safe space. That all sounds fantastic, but then her whole spiel that the football team should have spoken up about Bryce gets really hypocritical when her and our other main characters covered up Bryce’s murder by framing Monty. I get that they were both terrible people, but the show tries to take the high ground and decides to stoop to their level by having the whole “stand up to your friends” theme only apply to rape but not murder. OK then…
7. We Need To Talk About Tyler
Tyler Down (Devin Druid) has been through quite an ordeal on this show. He started out as that creepy kid that took inappropriate pics of Hannah in season one. In season two, we felt for him as he got relentlessly harassed by Monty, culminating in being sexually assaulted by him. This irreparably broke him and led to assembling different guns to shoot up Liberty High. Luckily, Clay was able to stop Tyler from shooting up the school dance at the end of season two, when Clay and Tony Padilla (Christian Navarro) disposed of his weapons. However, when Tyler’s firearms were fished out of the water at the end of season three, it led the audience to believe that this would be a major plot point going into season four. NOPE! Alex Standall’s (Miles Heizer) dad actually helped Tyler convince Sheriff Diaz (Benito Martinez) that the bag was stolen and the Evergreen Police Dept. even hired Tyler as an informant. Hell, Tyler even got involved in a failed sting operation, where surprisingly nobody ended up shot or dead.
6. Alex’s Bogus Journey
Alex has been through one of the strangest arcs on this show. At the end of season one, he felt guilty about Hannah’s suicide and seemingly tried to commit suicide as well at the end of that season. It was impactful and left us wondering what happened to him coming into the next season. At the beginning of season two, we find out that he survived and went into physical therapy with Zach Dempsey’s (Ross Butler) help and sure, he had some mental and physical injuries to recover from, but nothing that seemed too permanent. In season three, his arc just starts going off the rails as we find out that he got sex workers with Bryce, even though he hates his guts. The kicker is that we find out in the finale that HE WAS BRYCE’S KILLER ALL ALONG! Yet, he seems like the least traumatized by that out of all the other characters in the show. As if that’s not weird enough, in season four they had almost every other character deal with Bryce’s death with Monty being framed for it. Alex? Well, he’s just gay now. Oh and Charlie St. George (Tyler Barnhardt)? He’s gay now, too. They even start dating. That’s it. That’s his whole storyline in the final season. No follow-up about his dad covering up the murder he committed, he’s still kinda mopey, but not suicidal anymore and now he’s Prom Royalty with his boyfriend. With no foreshadowing about Alex’s coming out in prior seasons, it just seems like the writers were queerbaiting with this character. Very anti-climatic.
5. Clay’s Split Personality
Clay has always been a character that gets way too involved in the situations happening to people in his school since Hannah’s suicide. He also seems to keep punishing himself the most for it. He is probably the worst person to trust with a secret ’cause he will take it way too personally. Clearly, it’s taken a toll on his sanity as he slowly starts to unravel and develop a split personality that acts out and unleashes his inner demons. Whether he actually remembered doing any of it or not, Clay did a number on the property of Liberty High in this fourth season. From destroying the hallway security cameras and spray painting “Monty was framed!” on the doors of the school’s main office, going full on American Horror Story during a school camping trip by scaring his classmate, to his piece de resistance — blowing up Principal Bolan’s (Steven Weber) car amidst the chaos of a school riot.
4. Sudden Death
It was established that Justin had a long period of drug addiction in his life. Coming from an abusive home, Justin had a drug problem and performed sexual favors in exchange for money or drugs, mainly heroin, so it wasn’t really surprising that he developed AIDS as a result in the final season. What WAS surprising is that it went from pneumonia-like symptoms to full blown AIDS in what seemed like a few days, which led to him dying, almost instantly. What makes this so surprising is the fact that advancements in medicine have helped increase the life expectancy of AIDS patients by several years. It seemed like Justin’s death was just there to add some tragedy back into the show and bring everyone together just for the sake of it. I guess they just decided to abandon their other storylines this season. His death is especially shocking considering that Tyler survives a suicide attempt where he tried to shoot himself in the face with little to no visible scarring. Clay and Zach even survive an insane, multi-flip car crash with minimal scratches, something that you’d typically only find in a Fast and Furious movie. At this point, I’m kind of surprised Bryce actually drowned considering how these kids can survive even the most ludicrous scenarios.
3. How To Get Away With Murder
Monty was another despicable character on the show that relentlessly harassed Clay and his friends, while remaining loyal to Bryce ’til the end. In the third season, Monty commits suicide in prison for having raped Tyler. After that happens, our protagonists and Alex’s dad decide to pin Bryce’s death on him, cuz you know, he was a shitty person anyway. We ended that season with the tease that Winston was going to expose the group for pinning Bryce’s murder on Monty, since they were secretly together during the night of Bryce’s death. Throughout the entire final season, the crew is under the constant threat that Winston was going to expose them, but when Alex finally came clean to him in the series finale, it didn’t matter as much since they had a brief fling earlier this season. According to the actor who played Winston, he was never really going to the cops. All he wanted was the truth. That doesn’t change the fact that Alex murdered him and got away with it, despite so many people knowing the truth. Even Sheriff Diaz hinted knowing that Deputy Standall was covering for his son, but he was cool with it because “a father’s love is a fierce and complicated thing.” Ok buddy, sure.
2. The Redemption Of Bryce Walker?
Bryce Walker was a piece of shit. No disagreements there. Even his ghost/hallucination was a complete douchebag. We spend the first two seasons diving into why Bryce is such a despicable human being and we hated him for getting away with Hannah’s rape with a very light punishment, similar to that of a certain other real life case. It’s no surprise that when it was revealed that season three revolved around his mysterious murder, no one shed a tear. Not a single one. What was, in fact, an interesting (yet somewhat misguided) decision, was to show flashback clips in season three to the time before his death, where we see him growing and learning from his mistakes. You almost don’t know how to feel about it. This character has been nothing but grotesque and unremorseful for his actions. For the past two seasons I haven’t hated a fictional character more since King Joffrey on Game of Thrones. Yet in the third season, we see him accept his faults and own up to his mistakes…for the most part. All that character growth and development is quickly cut short in the final episodes of season three, when he reverts back to his old self in the moments before his death, so we don’t feel bad when Alex pushes him to a watery grave. My question is, what was the point of trying to make us sympathize with him if he’s just gonna revert back to his old, unbearable, white privileged, pompous self again? It basically negated all his actions we had seen throughout season three.
1. The Curious Case of Clay Jensen
Clay went from being a main character to empathize with to just being the absolute worst. Somehow he always seems to look more guilty than he actually is. In season one, he went around with a “holier than thou” attitude towards everyone involved with Hannah’s tapes and everyone’s rebuttal was that he hadn’t even listened to his own tape yet which was somehow worse than what everyone else did…only it wasn’t. Literally his only part in Hannah’s suicide was that he didn’t do anything because he should’ve somehow known to ask Hannah if everything was OK. In season three, he acted way too suspicious about Bryce’s murder even though he wasn’t physically there when it happened. However, things really took off in the final season. Clay walks into the school carrying a knife and covered in fake blood after a prank the football team played on him to confess to Monty’s framing.
While the fake school shooting was extremely traumatizing, Clay, per usual, took things to the next level by grabbing one of the officers’ guns and waving it around trying to prove how guns don’t make anyone feel safe. He was apprehended and taken to a hospital. When he woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed, it seemed like he was finally getting the help he needed, but then he snuck out of the hospital very easily by literally pooping the bed. Hell, he even entered into the police precinct with his hand in his pocket, pretending to have a weapon. Instead, he just got a big hug and was told everything was OK and that did the trick, which is pretty much the type of treatment that white males would get in that situation. No one seems to care about those GIANT RED FLAGS and see him as a potential danger to others; everybody just ignores it as classic Clay behavior. In fact, everyone in the school so completely ignored Clay’s crazy tendencies over the past year alone and somehow decided that this guy — the guy that waved a gun in the air and set the principal’s car on fire — should be voted the class speaker. C’mon…
Overall, this show went on for waaaaay longer than it should have. The first season had a controversial, yet real world perspective on suicide awareness. After that, it seemed like the writers of this show had no clue how to proceed. It should have stayed as a miniseries since season two is just an unnecessary expansion pack of season one that only serves to set up bigger things in season three that hardly ever come up again. In the third season, this show goes full on Riverdale but with a terrible murder mystery that just makes us hate all the main characters. Then the final season goes completely batshit crazy, pours gasoline on itself and lights itself on fire with a nonsensical series of events that amount to almost nothing. The REAL lesson to learn from this show is if you’re going to tackle very delicate real world issues, it’s important to be mindful of how it comes across and that it is actually believable in context. In the end, if we don’t believe these scenarios are realistic and if the characters are unlikable then it doesn’t matter how strong your message is.