“13 Reasons Why” Is Messed Up and Bad, Also Has a Lesbian Character

This review is chock-full of spoilers!

As a pre-teen, I actively sought out the darkest, most disturbing young adult fiction available. Suicide, self-harm, eating disorders, partner abuse, sexual assault, drug addiction, alcoholism, chronic illness, death, death, death, car accidents, death — the more depressing, the better. I tried to remember that 12-year-old and her impeccable taste for poorly-written, loosely-plotted deep-dives into the lives of teenagers who burnt themselves with cigarettes and lusted after mysterious boys with abusive fathers as I sat, aghast, through all 13 episodes of 13 Reasons Why, based on a YA novel I will definitely never read but probably would’ve loved in 1992. Would she have noticed, for example, that this show is not only wildly irresponsible, but also just very poorly plotted? (No) Would she have given a shit about Clay Jensen, the unremarkable young man inexplicably centered and valorized at the center of a young woman’s story? (Yes) Would she have only been able to push through past Episode 2 because she wanted to get to the lesbian parts? (I don’t know.)

Ultimately, I’m pretty sure pre-teen me would’ve loved this as much as pre-teens all over the country apparently do love it. As a young depressive with a lot of mixed-up feelings I couldn’t sort out, stories like this made me feel less alone and gave me a reason to be sad/angry/disturbed, which was better than being sad/angry/disturbed for reasons I couldn’t identify, let alone articulate. But I also imagine that I would’ve had to watch this at a friend’s house, ’cause there is no way in hell my Mom would’ve let this shit fly.

13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, who, prior to slitting her wrists in the bathtub (which we witness in its full, graphic glory), recorded 13 cassette tapes, each dedicated to a different person who contributed to her decision to kill herself. Each tape subject is told to listen, then pass on the set to the next. We enter the story when Clay Jensen, #11, receives the box of tapes. Apparently, in the book, he listened to all 13 tapes in one night, like any rational person would. However, in order to turn the book into a 13-episode series, Clay takes long breaks between tapes to hunt down each tape’s subject and confront them about how they hurt Hannah. Many characters ask him or suggest to him that he finish the set before continuing this futile and inexplicable justice mission, but Clay will not, because Clay… is an idiot? No, because Clay is a fictional character, and his slow-listen is an unjustified plot device. That so much of the show’s action rests on this improbable decision of Clay’s is merely the ground floor of the skyscraper of aggravations this show built on the skyline of my week.

Sure I could listen to this, but also it’d make a pretty good coaster

Like many of you, I knew of this show ’cause it’s at the top of the Netflix screen layout and due to the flurry of press coverage about the show’s “triggering” material and its potential bad influence on a teenage audience. I saw the headlines, but never read the articles, and never would’ve watched the show at all if not for the lesbian character I’m ostensibly going to evaluate in this review. It takes a lot for me to declare a show irresponsible or unnecessarily triggering, but holy shit this is reckless.

13 Reasons Why depicts graphic, explicit rape — we’re spared nudity (because that would be inappropriate!), but we’re immersed in unbridled violence. Not only do these scenes run exceptionally long, they’re also re-played, as characters’ memories, throughout subsequent episodes. Fight scenes between male characters, as well as Hannah’s actual suicide, are gratuitously gory. Nearly every teenager in this story is a low-key sociopath, but I was still jarred by a group of 50+ students enthusiastically witnessing a brutal brawl on the pavement, not one moved to intervene. Perhaps they could’ve cut all the gratuitously violent minutes and replaced them with the remainder of every scene that cut off after “I have to tell you something,” which was at least ten scenes. It ends up feeling like emotionally manipulative depression porn.

13 Reasons Why heavily hands us the butterfly effect theory via Hannah’s tapes, and aims to lay bare how a number of small, seemingly “harmless” incidents of cyberbullying, sexual harassment, slut-shaming or teasing can do irreparable damage to somebody’s psyche. It’s a noble enough aim, but the role mental illness plays in suicidality is never addressed. Over 90 percent of suicide victims have a mental illness at the time of death, and it’s rare that any one person, let alone 13 people, are “to blame.” The self-congratulatory commentary from show producers about their exploration of “real issues,” then, falls a bit flat. Most kids without a mental health diagnosis who experience what Hannah experiences don’t kill themselves — and they shouldn’t have to in order for teenagers to get the message that being an asshole is an asshole move.

Hannah’s tapes serve to “out” her various classmates for their negative actions towards her, bringing crimes into the light and forcing them to confront themselves and each other. I can’t think of a greater “fantasy outcome” from suicide than this. I say this as somebody who, as a teenager, had that exact fantasy. Not only are you freed from the slings and arrows of everyday teenage life, but everybody who was mean to you is forced to feel accountable for your demise. This is the text-book definition of glamorizing suicide! (Not to mention the glamour of Hannah herself — a relatively flawless angel, personality-wise, in a sea of teenage filth, as well as the not-incidential fact of her pillow-lipped, impeccably-jawed, princess-haired gorgeous physical appearance.) Hannah spares nobody, not even a fellow rape survivor, from bearing this weight. Bryce, a serial rapist enabled by privilege and jock-entitlement, being the topic of one tape, instead of the whole damn collector’s set, was its own criminal act, I swear to G-d.

To be clear, I’m aware that a lot of TV and movies romanticize suicide. That’s the nature of the beast when the beast is art, and sometimes artists do end up hurting some people in order to communicate a specific truth. But this show actively bills itself as being a responsible look at an important issue, it even justifies its own existence by citing its excellent commitment to dialogue on said issue. There’s a companion documentary wherein the crew pats themselves on the back for 30 minutes for allegedly saving lives.

Remember when Hannah asks Clay “Do you think I could ever be as pretty as Jessica Davis?” and he reacts with a stunned awkward silence as if Hannah and Jessica Davis aren’t both objectively gorgeous and this question would not be at all hard to answer honestly, let alone to lie casually about

I know I said this whole story was about Hannah, who is dead now, but it’s actually about Clay. He’s sensitive, relatively friendless, a little nerdy, awkward around girls, sometimes a spineless moron. You know the type. He’s often spotted lying to one person or another about doing a homework project with one person or another, wearing a band-aid for so many days that his forehead certainly should’ve turned to black mold and fallen off his body by episode seven, riding his bicycle around town like Brian Krakow because he’s not a cool kid with a car. He’s our Piper, the white cis het man at the center of a woman’s narrative. Eventually, Clay insists upon taking full responsibility for Hannah’s death because if he’d only told Hannah that he loved her, she would’ve survived! Clay will heroically avenge her death by yelling at people and mansplaining some really abysmal life advice to various women of color! If Hannah is attempting to teach these kids that they don’t know what somebody else might be going through, that message was certainly lost on Clay. If only I had the patience of Tony, the Latinx gay teenager who endures Clay’s very sub-par tape-listening skills, patiently supporting and guiding him through this emotional journey towards self-actualization for reasons entirely unknown, while meanwhile Clay pays so little attention to Tony that he manages not to notice that Tony is gay. For the first few episodes, I thought Tony might be Clay’s guardian angel, but he turned out to just be a standard-issue Magical Minority Person without supernatural powers.

Oh and there’s a lesbian! Her name is Courtney, she’s closeted and adopted and has two gay Dads and one of them is Ben from Queer as Folk. She’s popular and wants to stay that way. Her storyline starts out innocently enough and then goes bad, fast. After a drunken kiss with Hannah, which is photographed and subsequently sent via cell phone to the entire network of asshats at this terrible high school, Courtney throws Hannah under the bus to keep her own sexuality a secret.

No of course I’m not thinking about Shane right now what do you mean

In a later episode, Courtney defends a known rapist. (She does this during a meeting about top-secret information that its participants are holding, for some reason!, in a popular-amongst-students coffeehouse.) There’s one scene where Hannah’s voiceover declares that although boys can be “assholes,” “girls… girls are evil,” and the girl she’s talking about is Courtney. Just for the record, acts committed by these not-evil assholes include multiple rapes, sexual harassment, groping, spreading false rumors about sexual conquests, spreading sexual photographs taken without consent in order to slut-shame, stalking, beating each other up and planting drugs on Clay to stop him from ratting them out. Sorry but no — Courtney can be an asshole. But a lot of these boys… are evil.  There’s a lot of potential in Courtney’s narrative — as the lesbian child of a lesbian Mom, I can definitively state that it’s a lot more complicated to come out under that situation than people assume. But we don’t get there. What may’ve been her coming out scene is one of the many cut off after she tells her Dad, “I have to tell you something.”

Admirably, the cast is very racially diverse, although this intersectionality is rarely addressed. There are several queer characters — three gay teenagers, two gay adults, Courtney the lesbian, and Hannah being slightly sexually fluid. It also made me cry twice, and the series definitely improved after the first few episodes.

But none of this can rescue the fundamental ridiculousness of the gimmick at the show’s core or its unmindful insistence that this show will not only do no harm, but actively encourage good.

If I ran the world, which let’s be real it’s only a matter of time before I do, this show would’ve been called either “13 Reasons Why Hannah Moved to a Womyn’s Land in Southern Oregon” or “13 Reasons Why Hannah Murdered Bryce but Shouldn’t Go To Jail For It.” Furthermore, Season Two would narrow the show’s focus onto its true shining stars: Laura, the one-episode two-line lesbian in a leather jacket; Tony, and the lawyer played by Wilson Cruz. I’d watch Wilson Cruz lay bricks, to be honest.

This is Tony asking Clay why the show is about Clay instead of being about Tony

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. One of my main questions after watching this show, all serious issues aside, was who is illegally tattooing all of these teenagers?

    • Actually, it’s pretty common in certain schools–mainly places like the inner-city public middle school and high school I attended. “Best Tattoo” was actually a yearbook superlative, and no, it was not an ironic category.

  2. Yes this is all very important. And also can we TALK about the terrible rock climbing?

    Tony BROUGHT A ROPE and then just climbed to the top with it STILL TIED TO HIS BACK until Clay NEEDED TO BE RESCUED because he was climbing without a fucking rope, in TENNIS SHOES, at which point Tony THREW DOWN THE ROPE to him and he climbed his way up it like the Coyote might do in a cartoon. What EVEN.

  3. “It ends up feeling like emotionally manipulative depression porn.”

    Which teenage me probably would have been totally into, as well. But yeah, this was some garbage. Thanks for articulating why so well.

  4. This is terrific, but I also want to say I read the title multiple times as “13 Reasons Why 13 REASONS WHY is Messed Up And Bad,” which would be meta.

  5. Yes. Exactly what you say — this is textbook glorification. I gave it a handful of episodes and could think of nothing BUT “this is the fantasy depressed teens have – ‘I’ll be dead and then they’ll all be sorry!'” and then this show and goes ahead and tells us that fantasy can be ours for the taking.

    As a dramatist myself I’m often very defensive of writers – they’re not doing social work or activism and it’s difficult when everything is seen through that prism with little regard for storytelling. But this one was beyond the pale, even to me.

  6. I’m glad I decided to skip it completely (even before all the articles came out on the topic).

    It’s weird because I too used to crave graphically portrayed acts of disordered eating in the media when I was in the midst of an eating disorder as a teenager. I don’t know why teenagers are like that – looking for stuff that will make them feel more sad about themselves, or intensify the pain? I wonder if this is a similar self-harm mechanism to self-harm, i.e. an attempt to exorcise the pain.

    But yeah, this shit right here is not ok. I wonder if they consulted with mental health professionals when writing the script?!

    Also Wilson Cruz in a brickie’s outfit would be hella cute.

    • I did the same with books, which is why I really question the existence of ED memoirs that spend most of the book describing the disordered eating in detail. The last time I was eating in a disordered way, I read Portia De Rossi’s book over and over.

      • Ugh, queergirl, I do this too with Portia’s book. But also I love it. But also it’s very bad for me. But also good in a “you are not alone” mindset exploration.

    • Apparently they did consult with mental health professionals, and then proceeded to ignore everything they said. :(((

  7. I totally get where everyone is coming from. It is over dramatised, overly hammed up in places. However, I still think it raises important issues. I also still think it gets mental health on the conversation agenda. Hell, we’re talking about it up and down this comments section.

    • It is good to talk about mental health! We should all talk about it more, all the time! But this show doesn’t add anything to the conversation. Hannah is *not* portrayed as having a mental illness, there are no help-seeking behaviors portrayed or any positive interactions with adults or professionals. Also, mental health is very much having A Moment right now in culture and so I think it’s already being talked about a lot, which is (mostly) great although not all of those conversations are productive:


  8. first off, why the fuck do you care of there’s a gay character or not? You’ll have to accept it at least or tolerate it even.

    • Did you read anything at all on this entire site apart from the title of this one post?

    • Don’t let your passions rule you. Calm down, count to 10 and reflect a bit before firing off responses.
      Think of what Tara would want, what she would do.

        • But I feel distinctly not nice :(

          Like I took a cheap shot at scared puppy barking at a household appliance.

          Oh god I’m sad pile of charred marshmallows today, squishy yet acrid and bitter tasting.

    • “First of all, you’re a bitch.”

      Anyone else hearing faint echoes of that Taylor Swift backlash that kept on giving?

  9. Every time this show is automatically suggested to me I am like ‘thank you, but I love myself’.

    As an aside, I read the book when I was also sixteen and suicidal and less prone to finding Clay insufferable or seeing cracks in the plot.

    However, I will say that the book is far better than this show. The practicalities and mechanics of Hannah’s suicide are barely touched upon (something she considered peaceful and least likely to cause pain) and the book is dominated by her narrative. The narrative of Hannah’s life as told by herself is much less dramatic than the events in this show and she seems to be mostly affected not by the events themselves (including a form of violation, but other than rape) but the fact that the events go unacknowledged and uncared for by the people around her.
    At the end of the book, as a reader, I felt that her revenge fantasy didn’t come to fruition (and tape-Hannah seems to suspect this by the end), and that her death was a tragedy and a waste.

  10. Thanks for giving me even more reasons to not touch this show–nevermind that even as an edgy teenager with dysregulated mental illness I wouldn’t have gone near something like it–and also pointing out the flaw in an argument about how a show has a lesbian therefore it’s worth watching. Being triggered isn’t worth seeing lesbian representation, for me anyway. Mileage may vary and all that.

    • There was an excessive representation of Gay boys and very minimal representation of Lesbians. Why was that? Feels like the producers biasness or something.

  11. My apologizes to you Riese, I only got through about half of your article before I had to stop reading, what you said in the beginning half convinced me (as I was on the fence) not to watch this show. I, like many, follow the hype so I started to get curious about this show, I had heard my barely teenage cousins talk about watching it excitedly (behind their parents back) and then my 20-something cousin saying how messed up it was and this article sealed it for me, not watching.

  12. Ah Riese your lede brought me back to this short story outline for comic book format my mind would barf out when ever something with prize male athletes are in the news for getting away with SA.
    Some bonfire party in a clearing deep in the woods with the drink, the football team and SURPRISE they get slaughtered by something deep in the woods.
    Only the vulnerable kiddo whose soda got spiked survives.

    I think what my tired brain is trying to say is that I would watch the hell outta “13 Reasons Why Hannah Baker Murdered Bryce Walker But Shouldn’t Go To Prison For It.”
    Or read the hell out of a fanfic of that.

    Also would read a list of stuff re-titled the way we wish the story would actually go.

  13. This is everything I was thinking through the entire show. Thank you for saying it so coherently!

  14. Finally! All the teachers are reading that novel in English class and I’m just baffled how you can force such a flawed narrative on students, glorifying her revenge.

  15. It’s a TV show. It’s not an instruction booklet on how to complete a successful suicide. Jesus Christ guys. I know for a fact ya’ll have seen worst than this. I actually enjoyed it, because you know, TV is supposed to be overdone drama. Greys Anatomy, you really think a hospital full of doctors go through the shit they do. Nope, but it still plays on TV. So many more to list, but I wont, because the moral of the story is that you guys complaining need to grow a pair.

    • i normally totally agree and would even agree about this, specifically — but the show bills itself directly and aggressively as being valuable because of its attention to “real issues,” deft handling of said issues, and willingness to “go there” in a way other shows have not. (this isn’t true — basically every teen TV show has had a suicide or attempted suicide plot, most executed far more gracefully) they even have a self-congratulatory documentary dedicated to how wonderfully this show brought up these issues as well as a website for same.

      • Riese, I applaud you for taking the time to answer this thoughtfully when it clearly comes from someone who isn’t familiar with this site and probs doesn’t belong here.

    • except except except… we have done research on this. When you show teens graphic depictions of suicide and self injury, they are more likely to complete suicide. If you show teens media that glorifies suicide and self harm they are more likely to complete suicide. Media does not exist in a vacuum.

  16. watched the entire thing because gregg araki directed two episodes and i love him. thanks for this article, totally felt the same. also, the plot could have fit in 8 episodes, 13 was just way too long. think i only cried once when elliott smith played.

  17. This reminds me of two things.

    1. Did anyone else have to read the JB Priestly play ‘An Inspector Calls’ for school? I feel like maybe that’s what this programme was at one point aiming for. And then it got lost.

    2. Has anyone ever gone back and read a book they read as a teenager about suicide? I tried reading The Pact by Jodi Picoult which I read when I was 15, and wow. It really showed me how much my mindset has changed. I remember reading it wondering why the main character didn’t just attempt it again. Now it’s like a totally different book.

  18. Thank you. I’m so happy to finally read something on about this show that I agree with. I’m also happy I finally get to agree with Riese and the rest of the site on something!! Good Job Autostraddle.

    I’m about 1/2 way through the series and I’m 100% disgusted with it. If I didn’t alrady have an idea of how it ends I would think that it would be Clay who ends up committing suicide. This show was sick and twisted from the very beginning.

    I understand suicide is tragic, and schools have problems and that all of this needs to be addressed. This series could have chose a more productive way to go about it. The show did not have to be written like this. I understand they want viewers and they want it to be dramatic, but the writers dropped the ball. I can’t imagine what season 2 of this show will bring.

    The only good thing is that is has started discussions that needed to happen.

    Otherwise, I hope young people watching it will know the correct ways to get help and that help will actually be help.

  19. Ummm, spoiler alert on top of the article is great, but…. the little summery line on the main page seems to give away quite something!!?
    Awww, I didn’t want to know anything before being able to watch it (of course I did not read the article)… I started watching when I was visiting a friend over easter, but now I’ll have to wait for a chance to continue, because I don’t have Netflix.

  20. I watched the suicide scene, and I just decided I didn’t want to watch any of the actual show – just from that. I generally don’t have a problem with dark subject matters, but this was one of those things I just knew I would be traumatised by.

  21. What the hell is wrong with you what’s wrong in having a gay or lesbian character in a show? It’s all right and the show is really good I recommend it to everyone. It was a good story and it’s really well presented.

    • You really don’t know what site you are visiting, do you? You should try reading before ranting.

      • This is the 2nd rant w/o reading the writing or realizing this site is hella queer.

        How are they getting here? Is this a sign of our rotting times?

        Two more and I’m having margarita in a can.

  22. This show meant a lot to me on a very personal level. I survived a suicide attempt when I was younger and I was suicidal for years before it and I never saw anything on TV aimed towards teenagers that discussed suicide and its effects as thorougly as this. My experience is that high schoolers are exactly this cruel, and I’ve never seen that seriously explored in TV either. The only suicide attempt scenes I saw as a teen were the ones in Royal Tenenbaums and in Rules of Attraction, and they really romanticized it. In contrast, Hannah’s scene was just horrible.

    • As a survivor of suicide attempts myself, the Hannah scene made me physically ill. Much like the idea or representation of self harm make me feel ill. But I have been recovering from self harm for years. If I was still active then I would easily be triggered instead of feeling ill. The depression is harder because I can’t keep it from coming back. I have had ECT treatments as well as medication and therapy. If I’m in a clinical depression this would have triggered me too. There were so many issues brought up in the book and series that could have been addressed. Even as an adult I have sought out dark material like this when in the grips of mental illness.
      When I was in high school I already had PTSD, anxiety, depression, and drug addiction. I already knew I was hella gay too. Nobody saw me. Nobody ever reached out. I honestly believe in reality there would not be many consequences for many of the characters. Maybe I’m too cynical. I understand the cumulative effect of different experiences can play on a person but they really could have addressed some real issues and been helpful. It’s not like they stuck to the book anyway.

      • i think lots of movies, tv shows and books romanticize suicide, but i think that’s the nature of art, so to speak? sometimes it has a really negative impact on some people, but i don’t think that means they shouldn’t be making it. but this show’s main selling point is how good it did at talking about suicide. if it’d billed itself as a very dark and unsettling teen soap (or some version of whatever “Skins” is) i probably would’ve reacted to it differently.

    • Now that you mention it, the Royal Tenenbaums did romanticize Richie’s suicide attempt, and also made it seem like it was Margot’s fault. Good call. (It’s also sadly ironic in an Alanis Morissette kind of way that that scene is scored to Elliot Smith, who eventually committed suicide.)

      This series may not romanticize the suicide scene itself, but it does appear to romanticize the idea of suicide as a means of getting attention and inspiring regret from those who have hurt you. The audience is given the impression that it is suicide that forces people to account for bullying and allows her to be given empathy. Hannah’s life doesn’t seem to end with her suicide; her social importance is elevated by it. In the format of this show, her suicide is THE thing that makes her remarkable. YMMV, but as a chronically depressed person, I think this show would have had a bad influence on my teenage self. I am grateful that Degrassi was around back then to show me that there is nothing romantic about suicide.

  23. I am literally so over every tv show and movie being centered around a white straight male perspective. How can Hollywood not see how ridiculous this is? I loved the part where Bryce was such a dick to Courtney, as if he had any clue how hard it is to be in the closet in high school. Is there a streaming platform with consistent lesbian/bi content because I am so over Netflix.

  24. I’ve never watched this show beyond looking up the suicide scene on youtube, and I don’t intend to watch any more of it. However, as a person who’s struggled with mental illness their entire life, I’m extremely uncomfortable with the requirements people here are putting on meaningful portrayals of mental illness.

    For one thing, “mentally ill people” and “people who suffered through traumatic life events” are not completely separate categories. Traumatic events can cause mental illness even in people who didn’t have any pre-existing mental illness and/or exacerbate mental illness that had previously been mild enough to not be detected.

    For another, why should portrayals of mental illness need to feature positive experiences of help-seeking in order to be meaningful? I’ve tried to seek help many times and I’ve NEVER had a positive experience with it. Currently, I’m getting anxiety meds from a sympathetic primary care doctor after the mental health center dropped me as a patient because I might have autism, which means they can’t do anything about the debilitating anxiety I came to see them for after having a panic attack so bad I had to go to the ER and the ER doctors referring me to the mental health center so I didn’t have to go to inpatient (said anxiety has, spoiler, responded great to anxiety meds.) Most of my experiences with seeking help have been equally stupid or worse, and what’s gotten me through it is having a bunch of mentally ill friends who know what it’s like for seeking help to be terrible and useless. I can understand not wanting to make seeking help look like a waste of time to people who are nervous and exhausted already, but I think there’s also a risk of portraying the mental health care system too positively – if seeking help always goes smoothly and always works, what will that say to people who’ve had negative experiences with it?

    Lastly, I agree that if they were going to present a story about a teenager leveraging her suicide for revenge, they probably should’ve contextualized that part of the story in some way that made it clear that this wasn’t actually the best outcome for her. It sounds like they didn’t do that, and that’s a bit irresponsible. I’ve heard that the book was a bit more ambiguous about it, because the narrator kept thinking about the dead kid being dead and not actually being able to benefit from this in any way. However… I do think that stories about mental illness that end badly, or that at least don’t end in complete recovery, can be valuable. Fiction can be a safe place to experience things that aren’t a good idea in reality, and it can also be an important reminder of why it’s important to keep struggling. It’s probably not a great idea for everyone to consume that sort of media, but there’s no one-size-fits-all narrative about the proper place of recovery in art about mental illness, especially when art that’s too recovery-focused can feel alienating in its own way to people having certain experiences.

    • I hate shows that have a crisis of the week such as mental illness. Especially when they bring a character on just for that purpose. By the end of the episode the person has access to help and they live happily ever after.
      Access and affordability of mental health care in this country is atrocious. What’s available simply isn’t good enough. In the end it may not matter. You wouldn’t expect every single person with cancer, or many other diseases, to survive. Yet in the media one magic phone call solves all the problems for people with mental illness. While it would have been less likely, Hannah could have still killed herself even if she had gotten help. However, most people with access to treatment do get better.
      The first time I experienced clinical depression I had a good job. At that job I also had health insurance. I was able to see a psychiatrist. It took years to get me on a good combination of medication. I was also lucky enough to receive treatment for my anxiety, OCD, PTSD, self harm, and panic attacks. The first psychiatrist I saw immediately advocated for me to go on disability. Eighteen years later I am still on disability but I am a functioning and productive adult. But I know I was incredibly lucky to have insurance and a bit of a safety net from my family. Even with that I am still lucky to be alive.

  25. My younger sister has already binged this, have been wondering if I should talk to her about it…I have no desire to watch it myself, though. I loved depressing books when I was in high school, but only when there were vampires in them. Like, Twilight definitely glamorized all the wrong things too, but seeing as I wasn’t straight enough to be Team Edward OR Team Jacob, I don’t think I even noticed. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  26. Thank you, Riese. I survived sexual assault, self-harm, and a suicide attempt. I would’ve loved this show as a teenager because it would have glorified and fed into those impulses. I had the exact same fantasy, that through my death people might understand and change. Of course it’s all harmful rubbish, symptomatic of the depression and psychiatric problems people face.

    I’ve actually had this show recommended by people I knew and I think it’s an excellent litmus test for who I want to be close to and who I think needs a lot more serious conversation and education.

    This does nothing to promote a healthy understanding of psychiatric conditions. It does nothing to promote a constructive dialogue and it does nothing to educate people on the drastic measures we need to help get mental healthcare to where it should be in this country.

    This show merely glamorizes terrible things and turns it into an entertaining spectacle for people to gawk at and thump their chests, to say how enlightened and aware they are for watching it.

    It makes me sick to dwell on it.

    I think it should also be noted that it violates every convention about suicide that professional agencies recommend. It’s trashy, harmful fantasy that may reinforce harmful behavior in those who watch it.

  27. Actually the shows does include bouts about symptoms of mental illness; for example the metting between Porter and the parents. Of course 90% of the people who commit suicide have a mental illness, the most general kr common mental disorder is severe depression, and that’s not even including other contributing factors to the depression;such as bullyimg, sexual assault, drug abuse; and the list goes on. On each of these tapes are examples of why real teen suicides have happened. They don’t exactly have to scream, “Hannah has PTSD”, when it’s obvious during jer sexua emcounter with Clay after her rape. As a mother of 4, one being a pre-teen and another being 15, this show has shown me and numerous others how some children can so handle so much. There are hundreds of thousands of teens with a life an experiences just like the character Hannah, and in many cases like seen in this show its is like a game of Jenga; the more of someone you pull out, hurt, and mossplace cannot be put back in the same place again. Now you can try and take thise pieces of you back but the more and more you have to try and pur yourself back together againand stay standing up, the higher the chance is of younfalling apart. As someone with a master’s in psychology, I can tell you this is not glamorizing suicide. If it were then it would make suicide look cool, because that’s what glamorizing is. People are latching onto that word to describe this show and they don’t even know what it means. This is a show about how teen bullying can make a young woman kill herself. These “reasons” are ones that happen in the real world. This show may not may be based on an actual incident or specific true story, but it includes events that are true. Would you say the movie Schindler’s list is glamorizing the Holocaust? No, yu wouldn’t, but there are a ton of parts where it looked like Nazi soldiers had a pretty hood life. The show is very vivid and detailed, but why does it need to be sugar coated? These things really happen, and even though those scenes aren’t real, there may be a teen out there now who will step in and help even when it’s not the cool thing to do because they saw the true terror of what happens behonf closed door at high school parties. Maybe there’s a bully somewhere that’s watched the show and hasn’t picked on anyone since. The biggest problem with bullyimg today is that kids don’t realize how much they’re hurting someone, and parents get upset but most say, “Kids can be so cruel”, and just chuck it up to being a teenager, like it’s normal. It’s not normal, and the fact that no one has shed light on it is the reason those beliefs exist. Teen suicide is a touchy dubject, it makes people uncomfortable and afraid; some parents have the delusion that, “my kid would never do that”, when it comes to both suicide and bullying. People keep saying this will trigger teens to become suicidal, but there a hundreds of movies where people commit suicide. If a teen is suicidal and is bound and determined to do it then maybe if their parents were watching the show they now know things to look out for before it happens. Face the facts this is a taboo subject and that’s why people are talking crap about it. There’s teens having sex, being raped, doing drugs, and hurting themselves in tons of movies and TV shows. The only difference is those ones dance around those topics and this one is all about those moments. When you see those things in other places, for a second your heart drops, you feel tense, uncomfortable, nervous, and maybe even naseous when you see them but its only for a a moment or two; but this show makes you feel that way for an hour. This subject is hard to talk about hut this show is giving it a platform and after the first few episodes those uncomfortable feelings start going away, you watch, become enthralled, and even angry. This stuff is happening in every school; OPEN YOUR EYES!

    • I don’t think you read the article nor do I believe you have a master’s in psychology. If you do, then you are incompetent and dangerous.

  28. Finally someone has articulated all of the feelings I was having post watching this show…. This paragraph is it EXACTLY! Thank you Riese!

    13 Reasons Why heavily hands us the butterfly effect theory via Hannah’s tapes, and aims to lay bare how a number of small, seemingly “harmless” incidents of cyberbullying, sexual harassment, slut-shaming or teasing can do irreparable damage to somebody’s psyche. It’s a noble enough aim, but the role mental illness plays in suicidality is never addressed. Over 90 percent of suicide victims have a mental illness at the time of death, and it’s rare that any one person, let alone 13 people, are “to blame.” The self-congratulatory commentary from show producers about their exploration of “real issues,” then, falls a bit flat. Most kids without a mental health diagnosis who experience what Hannah experiences don’t kill themselves — and they shouldn’t have to in order for teenagers to get the message that being an asshole is an asshole move.

  29. Ugh.
    If anyone wants a good show about suicide/mental illness, “My Mad Fat Diary” is pretty good. I think there’s….three seasons? There is one gay baby! but aside from that, I think it does a great job with the mental health stuff.

  30. “Many characters ask him or suggest to him that he finish the set before continuing this futile and inexplicable justice mission, but Clay will not, because Clay… is an idiot? No, because Clay is a fictional character, and his slow-listen is an unjustified plot device.”

    This chapped my ass so damn much.

    I watched this show because I really liked the book. I’ll admit that I skipped the middle episodes though. After you get the point, it just kind of dragged for me.

    Anyway, the rape scene didn’t bother me as much as I expected it would and I’m someone that doesn’t even like that word. I usually say assaulted because the word rape just looks and sounds violent to me. I think focusing on it through her eyes made it bearable. Scenes like that usually focus on the guys face. I don’t know why that made a difference to me but it did.

    Sidenote: in the book, Bryce didn’t get a tape. Hannah knew that what he had done was so much worse than what the rest of them did, there’s no way he would have listened and passed them on. He would have destroyed them and skipped town, she thought.

    I didn’t have a really visceral to the cutting in the suicide scene. Mostly because I looked away. But the part where her mom found her would have killed me when I was a teenager. It choked me up now.

    Anyway, I appreciate this analysis. I would love if you did read the book for comparison sake. It was pretty faithful, but there were some differences.

  31. My girlfriend really liked 13 Reasons Why, for some reason, but she told me I probably shouldn’t watch it because it would be too triggering for me. I’ve read plenty about it and come to that same conclusion myself. The fact that it’s a “must-watch” show that always shows up first on Netflix is troubling to me. If I’m worried that an overdramatized teen show will trigger adult me who is receiving treatment for her mental illness, I can’t imagine what it would do to a younger version of me who was vulnerable and suicidal. (When the guy on Glee whose name now escapes me attempted suicide, I had trouble sleeping for weeks; what the hell would a show about a girl who committed suicide do to me?!) And they tout it as a progressive show that adresses tough issues.

  32. I agree with what people here and many other places have been saying about the glorification of suicide, and want to thank you for pointing out what a terribly, irresponsibly written character Clay is, something I sadly haven’t seen mentioned much elsewhere. I’m also really glad you briefly touched on the issue of woman-on-woman misogyny in the show in discussing Hannah’s comment about Courtney. Far more than the disturbing glorification of suicide, honestly, I found so much about Clay and Hannah’s characterization and actions as protagonists in relation to the supporting cast to be deeply troubling, and I’ve not really seen that discussed anywhere in criticisms of the show.

    I watched the show on a friend’s request, as they had to suffer through it with friends and wanted a second perspective to make sure they weren’t blowing things out of proportion just how over-the-top offensive it was. While, again, I’m really glad we’re all talking about the glamorization of suicide and its risks with regard to copycat behavior, I’m shocked I haven’t heard anyone specifically call out Clay’s diatribe to Courtney in the graveyard. In the most appalling thing I’ve seen on television since Finn Hudson outed Santana Lopez, a middle-class straight white man actually told a queer woman of color to “just come out already, it’s 2017,” and I can’t believe we’re not talking more about that, to be honest. Courtney isn’t a perfect character, by any means, but that doesn’t in any way justify Clay’s words.

    I’m also glad you mentioned Tony’s use as a Magical Queer Helper. The racism/misogyny/homophobia in casting and character setup alone is enough to spend days discussing. Your show is not diverse if your “diversity” is a totem pole of tokenization that sets every queer person or person of color up to be either a one-dimensional Magical Helper or else a villain in the backdrop of straight white leads who make no absolutely mistakes in the eyes of the narrative. (Is no one really going to talk about the fact that the entire story, no matter how much anyone involved in the project wants to frame it as a butterfly-effect symposium on the effects of bullying, is perhaps one of the most appalling iterations I’ve ever seen of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl/Everyman Coming-of-Age-Adventure narrative? Hannah’s suicide itself, even, is barely used as more than a PSA-flavored variant of MPDG fridging.) Your show is not feminist, no matter how brutally honest its depiction of the horror of sexual assault, no matter what conversations it wants to start in pop culture about that topic, if every non-white girl is merely set up to be “the b*tch” or “the sl*t” to the lead white girl’s supposed too-good-for-this-world pure-and-innocent beacon of truthtelling.

    I’m really glad we’re having a pop culture conversation about why this show is terrible, but I wish those conversations were going a lot further than the troubling glorification of suicide and the triggering content while framing other problematic aspects as a footnote, at that.

  33. I had a very different take on the series. Maybe because I couldn’t have made it through with the interpretation you wrote about, but I took the whole series to be about how teenage boys are taught so young that they own the world, and within that world, women’s bodies. Hannah kills herself much the same way teenage girls are forced to kill bits of themselves over an over again while enduring that kind of treatment. As the show says, Hannah didn’t experience anything (possibly until the rape) that high school girls don’t experience every day. I can’t tell you how hard I rolled my eyes when I first realized that the story about this girl was actually about Clay, the socially-awkward-super-nice-can’t-get-ther-girl-white-boy, but then I started viewing the episodes as lessons to teenage boys on how toxic much of their socialization is. With the best of worst of list where the boys’ opinions range from, “it was no big deal,” to “shouldn’t you be flattered,” Hannah teaches blundering Clay that it strips the girls of their humanity and reduces them. When stalky camera guy completely invades her privacy and crosses every line of basic human decency, he apologizes and then asks her out. He’s the Nice Guy in training here. Thinking that his own feelings for her were the most important thing in the situation and that he was still entitled to her giving him a chance after she caught him was infuriating. But she laughs in his face and lets him know that’s not how this game is going to work anymore. Through Clay the audience shares in that rage and never lets Tyler off the hook for his actions just because he liked her. One of the most powerful scenes was when Justin tries to apologize to Jessica for allowing Bryce to rape her. He attempts to justify his actions because Bryce bought him shoes. We the audience are sitting there steeped in Jessica’s pain, and see him imply that her body was an even trade for shoes. She throws him out because she is not property on par with shoes, and he doesn’t really get it, but the show is on Jessica’s side, so hopefully the teenage audience does get it. My favorite lesson came with Clay. He likes to sit on the sidelines, and not really care about things happening to Hannah unless they affect his chances of becoming her boyfriend. While her tape to him mostly lets him off the hook, the rest of the tapes teach him that in being a dopey bystander he is complicit in her treatment. It isn’t good enough anymore to step away and not claim responsibility for toxic teenage (male) culture, and excuse it as girls having bad taste in guys. She makes him see that it isn’t just somebody else’s problem, but something everyone should contend with and try to change.

    Maybe this is a completely unrealistic and rose colored interpretation, and if that’s the case it doesn’t matter how hard I forced a feminist lens on to these scenes because it won’t actually help anyone. However, if we can take Hannah’s suicide less literally (and we see the blood spurt from her veins, so I can understand if it’s unreasonable to take it as anything but literal) we can see that while girls universally live through treatment like this in high school, it isn’t something that should be taken lightly anymore. It has to change and the majority of the responsibility to change lies on the shoulders of teenage boys and those who teach them how to become people.

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