For all the controversy surrounding the series, 13 Reasons Why does what not every series can do: Ask the tough questions, yes, but also provide the even tougher answers. There is an unflinching realism to 13 Reasons Why that doesn't pretend the world is a better place than it is. Instead, it asks its audience how we can be better to make up for a less-than-perfect world.
Binging this season, I was astounded by how 13 Reasons Why seemingly took criticism from its freshman and applied it thoughtfully while staying true to the show's characters and message. 13 Reasons Why is not an easy watch, but it remains a meaningful one.
So without further ado... let's get binging.
Everything is the same, and nothing is, at Liberty High.
It has been five months since the tapes were released, and Clay (Dylan Minnette) apparently hasn’t thought about Hannah (Katherine Langford) in months. That’s not true, of course, but he has been busy — mostly, with his new girlfriend Skye (Sosie Bacon), who takes him to get a semi-colon tattoo in honour of the late Hannah. He passes out and ends up with a comma, instead: a marker of the continuation of a sentence.
Which is what season 2 of 13 Reasons Why is: A continuation of season 1, though not necessarily a continuation of Hannah’s story. Instead, it’s a continuation of everyone’s story: The people that Hannah left behind. It just so happens that in order to tell these stories, we have to go back to what Hannah said on those tapes — was it honest? Did it paint the whole picture?
Tyler (Devin Druid) narrates the first episode from the stand at the trial against Liberty High School. It took five months of negotiation, but Olivia Baker (Kate Walsh) just couldn’t sign the NDA that was needed in order to settle the case. She wants the school to be held accountable for not helping her daughter.
Tyler explains on the stand that what we thought we knew about Hannah, and what was on her tapes, wasn’t the entire truth. It’s not that the tapes were filled with lies — it’s just that the truth is more expansive. Tyler recalls going to Hannah’s window that first night he took photos of her only to find that she was already “sexting” someone. Tyler says that he was pissed to find Hannah doing such a thing, as this happened after Bryce (Justin Prentice) passed around that upskirt photo of her.
It’s a slice of Hannah’s life we didn’t know about, and it is odd that we didn’t, considering the point of Hannah’s tapes was to tell her truth. Was Hannah hiding someone from Clay? From her parents? And if so, why weren’t they mentioned on the tapes?
A major theme in season 2 is recovery. Jessica (Alisha Boe) and Alex (Miles Heizer) are besties again, and both have been out of school for months. They go back to school on the same day as one another’s “support system.” Zach (Ross Butler) is also in their corner, though he hasn’t stopped hanging out with his old rapist pal Bryce. Zach is trying and failing to make everything go back to “normal,” though it’s obvious that nothing will ever be normal again.
Alex’s bleached-blonde hair is gone, but it’s not the only change to his body. He now walks with a cane, and, apparently, has suffered serious memory loss following his traumatic brain injury. Allegedly, he doesn’t remember what happened a month before he attempted to take his own life, and, most importantly, he does not remember listening to the tapes. Alex desperately wants to make sense of why the tapes had such a strong reaction on him — enough to make him want to end his life.
When Alex asks his mother for his own suicide note, he not only can’t remember writing it, he also can’t make sense of it — what is it that he “could have stopped?” There’s nothing on the tapes that fits.
It’s implied that Jessica was getting help of some kind after admitting to her father that she was raped — though no one knows that “the girl on tape nine” is actually Jessica when it comes to the trial.
Jessica is in good spirits when she returns to school alongside Alex, and rejoins the cheerleading squad, now run by Bryce’s new girlfriend, Chloe (Anne Winters). Jessica just wants to start over — and even manages to put on a brave face when Bryce asks her to “catch up” over a drink. The official party line that Bryce is spewing is that he and Jessica had consensual sex, but that she was embarrassed to say that she cheated on Justin (Brandon Flynn) with his best friend.
Mr. Porter (Derek Luke) is far less cordial to Bryce. He threatens him — actually, he strangles him — in the men’s restroom, then cooly plays it off. Mr. Porter knows exactly who Bryce is now and he should really watch his back. Bryce seems terribly chill about this threat and about Hannah’s trial. If justice is coming for Bryce, he doesn’t know it.
Just as everyone seems to be on a path towards healing, we learn that someone is leaving anonymous threats. Tyler receives a scary message scrawled on his photos in the lab. Someone doesn’t want him to talk at Hannah’s trial, and, after Tyler confronts Bryce, it seems like it’s not actually him. So who else wants to keep Tyler silent, if not for the serial rapist? Could it be Montgomery (Timothy Granaderos), Tyler’s longtime bully? Zach, who wants to stick to the status quo?
Jessica — whom the whole school believes lied about being raped in order to protect her relationship with Justin — receives a blow-up doll with a noose around its neck. Its stomach reads “SLUT,” not unlike the disturbing graffiti Jessica saw attached to her own name in the girls’ bathroom.
Clay also receives a note, but it’s not a threat, or, at least, it doesn’t seem like one. He receives a Polaroid of an unknown boy and girl on a couch. On the back, it reads: “Hannah wasn’t the only one.”
I do have a theory who the girl in the photo might be. Olivia, ready to fight the school for Hannah, has bonded with a woman named Jackie. Jackie, apparently, knows very well what Olivia is going through: Her daughter Tessa also died by suicide. Is it too much of a coincidence to think that, maybe, Bryce or someone like him did something horrible to Tessa?
The end of the episode is particularly chilling. Clay, who is torn up about not being on the witness list for the defence or the prosecution, sees Hannah right as he’s about to have sex for the first time with Skye. He freaks out but ultimately plays it off until he sees Hannah again, in his bedroom.
“You talk now?” Clay asks the dead girl. Yes, she does.
What is going on? Is Clay losing his mind? And why is Tony (Christian Navarro) burning the note included with Hannah’s tapes?
If we thought the kids at Liberty High had secrets in season 1, we had no idea what they were really capable of hiding.
Hannah is now a ghost in Clay’s life — whether she’s actually a ghost, or just an apparition of his guilt, doesn’t seem to matter. She’s already messing things up between him and his very-much-alive girlfriend, Skye.
Skye is insecure about Clay’s fixation with his deceased crush, made all the worse by the fact that Clay can’t seem to, umm, “perform” in bed. It all comes to a head the night that Skye comes over to Clay’s house for dinner. The dinner itself goes swimmingly (even though Skye attempts to feel him up in front of his parents), but when they retreat to Clay’s bedroom, Clay can’t see to get Hannah out of his head.
When Skye asks him, point blank, if he loves her, he says yes. Then Skye asks Clay to say he’s over Hannah, whose ghost is staring right at him. He can’t say that. Skye runs out, and this time, Clay chases after her. But it’s too late, Skye is already being hurled away in an ambulance.
“She’s not upset, she’s ill,” Skye’s mother tells Clay as the ambulance pulls away. “Go home.”
“Guess you really do have a thing for complicated girls,” Hannah snarks as Skye’s ambulance gets further and further in the distance. Clay stares at his dead crush and screams.
Things go a little bit better for Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) who narrates this episode as the next person called to the stand at the Baker’s trial.
When the school’s shark of a lawyer Sonya (Allison Miller) presses her about that photo she took with Hannah — the one in which, it appears, Hannah is kissing Courtney — Courtney admits that, yes, she is a lesbian, in order to defend Hannah’s honour. Courtney confessed to Hannah that she was into girls during their season 1 sleepover, and Hannah, who had her own first kiss ruined by Justin’s cruelty, sweetly gave a crying Courtney a real kiss.
Despite the fact that Sonya basically outed Courtney publicly, Courtney feels “set free” by the truth. Her dads hilariously host a lesbian-themed movie marathon, ultimately declaring that Blue Is The Warmest Color has a bit too much of the male gaze. It’s worth wondering what the deal is with Courtney’s alleged “boyfriend,” Mikey — could Mikey actually be that cute girl at the coffee shop whom Courtney was making eyes at?
Jessica is preparing to testify, but keeps getting threats from someone who wants to keep her quiet. It doesn’t seem like it’s Bryce, which makes me wonder if it could be the baseball coach Rick (Ben Lawson). Rick tells Mr. Porter to give him a heads up if he’s “worried” about any of his team members (he’ll handle things in house, okay?) and doesn’t seem to take the mandatory consent discussions very seriously. Jessica fishes around to see if any of her friends are getting similar threats, but no one fesses up.
Sheri (Ajiona Alexus) also rejoins the school, after months away in juvie. (It seems that half of our characters left school for at least some time, no?) This is a very different Sheri, one who is cynical and snappy. When Mr. Porter offers to set up a “check in” meeting with her, she declines but tells him she’ll come on by if she “ever gets raped.”
Clay does some research of his own to find out who the kids in the Polaroid picture he received actually are. According to Tyler, they were seniors when Clay and the rest of the gang were freshmen. They don’t go to the school anymore, but the guy was on the baseball team. Clay asks Tyler if Scott Reed (Brandon Butler), the baseball player who Clay suspects may have left that Polaroid, might know them.
Olivia leans on Tony after a troubling incident with Jackie, who washes the dress that Olivia wore the day Hannah ended her life. It seems that these two have bonded in the months after the tapes — important, considering that Andy (Brian d’Arcy James) Hannah’s father, seems to be completely out of the picture. Yet there are secrets that Tony is keeping from Olivia, and it’s quite possible that her new friend Jackie might have a few secrets, too. Is she really sticking by Olivia’s side for her own benefit, or could there be a hidden agenda here?
At the end of the episode, Alex receives his own threat: A cut-out silhouette from the gun range with the words “Better Luck Next Time” scrawled across it. But Alex can’t remember much about the tapes, so who is threatening him and why?
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.