[A Netflix original]
Hannah Baker, a high school student, is dead. She has left behind a number of audio-cassettes explaining why she chose to end her life. In case we were missing some clarity, she has named the people responsible for her unraveling and detailed their callousness.
Adolescence is a time of heightened reality, the show tells us. The tiniest shift in a friendship or a casual remark could feel like the end of social order. Hannah is a new student at Liberty High, and things happen to her. Seemingly innocuous at first – a friend misunderstands her, a boy she kissed spreads rumours about her, another boy rates her ass as the best in class – but they all add up, and after an especially brutal incident, she decides to slit her wrists and bleed to death in a bathtub.
The show is intelligent in the way it doesn’t talk about teenagers as clueless young people, it doesn’t patronize them. They are insecure, confused, sometimes kind, often unexpectedly cruel. Instead, it is the parents who are shown to be mostly clueless. They have good intentions, but they are still unable to understand their children’s lives. Maybe they don’t listen enough.
I could not relate to this show, even after trying to recollect my own adolescence. Maybe I had different crises to attend to back then. I fought unsuccessfully to be allowed to make decisions, I did not have too much choice given to me. I tried to be a rebel by banging the door a few times after a fight, I spoke on the phone in secrecy after the adults went to sleep. Funnily, it is my twenties that have seen more tumult, which I suspect is because of the limited scope to function like an adult in spite of having finally reached adulthood.
13 Reasons Why gets more melodramatic and morbid as the episodes go by – there is sexual abuse, gun violence, rampant alcohol and drug use. The high school culture portrayed is surely toxic – with its unrelenting focus on looks, athletic achievements, and pressure to find a partner. Boys walk around with entitlement that goes unchecked, girls suffer from low esteem. Is this what a normal American high school looks like? That is most frightening.
Every episode is narrated by Hannah from the beyond. Clay Jensen, who is the unrequited love interest, listens to the tapes and catches hold of everyone who is named. Did you really do what she said? Why did you do it? While this feels clever in the beginning, it starts to grate soon enough. Also, why did Hannah choose audio-cassettes as her preferred mode of communication? One would think teenagers would find it easier to record audio files on their smart phones and upload it to the cloud.