That’s the first thought I had after I marathon-ed my way through episodes 2 to 13 of the first series of Thirteen Reasons Why in less than a 12 hours – binge medal for me! – a blog post reviewing, explaining and understanding this series, wasn’t going to be straight forward.
At one end of the spectrum 13 Reasons Why is commended for it’s bravery in tackling taboo topics and situations, then, at the other side, lamented for idealising suicide, using it has entertainment and not fully taking responsibility (until after the complaints came in) for how dangerous the show can be to some individuals.
Please check out my review of Episode One before reading on.
I guess I’ll do this backwards and start with what I eventually concluded from the show; it’s all about perspective. I tried an empathetic approach by putting myself in the shoes of those watching the series and not the characters, figuring each scene could be interpreted to varying degrees whether the audience was A) Someone with little to no prior knowledge of suicide or mental health problems, B) Someone with existing and historical Mental Health problems, and C) Someone with in depth understanding and knowledge of Mental Health problems. My review is of how I, interpreted the series.
I know this is a long post (Like-Harry-Potter-Chapter-Long) but please don’t skip to the personal notes at the end without reading the rest. TA.x
To give an idea of how this is going to go and contrary to how those who know me thought I would perceive it, I want to start by arguing my point for why I thought showing Hannah’s suicide scene was a good move for the producers of 13RW.
In Jay Ashers’ Novel, from which the series is based, Hannah takes her life by overdosing on pills. In the series, Hannah is depicted slashing both of her wrists and passing away in the bath tub. To me, this was well thought out, genius and proved the show had done their research.
Let me explain; Suicide is contagious. (REF: Halgin, Richard P.; Susan Whitbourne 2006) Now-a-days, a well known fact, when news is spread of one suicide, this leaves it more open for those already contemplating the idea to act in a copy-cat manner. Overdosing on pills is fairly easy. The actual act is painless and detaches the person from their actions and outcome. Killing yourself through blood loss is fucking hard. I’m wary here of giving further details but commend the show for making this change and for explicitly showing the true horror.
There were a lot of things I actually ended up liking about the show in general.
Excluding Katherine Langford’s (Hannah) obviously-not-american accent, the entire look and feel of the cast was brilliant. They actually looked and behaved like regular teens. Hannah wasn’t the size 6 you’d usually expect in sensationalised Hollywood. Justin wasn’t 6 foot 5, Tyler had muscles, Courtney wasn’t white and blonde and I loved it. There were blurred stereotypes between peer groups and no archetypal characters (except maybe Bryce).
Although not always reaffirmed through actions or scenes we could actually see, 13 Reasons Why said a lot of the ‘right things‘ which I could lift straight out of one of my therapy books. Hannah points out in her tapes “Not everything can be solved through words” and “You can’t change other people but you can change yourself”. These miniature parcels of knowledge are antidotes any real-life Mental Health patient will tell you are supplied on a regular basis. It was frustrating to see Hannah not taking her own advice but was nice to notice acknowledgement in there.
The realism of portraying a suicidal character kicked in for me in Episode 6 where, for the first time, we hear Hannah referring to herself as stupid (for giving Marcus a 2nd chance). Until this point my sympathy levels for Hannah were at −273.15 °C or −459.67 °F and by the time Clay’s tape comes round, she’s echoing what I consider a truly suicidal person does by claiming she does not deserve happiness. As the Episodes and Tapes went on, the reasons for Hannah wanting to take her own life became more legitimate to me, but I can understand fully why anyone with similar experiences to mine might have stopping watching from sheer annoyance before this point. I personally found this incredibly well done as someone who understands the nature of how suicidal thoughts turn into actions but I’m assuming it might have been a bit ambiguous for the intended teen audience and anyone with no knowledge of this progression.
Other small points I liked about the adaptation of 13 Reasons Why included the patronising posters put up around school (something helpless people feel they need to propagate to make themselves feel they are doing something), Joy Division/Ian Curtis and Sid & Nancy references and of course (at the time it was released) the series being set in the future – a nod towards prevention.
I also want to highlight a point I mentioned in my review of episode one.
Guilt Tripping – By the time Hannah had recorded the 12th tape she had changed her mind about wanting to die – these tapes were no longer a suicide note proxy – they had helped her put things into perspective, unleash the frustration and clear the way for understanding her feelings – this, to me, was much more accurate and made up for all the “this is all your fault” bullshit she’d been pedaling since episode one. I don’t think this should have been saved for dramatic effect in the final episode because it was the main issue that made me have little sympathy for Hannah and if it weren’t for promising a full review of the series, I would’ve stopped watching. However. The fact that she took them to Tony’s still stands and that still makes her some kind of sociopath in my opinion.
Hannah love, you are the only person responsible for your death. This should have been the final bottom line. Maybe a scene of her parents even accepting that. But it wasn’t.
I hated Hannah in the same way most people love to hate Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House and spent the entire 13 episodes wondering if she was supposed to be the protagonist or antagonist before coming to the realisation that should’ve hit me in the blurb… Thirteen Reasons Why, is not and should not be seen as the story of one girls struggles and suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of impact and aftermath of suicide.
I cannot possibly imagine how hurtful those who have lost a loved one this way found Thirteen Reasons Why.
Although 13RW was arguably effective in raising the profile of suicide awareness amongst audiences who may have otherwise had little clue of it’s impact, we have to remember that it’s primary purpose was to make money through entertainment and dramatic effect. I think this is the point most critics argue when raising the point about idealising suicide. We were seeing things from Hannah’s view but Hannah doesn’t have a view any more guys. In my opinion, this was dangerous for those already suffering from Mental Health problems when the awareness and reality came second to keeping audiences gripped. It certainly wasn’t indicative of how suicide normally transpires.
The main issue I have with the series is without a doubt, Hannah’s character. Ultimately she is self absorbed, self righteous, ignorant and a hypocrite and is just as bad at some point as everyone else on those tapes, excluding Bryce.
- She laughs at Tyler when he asks to hang out.
- She is downright mean to Ryan about his character.
- She says Zack should have “let something go“. (I actually laughed out loud at that)
- She blames Justin for ‘allowing’ Bryce to rape Jessica when she was also ‘unable’ to move.
- She makes Jessica’s rape about herself.
- She makes fun of ‘poetry club’.
- She embarrasses Zack when he’s trying to be nice.
- She wanted to be with Justin even though he was her friends ex boyfriend.
- She walks away from everyone expecting them to follow her.
And the list goes on… that’s just a few I noted whilst watching. She does all of these things yet goes on to justify her suicide by mentioning others doing similar things to her. I know fallible characters make for better stories but Hannah’s wrong-doings just cancelled every good bit of awareness out for me. It went from having valid and ‘explorable’ meanings to being just that silly little girl with no insight who feels shit about normal teenage things and is ultimately going to take her life and try to pin it on a load of other folk to get a kick out of it… which is what she did. Bryce’s tape was the only one warranted, although I’ll go on to explain why even that point may be mute.
If you’ve got to this point I have either infuriated or interested you and right now, either of those is fine, however, your patience is appreciated and now I’m going to finally get down to making this post about myself in true Beth/Hannah fashion and why Thirteen Reasons Why affected me in a different way to most.
I titled my review of episode one “by a real-life Hannah”, intending to get out to my readers that being someone who records my issues with mental illness and having attempted to take my own life on countless occasions, it meant I might have had a clearer insight than your average watcher. I also skimmed across in my previous post that I felt an affinity for where Thirteen Reasons Why was set and filmed – Northern California, was an almost an identical city (and just up the road from) the one I’ve spent so many of my Summers. Every episode I watched however, became more and more personal, more real to me.
The first ever wheel of a car I ever sat behind was an electric blue Ford Mustang on a street identical to Tony’s, aside from the colour, the car was a carbon copy. Courtney’s handbag – the one that looked like a radio – had been on sale at “Off the Wall” in Arden Fair Mall in ’07 but I’d already had my treat for the day so couldn’t to afford it. Those few summers where I and my friend from across the street would go play on the kids park in the middle of the night had me checking an old Facebook account just to know for certain it wasn’t the exact park featured in the series. Almost identical. Bryce’s pool. The summertime lights in the trees. Night time sprinklers. The final scene of 4 mismatched teens driving past the river, radio on – even without the story line, I hope you can appreciate that Thirteen Reasons Why was very personal to me and especially to 16 year old me, laughing in the NorCal sun, summer of 2007, coincidentally, also the year Jay Asher wrote the novel.
I was told by other reviews, my friends and the pre-show warning that this program could effect those with mental health problems but no one could ever warn me about the creepy symmetry that was to unfold.
I have had photos taken of me and spread around school. I have been thought of as ‘the easy girl’. I have had friends leave me to be with my ex’s. I have been utterly alone. I have had people laugh at my poetry. I have had serious lies told about me. I still have serious lies believed about me. I have been stalked. I am a witness in a rape trial. On the 3rd of September 2011 I was raped. I told the police. They let me down. By the 10th of September I was in hospital as my Suicide attempt had failed. I have been in love with someone who I expected to save me. I have habitually pushed away those who were nice. At times I have acted as badly as others.
I cannot watch rape scenes. Even those with it mildly suggested, I will get up, walk out of the room and audibly state “Nah, can’t watch that”. I kept skipping past Jessica’s scene whenever it came up. When it came to Hannah’s. I couldn’t move. And when it was over; I cried. I’d almost watched a memory and those who know about my experience will know why.
All things considered, you’d think I’d like the series and have the upmost sympathy for Hannah which I did not. Hannah was so damaged by her experiences, by life, that she decided to take her own. Her experiences, her feelings were not her fault, but her life was her responsibility and the tapes were ultimately cruel.
There are two lines I remember from the letter I wrote in September 2011. ‘I don’t deserve to be happy’ and ‘I can’t live with what he did to me.’ I have since wrote notes also blaming the police for not caring enough.
My verdict on Mr Porter stands alone. If Hannah didn’t want to report it, he was right and she did need to move on. I reported what happened to me and still, I have had to try to move on.
I don’t think either the “OMFG W3 LOV3 HANNAH!!!11” club or the “Thirteen Reasons Why Sensationalises Suicide” opinions have it right. I believe this show can be seen in so many different ways that make it personal, individual and (as Jeff would say) unique to each person that watches it. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to recommend it, you don’t have to hate it just because it’s different from your experiences but it has undoubtedly lead to a wider conversation regarding mental health & suicide.
Hated Hannah like I hate myself. Loved the series.
If her attempt had failed, I’m guessing Hannah would have never developed the mentality to deal with the world, few in-patient hospital stays, few kids to different dads, varying medication and diagnosis over the years, never able to move on but eventually she’d find little pockets of happiness, always worth staying alive for 😉
Gold stars to anyone who read it all.