Refusing to discuss these issues doesn’t make them go away. If anything, that’s the point Season 2 drives home. Ignoring the secret of Hannah’s tapes in the first season certainly didn’t make them go away, even when everyone on the tapes banded together to forget them. As more is revealed, we see why the tapes were so important after all.
This season, Tyler tries to ignore his own bullying, and his parents refuse to believe that anything could be wrong with their son. His situation worsens rather than improves over the course of the 13 episodes, leading up to the most graphic scene on the show since Hannah’s suicide.
Many viewers believe that Tyler’s horrific sexual assault scene in Season 2 was included for shock value — “a blatant grab for the headlines,” says USA Today in its one-star review.
But 13 Reasons Why is the only mainstream television show since the popular Canadian series, Degrassi, that’s gutsy enough to portray the real issues teens face today. Although newspapers report on the rampant rates of bullying and sexual assault in schools, many critics can’t stomach it acted out on their screens.
If this show seems over the top, imagine how actual teenage victims feel.
Devin Druid, who portrays Tyler, understands how a scene like that can help, despite what critics say. In an interview with BUILD Series NYC, he reveals: “I felt tasked with this need to represent what victims go through, to hopefully show that they’re understood and heard, and for people who don’t know what these issues are or don’t have the empathy to understand, to show them what it’s like.”
It says a lot about modern-day society if reality can be misconstrued as headline-grabbing shock value.
Alongside Hannah’s storyline, we witness the events and thoughts that lead to Tyler’s attempted mass shooting. As Druid says, it builds empathy for his character as a victim. It helps us understand a little better how, for some teens, it can seem downright impossible to make friends in high school, no matter how hard you try. It also shows how cruel your classmates can be if you don’t fit in, which circles back to why fitting in was so important to all the people who treated Hannah poorly for their own gain.
It may feel a little much to end Season 2 with a near massacre at a school dance, especially when it’s added onto an already heavy plot. But in a year with an average of one school shooting per week, you can’t say this topic isn’t fitting for a show about what the teenage experience is like in 2018. Just look at the #IfIDiedInASchoolShooting hashtag.
In another haunting yet relatable Season 2 scenario, it comes to light that Hannah, Jessica, and Chloe were all sexually assaulted by their classmate and captain of the baseball team, Bryce. According to RAINN, females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
Similarly to Hannah, 33 percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide and 13 percent attempt it. With statistics like that, it’s undeniable that Hannah’s storyline would ring true to the show’s teen viewers. Writing off 13 Reasons Why for being over-the-top is refuting the very existence of this problem.
Without any of the girls coming forward, there’s no telling how many others Bryce would attack. The pressure on the victims is realistically daunting and unfair, and only Clay’s insistence that Jessica and Chloe take Bryce to court is what forces Bryce to own up to his actions — even if the law comes down too lightly.
Bryce’s mere slap on the wrist is probably the best example of a common reality for today’s high schoolers and rape victims. Similar to the Brock Turner case, a white, male star athlete receives just a few months’ probation for rape despite a victim’s testimony.
Bryce doesn’t get the punishment he deserves, but facing him in court helps Jessica begin to recover from the assault. Unfortunately, it’s too late for Hannah.
Season 2 also dives deeper into the story of Hannah’s high school guidance counselor, Mr. Porter. Through flashbacks and the court case, we watch him be eaten alive by his own guilt for not helping Hannah more after she came to him about her sexual assault and suicidal thoughts. Alex, who also knew about Hannah’s assault but failed to help her, is driven to an unsuccessful suicide.
While Alex pieces back together what lead him to try and take his own life, Mr. Porter faces Hannah’s parents in court. Not unlike Jessica, Alex and Mr. Porter both confront their past actions head on in order to reconcile their mistakes. If viewers are looking for 13 Reasons Why to teach a lesson, this is it.
Tyler’s bullying and violent assault. Hannah, Jessica, and Chloe’s rape. All of Hannah’s friends’ high school experience before and after her suicide. Watching the characters deal with these issues is uncomfortable and unpleasant. But it’s also realistic and relatable.
13 Reasons Why is a difficult show to watch, but that’s what makes it so important. It asks a lot of impossible questions: Who is to blame when someone commits suicide? How obvious are the warning signs? Is anyone truly at fault? And as bullying and sexual assault rates continue to climb, are our schools equipped to handle everything teens face today?
Unlike a lot of teen dramas, no character in 13 Reasons Why is flawless. They each struggle with their own teenage challenges — popularity, sexual orientation, substance abuse — and they show us that most instances of bullying really do come from a defensive place of pain. At its core, the show reminds us to be careful about how we treat each other.
To write off 13 Reasons Why as headline grabbing is missing its biggest message: The overwhelming issues teens are dealing with today can’t be swept under the rug. This is precisely why 13 Reasons Why is not sensationalist; it’s real.