13 Reasons Why is, in some ways, a murder mystery — but if you came here looking for Netflix’s answer to Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale, turn back. The series shares more DNA with My So-Called Life (both series are set at “Liberty High School”) in that both offer a quiet analysis of teen life. Yet to really compare 13 Reasons Why to anything would be doing a disservice to what is one of the most special series to ever grace Netflix.
At its core, 13 Reasons Why is a study in how we treat one another. It examines the “small” aggressions we commit that cause unthinkable pain, and the larger ones that become even more painful when we are told we must “move on” from them. It’s also an unflinching, realistic look on particularly challenging topics, including rape, suicide, and depression.
And, I will warn you now: it’s not an easy show to watch. 13 Reasons Why makes poignant points about what we owe one another as humans, but this is not The Breakfast Club or even Perks Of Being A Wallflower. This show is not kind — even if it implores its characters to be.
It is, however, very, very important — especially for teens, their parents, and any authority figure who deals with either. You haven’t seen teen television like this before, and it’s about time it existed.
High school can be heaven or hell — depending on your perspective and social standing, of course. It’s not hard to know which one it was for Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). When 13 Reasons Why opens, we learn that pretty, smart, vivacious Hannah killed herself weeks earlier, and Clay (Dylan Minnette) — her co-worker at the movie theater and longtime admirer — still can’t wrap his mind around it.
But he’s going to — if the late Hannah has anything to say about it. Shortly after Hannah’s strung-out ex Justin (Brandon Flynn) accuses a confused Clay of being “not so innocent,” Clay receives a package in the mail from Hannah herself. Inside the package are tapes — tapes that tell the story of Hannah’s life, or, more importantly, why she felt it had to end. 13 sides for each person responsible for her suicide. Listen to everything and pass it on, Hannah warns, or else a “trusted individual” will make the tapes go public. And that — well, that would be bad for everyone.
Clay is immediately freaked out — he can’t figure out why he’s on the tapes at all, and is terrified to find out. He steals a tape player from Tony (Christian Navarro) — one of quiet Clay’s only friends — and lets Hannah’s voice guide him around San Francisco… and her psyche. Never mind that Clay’s own parents are worried about what’s going on in his head — though he would never dream of telling them about the tapes, Clay only has thoughts for Hannah.
The first person up on Hannah’s shit list is Justin — the boy who was very freaked about what Clay heard on the tapes. In flashbacks narrated by Hannah, we get the story of Justin and Hannah — a story of young romance gone terribly awry. Hannah describes how Justin, the boyfriend du jour of her best friend Kat (Giorgia Whigham) who has since moved away, became the object of her infatuation. Hannah plays cat and mouse with Justin until he’s just as smitten with her as she is him.
Eventually, Hannah sneaks out of her house (despite being under the watchful eye of her mother Olivia, played by Kate Walsh) and meets up with Justin in the park. The two have a lovely, sweet night on the playground that culminates in a kiss. Hannah thanks Justin for that kiss — just not what comes after.
Justin proves he’s less-than-noble when he shows an upskirt picture of Hannah from their playground date to his friends. Football captain and resident asshat Bryce (Justin Prentice), forwards the photo to the entire school, humiliating Hannah. And that’s the reason why Hannah has listed Justin on the tapes: he took a beautiful moment and made it ugly.
Clay isn’t so innocent either. He remembers a moment just after Hannah’s photo went viral, when Hannah came to sit with him at lunch. Clay — jealous of her hookup with Justin — snapped at Hannah. Hannah left the lunch table in tears.
While listening to Hannah’s tape at the playground, Clay sees Tony’s red convertible pull up. Clay is confused — until Tony reveals the truth. Tony is the friend that Hannah has put in charge of the tapes. The next day, Clay asks him why — why can’t Tony just tell him what’s on the tapes? It’s too hard for Clay to listen to her voice… he already sees Hannah in every corner of his mind. Tony can’t answer that — and advises Clay to just “keep listening.” Everything will be explained… but that doesn’t mean the journey won’t be a painful one.
It’s time for side two of Hannah’s tapes, and Clay is still terrified that he’s about to be called out for something that Hannah has declared as cruel. Alas, Clay isn’t side two of the tapes: instead, that honor goes to Jessica (Alisha Boe).
What’s Jessica’s story? It’s all about betrayal. Hannah and Jessica became friends when their guidance counselor earnestly introduced them. As much as they hated that their overly-peppy guidance counselor was right about their need for friends, the two clicked immediately, and soon they were sharing hot chocolate dates at local coffee shop Monet’s. After a few weeks of sipping hot cocoa, the two meet Alex (Miles Heizer), another newbie with a shock bleach blonde hair and a nose ring. Things are initially great between the trio: they share their biggest “FML” moments and help one another cope. Alas, as Hannah puts it “one plus one plus one is not an easy equation.” Eventually, Alex and Jessica start dating and all but ditch Hannah.
Later, though, things turn sour between Alex and Jessica — and Hannah gets caught in the crossfire. Jessica confronts Hannah with a “hot list” made by Alex… one in which Hannah is labeled “best ass” and Jessica “worst.” Jessica slaps Hannah, accusing Hannah of seducing Alex behind Jessica’s back — all at Monet’s, the place that was once so sacred to them.
Things are different in present day. Jessica, now a cheerleader, is dating Justin — yep, that Justin. Yet this week, Justin is MIA — Clay, who has questions following the first tape, can’t find him anywhere, and Jessica seems even more anxious to track him down. It soon becomes evident that both Jessica and Justin have listened to the tapes — and that there’s something even more incriminating on them than side one or side two suggests.
Jessica eventually learns that Justin has been hiding out at Bryce’s pool house, where he’s playing video games in between ripping his bong. Jessica confronts Justin and tells him that she’s worried about Clay: he’s not like the rest of them. He might talk. And besides: “If Hannah was lying,” Jessica asks Justin, “Why are you here?”
Yet Clay has nothing to talk about — at least not yet. Tony remarks that he’s one of the slowest people to listen to the tapes yet. Clay says it’s just too hard. His parents know something is up: Clay’s mother has filled an old prescription for antidepressants, “just in case” Clay wanted to start taking them again.
Hannah’s mother finds Alex’s list in one of Hannah’s old notebooks, and declares that it’s another example of her daughter being bullied. Hannah’s parents have been collecting evidence for the police for a lawsuit — one that Justin may possibly be involved in — and Olivia is convinced this is their key to the case. Hannah’s father Andy (Brian d'Arcy James) isn’t so sure that court will see it the same way (Andy remarks that some would call Hannah’s placement on the list a compliment, a.k.a. men), but Olivia needs something to cling to. Some explanation for Hannah’s suicide, no matter how thin, is better than nothing.
And so, she calls Tony — a person clearly close to the family. What is Tony’s true tie to the Bakers, and, specifically, Hannah’s death? Guess we’ll have to keep listening.
This episode opens with chaos theory: the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings could potentially cause a hurricane in another part of the world. It’s not hard to see why Hannah would be interested in the theory: she’s been stuck in the hurricane before.
Clay’s tape assignment brings him to the third side of the story of Jessica and Hannah’s disintegrated friendship: Alex. Alex is having a particularly tough time coping with Hannah’s death, and he’s already listened to the tapes twice, just in case the first time was a dream.
Meanwhile, Olivia is still hellbent on finding a reason for Hannah’s suicide. She didn’t get tapes: she needs to find evidence herself. She goes to see the Principal of the school, and begs for answers about Hannah’s behavior. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get them: the Principal says he shouldn’t be talking to her at all, given the lawsuit she’s brought against them. Instead, Olivia finds answers — or is it more questions? — when she finds graffiti mocking Hannah in the girl’s bathroom. Is this what she’s talking to Tony at Monet’s about? Why would Tony know anything about Hannah’s history in the first place?
One person who is taking on all the blame for Hannah’s suicide — or, at least, a large portion of the blame, since he declares that everyone on the tapes is also guilty — is Alex. It all comes back to that list, he says, but Clay can’t understand why Hannah would be so devastated by Alex’s “compliment.” It clearly took some time, but Alex has already listened to the tapes: he knows he messed up, and badly. As Hannah explains, if you don’t get it, you don’t understand what it’s like to be a girl: to have your body sexualized without your consent, to have to deal with the whispers in the hall. Not only did Alex placing Hannah on the list — which he admits he did out of spite because Jessica wouldn’t have sex with him — ruin Hannah and Jessica’s friendship, it also “declared open season” on Hannah’s body. The rumors are bad enough, but it’s more than that. Guys start grabbing her in the hallway, making comments, taking photos — a “joke” to them, but a total violation to Hannah.
And then there’s the Bryce thing. It’s a testament to actor Justin Prentice’s performance that the very sight of football captain, resident douchebag, and casual misogynist Bryce makes my skin crawl. While out purchasing candy at a local liquor store, Bryce comes up behind Hannah and buys her candy bar. However, the gesture isn’t exactly generous: after handing Hannah the candy bar, he grabs her ass, and tells her that Alex definitely got at least one part of the list right. With that, Bryce walks off, leaving Hannah frozen in place. It’s only after he’s gone that Hannah leaves the store, tears streaming down her face.
In present day, Clay visits the same liquor store where Bryce assaulted Hannah. Low and behold, Bryce is there picking up some malt liquor for his pals. He corners Clay, then demands that he engage in a chugging contest with Alex. It’s not a “fun” moment — it’s a bizarre intimidation tactic, and it works. Clay loses the contest, and then loses his lunch all over his mother’s home cooked meal.
It’s not just the alcohol that has made Clay sick: before heading home, he witnesses Tony — whom Alex previously told Clay “was only out for Tony” — brutally beating a guy. Is everyone right? Should Clay be wary of trusting what was once his only real friend?
As for Alex, hanging with the “cool crowd” has only made him more miserable. He jumps into the pool with his clothes on, and for a second we think he won’t come back for air.
Hannah’s final message of episode 3 is an ominous one. She warns Clay that her next task for him won’t be easy — and that he’ll have to be very, very quiet.
The meaning of Hannah’s final message of last episode is revealed. The tapes send Clay to Tyler the yearbook photographer’s house. Tyler was Hannah’s very own personal stalker: he used to stand outside her house, waiting for her to come home, and take her picture. Naturally, this terrified Hannah — but when Clay confronts Tyler about the pictures, Tyler reveals that he was actually in love with Hannah — she didn’t wear a mask like the rest of the world. Clay demands he destroys the photos he took of Hannah, and Tyler shows him one that he took of Clay walking with Hannah. Does he really want Tyler to destroy every picture?
Masks are an appropriate theme for this episode, considering it’s Halloween. Marcus, one of Bryce and Justin’s friends, finds Clay outside of Tyler’s bedroom — per Hannah’s request — and invites him to a party they’re having later. Of course, Clay will have to bring a party favor: Hannah’s tapes. Marcus wants Clay to forget about what’s on them and “move on” with the rest of the people featured in Hannah’s final thoughts. Tony warns Clay: whatever promises this group is making him, they’re lying.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s parents are dealing with their own loss. When Clay drives by Hannah’s house and finds it decorated with toilet paper thanks to a Halloween prank, he tries to clean up the mess. Olivia comes outside and threatens to call the police, but when Clay tells her that he was trying to take the toilet paper down, she invites him inside to talk about Hannah. But Clay doesn’t stay: he can’t bear a conversation with Hannah’s mom knowing that, should he give her the tapes, she’ll believe he’s responsible for her daughter’s death.
Andy, a pharmacist, is dealing with both the loss of his daughter and his life in the community: with a Wal-Mart like store opening up down the street, he’s losing customers left and right. But Olivia reminds him it’s not Walplex’s grand opening that is keeping them from coming into the Baker Pharmacy… people are now afraid of the Bakers. They don’t want to say the wrong thing. Well, screw that, says Andy: it’s time they fight and reminded them that their daughter’s death wasn’t a senseless tragedy. It could have been prevented.
Perhaps it could have — had it not been for people like Tyler and Courtney. In flashbacks, we learn that Courtney, the school’s classic overachiever, offered to help Hannah find the identity of her stalker. They hatch a plan to bait the photographer at their sleepover, but the plan gets tossed to the side when Hannah and Courtney get into Hannah’s parents’ liquor cabinet. Instead of catching Tyler, the girls play truth or dare on Hannah’s bed. Things escalate quickly: soon, Courtney is daring Hannah to kiss her. While they’re making out (Courtney is far more into it than Hannah is) Hannah sees a flash go off. Courtney and Hannah run to the window and catch Tyler in the act. Courtney is pissed — she thought Hannah’s stalker was some creepy old man, not a classmate. But really, she’s afraid that the photo will out her to the entire school.
It doesn’t: but not for lack of trying on Tyler’s part. The next day, Hannah confronts Tyler, and he agrees to delete all the evidence of that night. He then asks Hannah — the object of his affection — to “hang out,” which Hannah laughs off, considering he’s just confessed to being her secret stalker. That pisses Tyler off: he forwards half the school a blurry photo of Courtney and Hannah’s make out session, and Courtney confronts Hannah, sobbing. “Never talk to me again,” says Courtney. And just like that, Hannah has lost another friend.
No one ever finds out the identity of the two girls in the photo, but enough people have the picture on their computers for… well, not-so-innocent reasons. That includes Clay, who deletes the pics. But he’s not content with letting Tyler get away with his stalking: Clay decides it’s about time Tyler really knows what it feels like to be afraid, so he takes a photo of Tyler, naked, and passes it around to those who have heard the tapes. When Tony texts Clay “What the hell?” Clay just replies that he’s “Making [his] own justice.” Tyler, who also got a copy of the photo sent to his phone, sits down on his bed and cries.
If there’s one recurring theme in 13 Reasons Why, it’s people destroying other because of their personal pain. Maybe what our parents taught us is true: bullies are only bullies because they don’t like themselves.
That certainly seems true in Courtney’s case. It’s only fitting that Courtney is the next person to be eviscerated on the tapes: she was so quick to drop Hannah as a friend following Tyler’s near outing.
In this episode, we learn that it’s more than that. Courtney and Hannah actually did make up following Courtney’s cruelty. Hannah and Courtney, having not yet been revealed as the girls who were making out in the photo, decide to attend the winter formal in a group. Unfortunately for Courtney, some people have picked up on the fact that it was Hannah and Courtney kissing — including one gross dude who starts soliciting Courtney for a threeway. In order to get the attention off of herself, Courtney lies and tells him that it was Hannah and Sky, another student, in the photo. For extra measure, Courtney also gives him “intimate details” of Hannah’s night at the park with Justin.
Hannah confronts Courtney about her lies — all Hannah wanted to do was be her friend. Why would Courtney throw her under the bus? Courtney doesn’t give a real answer.
Speaking of Justin, the winter formal is also the beginning of Justin and Jessica’s relationship. In order to cope with her complicated feelings for Alex, Jessica gets a little too drunk off of Justin’s supply at the formal. When Hannah sees this, she collects Jessica, feeds her crackers, and drives her home — but not before getting a jump from Tony, who also hands her a cassette tape of the slow dance from that night.
Clay is also at this dance, and even gets to dance with Hannah before she goes off to deal with all of the drama. He may have been a bystander to all of the drama at the winter formal, but Clay is no longer happy standing on the sidelines. In present day, he asks Courtney if they can ditch school to “go talk.” The location? Hannah’s gravesite, where Clay confronts Courtney about her betrayal. He also doesn’t understand why Courtney is so afraid of being gay — as we saw at Monet’s, she has two (pretty perfect) gay dads. Courtney admits that’s exactly why she doesn’t want to come out: she had gay parents before anyone else did, and she saw how hard it was for her fathers growing up.
Justin, Bryce, Zach (Ross Butler), and Alex learn about what Clay did to Courtney (make her cry in a cemetery) and decide that it’s time to shut him down. They may have laughed at Tyler’s butt pic, but they also don’t want retaliation to come their way — even though retaliation for what is yet to be seen. On his way home, the boys throw Clay in Alex’s car and interrogate him — all while Alex pushes the car to 120 mph. Fortunately for Clay, a cop pulls Alex over — a cop that turns out to be Alex’s own father.
Clay’s own mother Lainie (Amy Hargreaves) has a major bomb to drop. After we learn that the school is lawyering up, Clay’s mom reveals that she’s one of said litigators. She asks if Clay knows of any bullying at Liberty High. Where would one even begin?
Holidays seem to mark Hannah’s life. The one she’s talking about on her sixth tape is Valentine’s Day — a day, Hannah admits, she hoped would help her connect with a special someone. Does she mean Clay? That part is unclear… and honestly, doesn’t it even matter now?
Hannah describes her last Valentine’s Day, one that started off promising and ended the way most of these episodes do: in bitter disappointment. The subject of her latest tape is “golden boy” Marcus. He’s popular, head of the school honor board, and overall seems like a decent dude.
Hannah and Marcus connect when Marcus gets her name during a school-sanctioned “match-making” charity event. He begs her for a date at Rosie’s Diner, and, against Hannah’s better judgement, she shows up. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t — at least, not for a full hour. When Marcus arrives with half the football team in tow, Hannah is pissed — but not so pissed that she won’t let him share the rest of her milkshake. Things are going well… until Marcus slides into Hannah’s side of the booth and begins feeling her up. She forcibly pushes him away, and he bails, saying that he “thought [she] was easy.” Hannah can’t move, can’t speak — and can’t help thinking it was her fault.
In present day, Clay offers to help sweet cheerleader Sheri with her All The Pretty Horses essay. Sheri has seemed pretty into Clay this entire season, so it’s not particularly surprising when their study session ends with them hooking up on Clay’s bed. Unfortunately, Sheri has ulterior motives — she’s also on the tapes, for something “terrible.” She had hoped that Clay would still like her even if he listened to the tapes, but Clay admits that he hasn’t heard hers yet. Sheri was the one who set up Marcus and Hannah as part of the charity event, but so far, the tapes haven’t mentioned any cruelty she’s committed against Hannah.
Meanwhile, Alex and Montgomery (Timothy Granaderos) — the guy who Courtney told about Hannah’s non-existent hookup — get into an all-out brawl after Montgomery nearly mows down Alex in his Jeep. Alex is clearly a ticking time bomb — the 12 other students who received the tapes may be concerned about Clay, but it’s Alex who is the loose cannon here.
The fight illuminates something very important about Liberty High School: the administration has an unbelievable ability to turn the other way when confronted with anything that could make the school look bad. That fight may have left Alex bloodied, but it was off school grounds… and therefore not the high school’s problem. Huh. Wonder how that lawsuit is going to go…
This episode proved that there are two sides to Hannah’s tapes — well, literally, of course, but also figuratively speaking.
This week, Hannah calls Zach to the carpet. Following Marcus groping Hannah at Rosie’s Diner, the basketball star actually sat down with a teary-eyed Hannah. Zach is different than Justin and Bryce: there’s a genuine kindness to him that’s rare in his group of friends. Apparently, Zach has also admired Hannah for quite some time. The next day, Zach approaches Hannah and says that he likes her for her — not for her “great ass,” a reference to Alex’s dumb list. Hannah is so over it, and when Zach attempts to apologize for referencing the list, Hannah lashes out. Zach, wounded, goes back to his friends.
The next day, Hannah finds that her “compliment bag” — the one that has been set up in her communications class for students to share kind words anonymously — is mysteriously empty. By the second week, she realizes that Zach has been emptying her compliments, which has provided her with a small semblance of hope in an otherwise bleak high school existence. So, Hannah sets a “trap” to make Zach stop. She leaves a letter for Zach in her bag, detailing how lonely and sad she feels. As hoped, Hannah catches Zach with the letter, and sees him reading it in the hallway — only for him to toss it on the ground in a crumpled-up ball.
Hannah follows Zach down the hallway and screams “Why me?!?” Zach never responds — but it won’t be the first time that he gets asked that question.
In present day, Clay just can’t seem to let Hannah’s pain go. He’s particularly struck by Zach carelessly tossing Hannah’s heartfelt letter aside, so he decides to key Hannah’s never-answered question into the side of Zach’s Audi.
The next day, Zach and his mother come to the Jensen house: they know Clay carved the words into Zach’s $60,000 car. Clay admits it, and he and Zach talk about what Hannah said on the seventh tape. Zach admits that he got freaked out by Hannah’s letter, but says he didn’t throw it away — in fact, he still carries her letter in his wallet. Perhaps he’s not such a monster after all.
But Clay? He’s not ready to dive into the grey area. He gives Tony back the tapes, and insists it’s “too hard” to explore Hannah’s psyche.
Clay may be done with the tapes, but Hannah’s story isn’t on pause. The next person who hurt Hannah is the man who published her private thoughts to the world: the pretentious poetry-writing zine creator Ryan (Tommy Dorfman).
After searching for a college that will give her both financial aid and acceptance with her low GPA, Hannah stumbles upon a librarian (played, with terrible facial hair, by MTV Scream’s Tom Maden) who invites her to a poetry reading. The weekly event is Ryan’s haunt, which doesn’t please Hannah considering Ryan published Alex’s hot list in his zine. That changes when Hannah hears Ryan’s poetry: it’s incredibly moving, and Hannah wants to be able to move others the way Ryan does.
Ryan agrees to tutor Hannah, and at first, it’s great — they examine Hannah’s old diaries, and Ryan tells her that all poetry should be as embarrassing as reading your diary out loud. Yet Ryan takes it too far: he anonymously publishes a very personal poem, and Hannah gets rightfully pissed. Even her private thoughts aren’t safe at Liberty anymore.
In present day, Tony tells Clay he’s ready to explain exactly why he’s the keeper of the tapes — but first, they have to go on an adventure. Tony takes Clay rock climbing, which nearly ends with Clay plunging to his death. By the time they get to the top of the rock, Clay’s ready to hear the truth: Tony didn’t save Hannah in time. She knocked on his door, but Tony just couldn’t deal with her “drama” that day and didn’t answer. She left the tapes — along with a letter of instructions — but Tony didn’t realize what they were until he began listening. By that time, Hannah was already in a body bag.
The reason why Tony and Hannah bonded — other than being friendly neighbors — was because Tony never harassed her or ogled her body the way it seems most of the boys at Liberty did. Part (though, of course, not all) of the reason for that is Tony is gay — something that shocks Clay, but not any of Tony’s other classmates. In fact, Tony used to date Ryan. I guess Clay’s just that oblivious?
Upon hearing Tony’s dark revelation about Hannah, Clay decides he’s ready to listen to the tapes again. Tony, of course, always knew he was going to — which is why he kept them in the car rather than following through on whatever Hannah’s master plan was.
There have been plenty of painful moments on 13 Reasons Why — the entire show is literally a collection of painful moments, after all — but perhaps nothing compares to the devastating truth about Jessica’s party.
Hannah may have 13 reasons for wanting to die, but she doesn’t necessarily have 13 people on her list. Tape nine is Justin’s tape — part two — and this time, it’s not about what Justin did, but what he didn’t do.
Clay invites Hannah — who is ready to “start fresh” for junior year with a new haircut and attitude — to Jessica’s party, and for once Hannah actually feels like a part of the group. Maybe things really are changing, thinks Hannah. Unfortunately, that’s when the real hurricane happens.
Hannah has three stories from Jessica’s party, and the first one has to do with what happened after Hannah escaped to Jessica’s bedroom. Hannah hides when she hears a drunk Jessica and Justin come into the room. The couple starts making out, until Jessica, wasted, tells Justin she needs to sleep. Justin is bummed that they won’t be hooking up tonight, but he leaves the room… which is when he bumps into Bryce.
There’s been something disturbing about Bryce from the beginning of the series — all starting from the time he casually forwarded Hannah’s intimate pics. Yet Bryce has also been a character that has ducked under the radar. Justin has been villified, but Bryce? He’s just the dirtbag you avoid in the halls lest he grab your ass. Except, it’s exactly that reason why Bryce is so sinister: his “jokes” come at the expense of violating women. Should we be surprised, then, that he considered his best friend’s girlfriend fair game?
It’s painful to watch Jessica lay helpless under Bryce, and equally painful to watch Hannah in the closet, “frozen” while watching this terrible crime take place. When Bryce is finished and leaves, Hannah runs into Jessica’s room and vomits in the trash can. How does one come back from this?
We finally “get” the odd behavior of Justin’s crowd. In present day, Clay confronts Justin: Clay knows that they don’t have enough evidence to convict Bryce, but how dare Justin just stand by and do nothing? Doesn’t he see how this is affecting Jessica, who is skipping school to get drunk with her own rapist? But Justin tells Clay that’s precisely why he wants to forget about the tapes. He cares more about Jessica than he does anyone else in the world… and I actually believe him.
Justin may be Hannah’s “villain,” but he’s more fucked up than anyone could imagine. He’s not a rich kid like Bryce: he’s the victim of abuse who has zero real support from his absentee mother. Basketball gets him a scholarship and a way out of his shitty situation. And Bryce, well… being liked by Bryce gives him a place to crash when things get tough, and someone “in his corner.” The exchange Justin makes — the deal with the devil, if you will — is loyalty.
Bryce cashes in on that loyalty at Jessica’s party. In the scene before Bryce goes into Jessica’s bedroom, we can tell that Justin is apprehensive. He doesn’t want Bryce going in the room because he knows what will happen if he does. Bryce pushes his way in, telling Justin that Jessica’s not his girlfriend but his “summer hookup,” and even remarks that “what’s yours is mine.” When Bryce does go into the room to rape Jessica, Justin tries to stop him — only for Bryce to quite literally throw him out of the room and lock the door behind Justin. In that moment, Justin is helpless to stop what’s happening to Jessica — and, in a sick way, it almost makes sense why he’d want to keep the truth of her rape hidden. It’s the only thing he knows how to do to make what happened to her “go away.”
And yet it doesn’t totally explain why Marcus would buy weed and plant it in Clay’s bag, as he does in hopes that it will shut Clay up. The rape might be the most horrifying thing to happen on this show, but it wasn’t Hannah’s only trigger. More people are guilty… and of what, we don’t yet know.
We know that 13 Reasons Why is about the mystery surrounding Hannah’s death, but what the show has neglected to tell us — until now, of course — is that Hannah’s suicide is directly connected to the death of another student. Tragically, it’s a person whom we already know: Clay’s tutoring student and friend Jeff (Brandon Larracuente) died in a car accident shortly after leaving Jessica’s party. As Hannah explains, Sheri — the subject of tape 10 — is to blame for his death.
After witnessing Jessica’s rape, a wasted Hannah stumbles downstairs. Hannah accepts a ride home from Sheri, who hasn’t been drinking. However, while on the way home, Sheri accidentally hits and knocks over a stop sign. Hannah insists that they have to call the police, but Sheri refuses, telling Hannah that her dad will kill her if he finds out. Hannah stands her ground, and sweet, polite Sheri drives away, leaving a drunk Hannah on the side of the road.
Hannah heads to the nearby liquor store to make a phone call since her cell is dead. After the cashier gives her a hard time, she swipes his phone and calls 9-1-1. However, the “accident” at the intersection has already been reported to the police. Hannah thinks that Sheri made the right decision and called in the stop sign, but the truth is far more disturbing.
On his way back from making a beer run, Jeff gets into a collision with another car — he never stopped because there was no sign. Clay was the person who made that 9-1-1 call, something he has kept a secret ever since.
In a small way, Hannah’s tape has brought Clay some peace: Clay had been furious with Jeff because he thought that he really was driving drunk, as the police incorrectly reported. (Jeff’s beers spilled all over the car.) However, while Clay has made peace with Jeff, he’s angry at Sheri for being the indirect cause of his death. He confronts her and insists that she tells Jeff’s parents what really went down that night, but she says she won’t: what’s done is done. Maybe she’ll tell them one day, but not now.
Instead, Clay goes to Jeff’s parents and tells them about how he called 9-1-1, and that Jeff didn’t knock over the sign. Though Jeff’s father questions how Clay could be privy to such information — did Clay knock down the sign?! — his words are eventually appreciated.
Sheri is also making amends, albeit with a different set of people affected by the crash. The other driver in the accident, an elderly man, was hurt in the accident, but survived. Sheri now goes to the man’s house to help with errands, and has since bonded with him and his wife. They don’t know about her role in what happened that night, of course, but even Clay realizes that it’s Sheri’s way of trying to do the right thing. After all, as Sheri points out — what good would come from the truth if it can’t bring Jeff back?
Clay goes to the playground to be alone with his thoughts, which is when Tony shows up. Tony asks if Clay is still afraid to listen to the tapes. Clay says yes — and then pops the next one into his walkman. Tony offers to stay with Clay because of what’s on the next tape: yes, we’re finally going to hear what Hannah had to say about Clay.
It’s hard to imagine how terrible Clay could be to anyone — he’s kind, sure, but also so passive. Still, Clay is terrified that he is the one who really killed Hannah — and it seems that his fears are well-earned. Clay demands Tony tell him if he’s responsible for Hannah’s suicide: “Did I kill Hannah Baker?” After a long, uncomfortable beat, Tony simply replies “Yes.”
What horrible truth did Clay’s tape reveal? As expected… there is no horrible truth. We really should have known that Clay wasn’t in the same league as the others. As Justin told Clay in the very first episode, Hannah saw Clay as “innocent.”
So why is Clay on the list in the first place? Hannah admits that he really shouldn’t be — but he’s still a big part of her story. We’re back at Jessica’s party, and Jeff encourages Clay to stay and talk to Hannah — particularly tragic considering what happens to poor Jeff later in the night. Clay does what Jeff tells him, and he and Hannah end up having a fun night together. Eventually, they end up in Jessica’s room, and, after a conversation about Jessica’s adorably bizarre rock collection, start making out.
Hannah tells Clay that she wanted to keep kissing Clay — but her brain wouldn’t turn off. She kept thinking about all of the guys who screwed her over, all of the pain she had to deal with. That was the reason, she says, that she abruptly stopped their make out session and screamed at Clay to “get out.” Really, she says, she wanted him to stay.
In present day, Clay is torn up with guilt about what he could have done to help Hannah. He tells Tony that he shouldn’t have left her — he killed her, and possibly Jeff, by not insisting that he stay. Tony reminds Clay that Hannah was the one who made her choice. She told him to go, and he did what she asked.
Sidebar: if Tony really feels that way, he might not want to throw around phrases like “Well, we ALL killed Hannah Baker.” Clearly, Clay did not.
Clay’s guilt, however, isn’t the most heartbreaking thing to come out of this episode. Jessica has been on a downward spiral for episodes now, and it’s not hard to understand why. She knows something awful happened to her, and, deep down, likely knows that Bryce is the culprit. Yet, hanging out with Bryce makes things “okay” — if she can drink with Bryce, even flirt with him, maybe it can erase the crime he committed against her. But Jessica’s increasingly erratic behavior makes it obvious that she’s not okay — especially when she shows Bryce her father’s gun collection.
Justin knows Jessica is hurting, and is disgusted when he goes to Bryce’s house and sees Jessica flirting with Bryce. Jessica demands an answer — why doesn’t Justin want her to hang out at Bryce’s place? Justin finally screams out the truth — it’s because Bryce raped her — and Jessica slaps him across the face. “I hate you!” she screams, before running off. Bryce, on the other hand, isn’t mad — nor does he deny what he did to Jessica. He simply asks Justin “What did you do?”
For Bryce, being accused of rape is barely a bump in the road. In the last shot of the episode, Bryce texts Jessica to ask if she’s “okay.” Jessica, sobbing in her bed, doesn’t respond.
Episode 12 brings us to Hannah’s penultimate tape — a tape that depicts the events of the worst day of her life. The day starts with her parents arguing over how to deal with their landlord, whom they owe significant back rent — the massive WalPlex has been hurting the Baker’s pharmacy for quite some time. Hannah offers to drop the register money off at the bank to ease the tension, and, for a moment, things seem okay with the Baker family.
On her way to the bank, Hannah stops by the movie theater — she quit to work at the pharmacy at her parent’s request — and picks up her last paycheck from Clay. Clay is a little cold to Hannah — he’s clearly guarded after the events of Jessica’s party. Still, the conversation goes pleasantly enough, and Hannah seems like she might actually be alright. Unfortunately, Hannah’s “favor” to her parents goes awry when she accidentally leaves the bag of money from the pharmacy on the roof of the car, losing it.
Hannah’s parents aren’t quite as angry as they could be, but Hannah still feels horrible about the extra financial burdened her mistake has caused. When she’s unable to sleep that night, she goes out for a walk in the rich part of town, eventually stumbling upon a party at Bryce’s home. Hannah walks in and sees Jessica, totally hammered in the hot tub. Jessica invites Hannah in, and, surprisingly, Hannah obliges. She strips down to her bra and underwear and, for the first time in a long time, actually feels okay and normal.
And that’s when the worst happens. After Jessica and Justin disappear into the house, leaving Hannah alone in the hot tub, Bryce comes in. Hannah is immediately on edge, but tries her best to play it cool. However, when she tells Bryce she has to go home, Bryce won’t have it. He begins feeling her up as she struggles to climb out of the hot tub. She tries to wriggle out of his grasp, but Bryce pulls her back into the water. There, under the stars that Hannah once felt so at peace under, is where Bryce rapes a terrified Hannah.
When Hannah goes home that night, she makes a map of all the people who have hurt her — all the names, and how they’re connected. As she looks at the list in front of her, she decides something: that no one will ever hurt her again.
The attitudes of “Team Tapes” suddenly make a lot more sense: they’ve been sitting on evidence of multiple crimes in order to protect themselves from judgement. They’re also going to have to lie, because the entire group — save for Sheri — has been subpoenaed to appear in the Baker’s civil hearing.
(Note: the Bakers’ lawyer is played by Wilson Cruz, who portrayed Ricky on My So-Called Life. Whatever the reason behind the casting decision, it’s an interesting callback to the teen drama that built the foundation upon which 13 Reasons Why exists.)
Clay knows that no one will believe Hannah’s story — especially with the people on the tapes so hellbent to keep them out of trial. So, as he did with Tyler, Clay seeks his own brand of justice. He goes to Bryce’s house under the guise of buying weed (oh, how unconvincing Clay sounds when asking Bryce for a “hybrid” strain) but instead begins asking him questions about that night in the hot tub. “You had sex with Hannah Baker that night… Did she want you to?” (Bryce’s answer — “I assume so” — is disturbingly indicative of the mindset that Bryce, and so many people like him, have about consent.)
After Bryce tells Clay that she “fucking wanted it,” Clay snaps. He punches Bryce in the face — and that’s the final straw for Bryce. The football player beats Clay senseless, until Clay is left a bloody pulp on the floor. But it’s more than just a bloody nose that Clay takes away from his confrontation with Bryce: he also has Bryce’s confession, which becomes “Tape 14.”
As Clay confronts Bryce, Jessica confronts her pain. She pours the liquor bottles she’s been using to mask her pain down the bathroom sink, then takes a hot shower where she scrubs every inch of herself clean.
The final chapter of Hannah’s story starts on a strangely optimistic note. Hannah declares at the beginning of Tape 13 that she was ready to give life one more shot. She would seek help. She couldn’t bear the burden of her depression alone, she says, but maybe there’s a way to make it stop that doesn’t include ending her own life.
And so, we meet the final “reason why.” It’s not a student at all, but the guidance counselor, Mr. Porter (Derek Luke). It’s to him that Hannah goes when things get to be too much — but Porter might as well have set his out of office message and gone to Hawaii. Hannah explains how she feels “numb,” like she doesn’t care about anything. Porter — whose phone won’t stop ringing — says exactly the wrong things. He asks her about her friends — friends like Jessica, Alex and Courtney. Hannah insists that they’re not her friends.
“I just want it to stop… everything, life…” Hannah says, through tears.
Hannah tells Porter about her “encounter” with Bryce, without referring to him by name. Porter probes, “Did he force himself on you?” Hannah says she “thinks so.” Porter asks, “Did you say no? Did you tell him to stop?” Hannah admits that no, she didn’t. Porter declares that maybe she did consent, but then changed her mind. Hannah insists it “wasn’t like that.” Porter says that he can help her, and that they can report the assault to the police… but only if Hannah tells him everything. Hannah asks if giving Porter a name will mean that her rapist will go to jail, or leave school so she will “never have to see him again.” Porter can’t make that promise… and so Hannah can’t give him a name.
“I’m not trying to be blunt here, Hannah, but… there really is only one option. You can move on.”
Hannah leaves Porter’s office, having already made the decision to end her pain permanently. And that’s when we realize: she’s been recording this conversation for her last tape. Tape 13.
“Some of you cared. None of you cared enough,” says Hannah at the end of her recording. “And neither did I.”
Hannah goes to the post office to mail her tapes — which is when she runs into Robert, the librarian she met at the college fair. He asks her to return to the poetry reading that week — the group has missed her. One of the members even wrote a poem about how much they wished she’d return. It’s a small moment, but a significant one: it shows how far gone Hannah was, and how, perhaps, her bleak worldview was shaped significantly by her depression. There were people who cared about Hannah left in the world… she just had a very hard time seeing them.
The decision has been made. Hannah puts on some old clothes, fills her bathtub with water, and slits her wrists open. The scene is depicted with such unflinching realism that I could barely stomach it. There are no cuts to a dripping faucet, no jumps in time — the show wants us to bear witness to Hannah’s suicide. (For those who have yet to watch… the scene is extremely difficult to get through. I watched the episode twice and chose to skip the scene upon the second viewing.)
In present day, Clay confronts Porter about his visit with Hannah, and though he’s sympathetic, Porter refuses to accept any real blame for her actions. Hannah was the one who chose to die — we don’t know what was going on in her head. Clay tells him that’s not exactly true, and pulls out the tapes.
Meanwhile, Team Tapes are giving their own taped deposition… and no one is fessing up to anything they don’t have to. Sheri, who was not asked to come in and speak on camera, is, ironically, the only one who confessed: she called the police and admitted her role in Jeff’s fatal accident.
Tyler doesn’t confess to being a Peeping Tom, but he does reveal the culture of bullying at Liberty High School. “I get shit everyday,” says Tyler, who was the only member of Team Tapes to be iced out of their paranoid meetups. As for Hannah, he admits that “guys would call her a slut.” When asked about any physical abuse, he retorts “I bet it happened.” Tyler then drops the bomb about Hannah’s tapes — an act of rebellion against the group that never let him in.
Tragically, it won’t be the only one. Just before he leaves for his deposition, we see Tyler packing up guns and ammunition into his camera case. Tyler has plans — and, it seems, a hit list. In the dark room, we see that Tyler has hung up photos of all the people who were cruel to him. Following a flashback of Alex standing up for Tyler in the school hallway, Tyler takes Alex’s photo down. The final photo is Clay’s — a reminder of the cruelty that Clay himself unleashed after hearing Hannah’s tapes.
Following the depositions, Tony goes to the pharmacy and presents the Bakers with Hannah’s tapes on a flashdrive — including “side 14,” Bryce’s confession. He apologizes: he wanted to do right by Hannah, but now he sees that this is the only way for this story to end.
Then there’s the big question: what now? Hannah may receive some kind of justice, in the sense that her parents may win their lawsuit, but the wreckage remains. Still, there is some healing: Jessica reveals her rape to her father. Courtney seemingly tells her own dad about her sexuality. Justin finally cuts ties with Bryce, who seems more confused than ever about why Justin would be so angry with him. (The price of privilege?)
But not everyone’s pain is alleviated in the final episode. Alex, we learn, has shot himself in the head. His is the mysterious body we saw in the back of an ambulance at the very beginning of the episode. It was all too obvious that Alex was suicidal… and, for all the talk about saving people, no one jumped in to rescue Alex.
There are no more tapes. No more revelations. So what’s to be done? Clay may not be able to bring Hannah back, but he can reach out to someone else in pain. He sees Sky, his former friend, walking down the hallway. For a moment, she’s Hannah. Clay asks her if she wants to hang out. He’s not okay, but he’s getting there.
And so, Clay, Tony, Tony’s boyfriend, and Sky take a drive in Tony’s red vintage car. “Should I put on a tape?” Tony asks. “Let’s just listen to the radio,” Clay replies. It’s not Perks of Being A Wallflower, but it might be the most hopeful note the show could end on.
Which makes me wonder: has it truly ended? The novel upon which 13 Reasons Why is based has no sequel, but the show almost demands a second season. The reveal about Tyler’s murderous intentions is too much for this show to let dangle in the “What now?” Considering the prevalence of school violence, perhaps that’s what we need: a season dedicated to the aftermath of whatever it is that Tyler wanted to accomplish.
This show has moved me in a way few others ever have. It’s a call to action. Hannah’s story may be over, but for the sake of its audience, I hope 13 Reasons Why is not.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.