Warning: Major, major spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why season 4.
13 Reasons Why season 4 could have ran as an easy farewell season. The teens of Liberty High could have fretted about college applications, and then went off into the world, desperate to hide their murderous secrets forever. Instead, 13 Reasons’ final 10 episodes are fueled by a single disturbing question: What the hell is happening to Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette)?
In the second episode of 13 Reasons season 4, “College Tour,” Clay realizes he has been “losing time.” At the same time, he has also been hallucinating the late Monty de la Cruz (Timothy Granaderos) and receiving threatening messages from someone claiming to be “Monty.” Clay’s obvious mental health struggles become evident to all of Liberty High in “Valentine’s Day,” when he sobs over a practice dummy and wanders into a dance holding a weapon while covered in (secretly fake) blood.
It is impossible not to wonder what is really going on with Clay — and whether he is the Liberty High student fated to die by the finale, as season 4 premiere “Winter Break” foretells. Thankfully, if you pay attention to the final few episodes of 13 Reasons Why, you’ll find all your answers.
Who Is Texting Clay?
Clay’s text-based bullying is one of the few 13 Reasons Why season 4 crises not caused by Clay’s dissociative states. Rather, the football players are at fault. As we learn in “Valentine’s Day,” it is the jocks, led by new character Diego (Jan Luis Castellanos), who have been tormenting Clay by pretending to contact him from “Monty’s phone.”
In reality, they don’t have any such device. The jocks are simply using a number scrambling app to make it appear they are all contacting Clay from Monty’s phone number. Each time a jock contacts Clay, they demand some form of punishment, like starting a fight he could never win. After the repercussions of the athletes’ bloody Valentine’s Day “prank” on Clay — which results in him walking into a dance holding a knife — and Clay’s dissociative retribution in “Camping Trip,” the bullying is called to an end.
What Did Clay Do?
Basically everything you assumed Winston (Deaken Bluman) did to get under the 13 Reasons crew’s skin. Eighth episode “Acceptance/Rejection” reveals Clay has been suffering from trauma-induced dissociative fugue since the beginning of the season.
Clay’s most explosive dissociative action arrives in “Acceptance/Rejection,” when he sets fire to Principal Bolan’s (Steven Weber) car during the LHS anti-police state protest. Clay has no idea he committed the crime until his therapist Dr. Ellman (CSI: NY’s Gary Sinise) shows him a video of the incident. This revelation causes Clay to remember everything else that happened when he “lost time” over the season.
A series of flashbacks confirm Clay painted the “Monty was framed” graffiti in LHS, broke the new security cameras in school, and terrorized his friends during the senior camping trip. It is hinted Clay was in a dissociative state for most of “House Party,” including when he was rude to Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn) and drove Zach Dempsey’s (Ross Butler) car off of a cliff. It is unclear if Clay also sent the threatening email that he and his friends/co-conspirators received right before the camping trip, but all evidence suggests Clay did that as well.
Does Clay Die?
No, although 13 Reasons Why season 4 certainly tries to convince you otherwise for much of the season. At the most obvious level of suggestion, there is the flash-forward funeral in the season premiere cold open. “How did we get here… Again?” Phylicia Rashad’s pastor asks the funeral congregation. Then the camera immediately flashes to Clay six months prior, hinting he is the character most directly connected to that question.
The thread between Clay and death is repeated multiple times over the season, including his multiple conversations with dead people like Monty, his car ride off of a cliff, and the fact that he wanders the halls of LHS during an active shooter drill (that he does not know is a drill). There is even a scene in “Camping Trip” that hints Clay flat lines from the anxiety of the jocks’ bullying. Yet, that scene is a metaphor and not a fact.
Instead, someone very close to Clay dies in the series finale, “Graduation.” While this is yet another horrible — and narratively troubling — trauma, the loss does remind Clay just how important it is to survive.