Warning: spoilers for season 2 of 13 Reasons Why ahead.
Clay Jensen has no chill.
That’s not a dig at a character who’s clearly going through some stuff. In one of the first episodes of 13 Reasons Why, Clay (Dylan Minnette) has a brief conversation with his parents about resuming some kind of medication. And in the second season of the Netflix series, the walking, talking ghost of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) follows Clay wherever he goes. As far as his mental health goes, Clay deserves all the empathy viewers can offer.
But when it comes to his relationships with young women, the guy has a lot to learn. That’s one of the show’s major themes, of course: Clay was too timid to tell Hannah exactly how he felt while she was still alive. He left her when she wished he’d stayed — not that he could’ve known what she was thinking.
Skye breaks up with Clay in episode 3, season 2 of 13 Reasons Why. “You can figure out your own shit and I’ll figure out mine,” she says. “Apart.” When Clay protests, she tells him, “We have to be done, Clay.” It’s an unambiguous message: Skye doesn’t want to hear from the dude, at least not any time soon.
Still, over the next five episodes, Clay continues trying to reach his ex. He returns to the hospital, only to learn that she’s been moved to another inpatient facility. He calls Skye’s cell, leaving voicemail after voicemail. Clay believes he’s right to be persistent: that if he can just show Skye that she’s truly in his heart, he’ll break through. He seems to genuinely think that he shouldn’t take no for an answer.
This dynamic isn’t just a problem with the Netflix series — it’s a problem with the source material. Jay Asher’s book sets up the original Clay and Hannah relationship, and with it, the idea that Clay might have won (and saved) his dream girl if only he’d been more persistent. It was up to Clay, of course, because of that old double standard: a guy who is persistent is romantic, while a girl who does it is crazy. Heck, just look at how Clay annoyed he was when Skye made a surprise appearance at family dinner.
Time and time again, boys are taught to keep trying. Clay even encourages this behavior in Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn), who returns to Crestmont in hopes of winning back former girlfriend Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe). Jessica, too, makes it clear that she wants nothing more to do with her ex. But by the end of the season, that’s no longer the case.
So why does Clay get away with failing to understand consent in his relationship? When Skye gets her phone privileges back, she allows Clay to see her. While she’s not interested in rekindling their romance, she doesn’t seem all that freaked out by his stalker-ish phone habits.
13 Reasons Why misses an opportunity to convey an important message: when a girl says “no,” it’s never the beginning of a negotiation. The sooner parents start teaching their sons to respect women and their decisions, the sooner this double standard will disappear. Maybe it’s a good first step that Clay’s persistence didn’t bring him a fairytale ending — but man, we’ve still got a long way to go.