Be warned, 13 Reasons Why isn't an easy binge-watch. The new Netflix series unfolds in installments, as teenage Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) posthumously reveals the reasons (and people) that led her to death by suicide. She leaves behind a series of tapes to condemn and call out those whose micro and macro aggressions drove her to kill herself. Everyone mentioned must listen to all 13 tapes...or the truth comes out. (What that "truth"is kind of depends on your perspective, but it's safe to say that most of the people involved would rather it stay buried.)
Through the narration, we get to see things from Hannah's perspective, but also the consequences of her own actions in present day as her peers try and grapple with guilt, and pain of their own. There's Clay (Dylan Minette), the boy next door type who has been loving Hannah from afar while never quite stepping up to the plate; Jessica (Alisha Boe), Hannah's former best friend who brutally dumped her over a boy; Justin (Brandon Flynn), who gave Hannah her first kiss only to slut-shame her in front of the whole school, and on and on. It's riveting, in a can't look away, can't keep looking, kind of way. There's no easy way around it: we, like the characters, are bearing witness to a young girl's decision to end her life.
It's a pretty brutal journey, but it's the ending in particular that we need to talk about here: Hannah's suicide scene. (Spoilers ahead!)
I'll confess, I haven't quite made up my mind about this one. On the one hand, it's truly one of the most shocking things I've seen on television in...ever. On the other, should suicide really be easy to watch?
This one most certainly isn't. After her attempt to report her sexual assault to the school guidance counselor doesn't exactly pan out (he tells her she can either disclose the name of her rapist, or "move on"), Hannah only sees one option ahead. Walking through the empty halls of her high school, she speaks some of her last words into the microphone hanging from her backpack.
At what point does this become emotional torture porn — or even dangerous?
"I think I've made myself very clear. No one's coming forward to stop me. Some of you cared. None of you cared enough. And neither did I. And I'm sorry. So, it's the end of Tape 13. There's nothing more to say." Then, as the bell rings and the halls flood with students, she just stands there for a moment. She's not one of them — it's like she's already gone.
Then, Hannah goes home, makes her bed, returns her uniform to the movie theater where she worked after school, mails the tapes to the first person on her list (Justin), changes into old sweats, and runs a bath. She opens the box of razor blades she stole from her parents' drug store, steps in, slits her wrists and sits there until her breathing grows shallow and eventually stops. There are no euphemistic montages, or [Insert Sad Emo Ballad Here] as her life flashes before her eyes— there's only Hannah, bleeding, crying, struggling to breathe, and then dying.
It's the first depiction of teen suicide that has felt real enough to knock the wind out of me. I don't think I could watch it again. But it also feels, in some ways, like a how-to guide to suicide. Yes, teens should be aware of the impact that words and seemingly banal actions have on others. Petty grudges can lead to serious consequences. But is showing the minute details of someone's suffering truly the best path to awareness? At what point does this become emotional torture porn — or even dangerous?
13 Reasons Why isn't a perfect show. It's a little too long, and drags in the middle. Some of the action makes no sense. But if it makes us confront these important questions, then it's worth it — even if it doesn't quite provide an answer.
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.