After years defending the graphic and highly controversial suicide of teenager Hannah (Katherine Langford) at the end of 13 Reasons Why's first season, the Netflix show has decided to retroactively remove it.
In the original scene, Hannah ends her life in the bathtub. The moment is unrelenting, and very disturbing: It forces audiences to watch Hannah in extreme pain before her death. It is also much different than the one depicted in Jay Asher's novel of the same name. This was the intention of the creator, Brian Yorkey, who defended the controversial moment in Netflix TV special Beyond the Reasons.
"We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch, because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide," Yorkey said.
Still, many mental health experts argued that depicting suicide so graphically could lead to an increase in deaths by suicide. This, and the fact that new viewers find 13 Reasons Why every day and could be exposed to a potentially dangerous scene, is what ultimately made Netflix alter the scene.
"We’ve heard from many young people that 13 Reasons Why encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help—often for the first time," Netflix said in a statement posted to their Twitter account. "As we prepare to launch Season 3 later this summer, we’ve been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we’ve decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers of 13 Reasons Why to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from Season 1." In another note, Yorkey added: "We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the new scene — which shows Hannah looking in the mirror and then her parents reacting to her death — was not a response to the show's third season, which launches later this summer on Netflix. There will reportedly not be another person who dies by suicide in the upcoming installment. Season 2 of the show depicted Alex (Miles Heizer) recovering after a self-inflicted gunshot wound following the aftermath of the first season.
This move does not remove the general controversy surrounding 13 Reasons Why, which is the idea that Hannah's death is used as a "revenge" against her classmates, who receive tapes pointing out their past indiscretions against her. However, the third season has moved away from Hannah's story: Langford, whose character died months before the events of season 1 but appeared in flashbacks and as a figment of imagination, has exited the series.
Whether these moves by Netflix will make critics take a closer look at the series is unclear, but for a show which hopes to open up a conversation around mental health issues, listening to an audience that claims they've made a mistake in that area is a step in the right direction.