13 Reasons Why season 3 doesn’t hold your hand. The moment you step into 2019 premiere “Yeah, I’m the New Girl,” you’re months into Team Tape’s senior year. The titular new girl, Ani Achola (Grace Saif), is fully acclimated into the horror and scheming at Liberty High, and has an enigmatic romantic dynamic with protagonist Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette). The “missing,” and soon to be confirmed dead, Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) is at Hillcrest Prep. Everyone has moved on from Tyler Down’s (Devin Druid) near-school shooting at the Spring Fling, which marked the horrifying end of season 2.
The present timeline is a mess for viewers — it’s not as though the series stays in one place for very long. Instead, the Netflix drama skips back and forth between Clay’s ever-evolving senior year and the events that unfolded following season 2's Spring Fling. The narrative jump is made often and without warning, leaving the audience questioning not only what they see, but when it happened.
Thankfully, there’s a trick to keeping the timelines straight: the aspect ratio and color palette. Flashbacks are fullscreen and warm, while present-day scenes are widescreen and cool. In technical terms, the past has a 1.77 aspect ratio and the present appears in 2.22, Netflix confirmed to Refinery29.
Yes, this nerdy, never-before-used effect in 13 Reasons Why is truly the sole way you’re going to keep season 3's timeline jumping straight. It only dawned on me halfway through premiere episode, “New Girl,” several flashbacks had already happened. But, when you see Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler) storm out of Monet’s at around the 26-minute mark, something clicks.
In the flashback, Team Tape sits around a Monet’s table trying to figure out how to protect Tyler from an arrest and keep the students of Liberty High safe. We’re zoomed in on the characters — their faces, their emotions — and the color palette would fit in with any cozy NBC family drama. Then Zach makes the excellent point that he and his fellow conspirators, all of whom are hormonal teenagers, don’t have the skills necessary to keep a would-be mass shooter from unspeakable violence consistently.
So, Zach storms out of the meeting. As he strides out of the door, there is a hard visual change. We see Clay standing next to the same Monet's exit that Zach burst through. The soft yellows and big picture that denote the past is gone and in their place is a widescreen, cinematic image populated by icy grays and greens. All of a sudden, you realize the flashback had the warm aesthetic of a memory or a photo left in the sun for too long (although nothing in the past of 13 Reasons is so sweet). The present, on the other hand, is sharp as can be, suggesting there is far less hope to be found in this cool, hyper clear reality.
Also, considering season 3 is a murder mystery, the present timeline's wide frame invites viewers to observe every inch of Clay’s world, lest there be some clue hiding in the corner.
With this new bit of visual flair, 13 Reasons joins the likes of Peak TV favorite Homecoming. That piece of Amazon Prime awards show bait also loves communicating time with something as geeky as aspect ratio. Forget Katherine Langford's 2018 Golden Globe nomination — is this sign that 13 Reasons Why is officially prestige television?