Netflix's original series, 13 Reasons Why, adapted from Jay Asher's novel of the same name (styled as Th1rteen R3asons Why), has been making the rounds on the internet for a variety of reasons. Parents think the content is inappropriate (it could be argued that there's really no content that's more appropriate for a teenager to watch these days). People are worried that this glamorizes suicidal ideation (I'll see your indignation and raise you a middle school reading of Romeo and Juliet). Basically what all the controversy boils down to is that the 13 part series (which makes rape, drugs, harassment and other commonplace high school events central to its story) is just too real.
Some Canadian schools have even banned discussing the series. Now that's seriously missing the point. If the subject matter is "too triggering" for high school kids, as the letters to the Canadian parents read, maybe the school systems should think about why that is. In the words of Clay, "I feel like, as a society, our priorities are all out of whack." Instead of worrying about what your kid is seeing on Netflix, maybe worry about what they're seeing in the hallways and on their phones every single day. You're disturbed? You damn well should be.
Regardless of whether or not you loved 13 Reasons Why or were too shocked to love it, odds are you missed the point of Hannah's story because, well, the story isn't really about Hannah (Katherine Langford) at all. Hannah's twisted tale is really a long and winding red herring for the true tragedy of the series. Alex Standall (Miles Heizer).
Alex is a one time friend of Hannah's who, according to her Butterfly Effect theory, sets in motion all the events that lead to her eventual suicide when he crafts a hot or not list of the girls in her class. Throughout the series the viewers are closely tied to the protagonist, good guy Clay (Dylan Minnette). We can see his suicidal thoughts front and center when he briefly considers what it would be like to jump off a cliff. For other potential suicides, viewers are easily drawn to characters like Skye (Sosie Bacon) (an obvious choice seeing as she is full of piercings and ennui, maintains a surly attitude and cuts herself), or Tyler (the stalker who is continually and publicly bullied), though he's a prime candidate for a school shooter rather than a suicide. These two cases are classic presentations of what to watch for and are therefore easy to identify.
But, it's Alex's subtle morose storyline drifting in and out of the background of the series that is the whole crux of the point of 13 Reasons Why. We are too distracted by piecing together Hannah's storyline to see what's right in front of us the whole time: Alex getting into a fight at school. Alex requesting punishment just so he can feel something. Alex claiming he no longer cares about anything. Alex letting himself fall into a pool, untethered to reality. Alex cleaning his room (as Hannah did, and as many other suicidal people do) before he takes his own life.
As the subject of the final tape, the school councilor (Derek Luke), ultimately fails Hannah in the worst way possible, Hannah says to him, "You don't want to talk about this, do you?" It's easy to plaster the walls with suicide prevention posters, and talk about characters like Skye and Tyler. But it's less so to talk about Hannah and Alex, the kids that are on the borderline. The surprising ones. Their lives don't seem tragic to outsiders, they aren't hurting themselves on a daily basis and they've got parents that love and support them. But sometimes these kids kill themselves too. This is why Alex's sad subplot is the in-retrospect-not-so-hidden hidden point of 13 Reasons Why.
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