Content warning: This article deals with the topics of suicide and sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.
The first season of 13 Reasons Why quietly dropped on Netflix midway through last year.
For weeks, the TV show that depicted the violent suicide of a teenage girl dominated online conversations.
It sparked hundreds of think pieces and a whole lot of discussion about youth mental health and suicide.
Some believed the show should never have aired, while others thought it shone a light on a topic we don’t discuss often enough.
When a second season of the Netflix original series was announced later in the year, people were skeptical, worried, some were even furious.
But now season two has dropped and it feels different.
It’s almost like an after school special twist on the gritty, raw drama that made season one so controversial.
This season 13 Reasons Why is tackling as equally important topics, but somehow with more drama and less shock value.
And under all its dramatic teenage story lines, it’s hit a nerve and forced an almost hidden subject matter into the spotlight.
Season two starts about six months after the events of season one, in which the tapes Hannah made before her death were distributed to the students who were featured on them.
Hannah’s mum, Olivia (Kate Walsh), takes the school to court over their role in Hannah’s death.
This means most of the key players from season one are forced to testify in court. Their testimony provides a narrative for the season, just like Hannah’s tapes did for season one.
Running parallel to this story line is another centered around whether Bryce will finally be brought to justice for sexually assaulting at least two of his fellow classmates.
In fact, in the end, this is the storyline that really resonates with the audience.
To delve into both these plot lines, the series revisits a lot of the material from season one.
It rehashes the bullying, sexual assault, and harassment that Hannah endured, as mentioned in her tapes. It also introduces a bunch other plot points to add credence to the idea that Liberty High is a dangerous place for its students.
We find out more about what the other students were experiencing during this time and what they have gone through since Hannah’s death.
We also discover there’s a lot more going on below the surface than what we were originally led to believe.
One of the most anticipated parts of season two was always going to be Hannah’s role in it.
In the very first episode, Hannah returns as a ghost only Clay can see. She guides Clay through his grief and his investigation into the school’s underground culture of sexual assault and harassment.
It’s only when the season comes to some sort of resolution that Hannah finally disappears and “moves on”.
Obviously, this plot line is problematic and the creators of the show say they worked with leading mental health agencies around the world to minimise the risk to young people who watch it.
Marc Bryant, Program Manager Suicide Prevention at Everymind, told Mamamia that both Everymind and headspace consulted with the show’s creators before it aired.
“Netflix came to us late last year and wanted to hear our ideas,” he explained.
“13 Reasons Why opened up conversations. However health experts, such as Mindframe, say the evidence shows it has the potential to trigger vulnerable audiences [by showing the method].”
Mindframe worked with Netflix to develop warnings around the show, while headspace developed a range of resources for young people who watch the series.
“It is imperative that we have everyone willing to play their part and Netflix were open to talking to us and other experts around the globe. What we need is for all of our streaming services to come to the table and join the conversation to become partners in an ongoing solution. Australia could lead the way internationally in this new media world,” Bryant explained.
“As part of this support, headspace has developed tailored resources for young people, parents and schools. These have been designed to assist in engaging in constructive conversations about the difficult themes depicted in the series.”
The beginning of the series now features a short video message from the cast, talking the audience through the content of the show, and pointing them towards the appropriate resources.
“13 Reasons Why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real world issues, taking a look at sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide and more,” the cast reads in the video.
“By shedding a light on these difficult topics we hope our show can help viewers start a conversation. But if you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you, or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult. If you ever feel you need someone to talk with, reach out to a parent, a friend, a school counsellor or an adult you trust. Call a local helpline or go to 13reasonswhy.info because the minute that you start talking about it, it gets easier.”
By the end of the 13-episode season, the students from Liberty High have banded together in an attempt to seek some much-needed justice and to help each other move through their grief.
Of course, they don’t really get the resolution they’re seeking and then one startling act of violence threatens to ruin it all.
This season as a whole feels muddled and like it’s trying to do too much. But under all the dramatics and the complicated storylines, it’s trying to tell an important story.
And if it starts a conversation about sexual assault and harassment in high school, then this second, less gritty season is well worth a watch.
If you need assistance please call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Headspace on 1800 650 890.
For more information and resources about 13 Reasons Why visit 13reasonswhy.info.