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Netflix's 13 Reasons Why is a powerful and poignant show based on the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Archer. The show's first season made waves in 2017, sparking debates about everything from sexual abuse, the power of television, and the glamorization of suicide. The first season was one of those few on-screen adaptations that not only held true to the source material but improved upon it. Archer's book is a devastating and captivating story about a girl who committed suicide and left as a note a series of cassette tapes telling the story of what brought her to the point of taking her own life. The Netflix series brought this story so perfectly to life, expanding the characters and the scope while holding completely true to the book, thanks in no small part to an incredible cast and breathtaking performances.
Season two picks up in the aftermath of the first season and is a completely new creation, going beyond the story laid out in the book. Like with season one, the characters are incredibly vivid and true to life, heartbreaking and fearful, flawed, desperate, and yet somehow hopeful thanks once again to the tremendous performance from the entire cast. Without going into spoilers, because this is a show that needs to be experienced unspoiled, the ante was upped and then some. Each episode draws you in, is captivating, frustrating, heartbreaking, and ultimately makes it hard to not just binge the entire thing in one sitting. (Note: I do not at all suggest doing this. For one thing, that's 13 hours of television which is way too much to digest at once. More than that though, you need time to breathe and process, otherwise you'll be a mess by the end.)
This series is unflinching in its take on hard issues and the horror that we as humans are capable of perpetrating on others. So much so that the show, and specifically the second season's finale have been criticized for going too far. Here's what I'm going to say about that. There is a scene in the finale that is so brutal with its violence, to a character who had turned a corner and was trying to make amends, that it physically hurt me to watch. By the end of the episode I was an emotional wreck. I sat on my couch, unable to move, stunned by what I had seen. The dichotomy between the message of love and hope and the image of a child who was so broken by the cruelty of his fellow students was jarring. It was incredibly powerful but jarring nonetheless. All hope is not lost, but even in that moment of light, the darkness still holds a tight grip. As I write this review, the day after finishing the second season, I'm still struck by how deeply this show has affected me.
The thing I think this show does better than anything else is illustrate peoples' capacity for cruelty. This show is about students in high school, yes but it speaks to so much more than that. 13 Reasons Why isn't just a show about high school kids. It's a show that shines a light on just how screwed up things in America are at this moment, and probably always have been (on at least some level). There is hope in the end but it is a faint hope, a hope that I feel for our society but fear is too little, too late. Warning though, this show is not for the faint of heart, those in a really dark or bad place, or those who have suffered from abuse. This show hits hard, pulls no punches, and leaves you lying on the floor. Also one of the main characters has some pretty awesome posters in his bedroom including Joy Division, Swingin' Utters, and toyGuitar just to name a few. And the use of music is absolutely outstanding. Massive props to whoever is in charge of the aspect of the show.