When Netflix announced that there would be a second season for 13 Reasons Why, there was plenty of head-scratching to be done. This was not because the first season was not a well-crafted and executed teenage drama or because the massive viewership it got didn’t justify a second season. The confusion stemmed from the fact that the first run of the show told a mostly self-contained and finite story. The purpose was to showcase why troubled teenager Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) chose to commit suicide and the question was answered quite well in the first season. In this process, the entire content of Jay Asher’s novel was used up for the first season.
So, the question was that what was to be gained by continuing Hannah’s story when the answers had been given? This question remains at the forefront when you start watching the second season of the show. The series has a self-aware quality as his creator Brian Yorkey and others openly acknowledged the criticisms that had been directed at the show’s first season and the lingering concerns about the makings of a sequel. Several characters try to instill the notion that there are several sides to Hannah’s story and there are other perspectives to consider. However, at the end of the day the second season of 13 Reasons Why fails to make a convincing case of its existence.
This is not because there are not enough loose ends to explore. The second run opens a few months after the finale and Hannah’s death is still looming over the town as the local conversation is dominated by the lawsuit filed against the school by her parents. The audio tapes by Hannah are replaced by the trial as the basic framing device for this season. This time, Clay (Dylan Minnette) and his peers become the narrators. Every character reveals new things about their relationship with Hannah thereby complicating the picture that was created in the previous season.
This approach only provides mixed results. It is a given that there are more than one side to every story and it is undeniably intriguing to see how the show explores Hannah’s relationships with her fellow students, lovers, friends and parents from new angles. Nonetheless, there are times where it seems that they are only trying to add more layers to a story that’s already well-defined. As a matter of fact, some episodes end up straining credulity as they try to form stronger bonds between Hannah and her classmates.
Doing so makes it hard to wonder why none of this was referenced in Hannah’s tapes. Another area where the new season struggles is playing up the conspiracy/mystery angle. Even in season one, this felt a bit forced, especially when it came to characters like Tony (Christian Navarro) who seemed to be mysterious and vague just for the sheer sake of it. This season tries to continue down this path with cryptic warnings, mysterious stalkers and threatening notes. The more the show leans on these elements, the more melodrama is added to it. The trouble is that there is already enough going on without adding even more melodrama.
Hence, as a whole, season 2 actually bites off more than it can chew realistically. It addresses almost all of the hot button topics seen in modern high schools such as bullying, sexual assault, gun violence, homophobia and the opioid epidemic. Apart from that, 13 Reasons Why also makes a visible effort to put its supporting cast in the spotlight. While Clay remains the lead protagonist and anchor, more time is dedicated to exploring the issues faced by other characters such as Jessica (Aisha Boe), Justin (Brandon Flynn), Alex (Miles Heizer), Tony, Tyler (Devin Druid) and Zach (Ross Butler).
Sure, this ambition of added storytelling should be appreciated, but the downside is that it makes the new season more unfocused and unbalanced as compared to the first. There are some characters such as Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) and Skye (Sosie Bacon) that simply don’t get the attention they should. Regardless of all these issues Season 2 still continues to carry some of the emotional heft and weight of the first. Clay’s struggle is still quite compelling, but now instead of understanding why Hannah died, it also involves reconciling the new revelations about her with the person he thought she was.
Also, his story also focuses on moving on. Minette’s performance was one of the strongest last year and it remains the same. Even unfocused, the show still manages to make good use of its supporting cast. Kate Walsh is amazing as Hannah’s devastated mother. Likewise, Padilla has more to do now that Tony is a part of the conflict. Zach’s struggle with his place in the school gives Butler more room to perform. Boe also does well as her character goes through one of the most difficult arcs of the season as she has to deal with sexual assault, which she does quite well.
But, the most benefits of this exposure are highlighted by Druid’s Tyler as his character was left in a dangerous place at the end of last season. Now, he is dealing with a troubled journey through social isolation, bullying and depression. The character is deeply sympathetic and repellant simultaneously, indicating that Hannah was not the only one dealing with suicidal thoughts. The show does build some momentum as it nears the end. There are questions as to whether Clay can finally make peace and Bryce’s victims can get justice.
Yet, there is a mounting sense of unease as if a new tragedy is waiting and it really is because the second season trips in the last episode. It seems that the creators were unsure of whether they wanted it to be a series finale or simply a bridge for another season. Yes, it does try to provide closure for the heartache in the last 25 chapters and succeeds, but the last minute developments with Tyler means that the show ended on an unsatisfying and muddled note.