Ed Horch

Having a blog doesn't make me a blogger.

The most gut-wrenching parts of 13RW

Most people would say the graphic rape scenes or the suicide, right? Not me.

For me, it was two snippets from the tapes:

“You’re different. You’re good, kind, and decent… And I would have ruined you.” That was me, in my late teens and early 20’s. The best thing my crushes did for themselves was friendzone me. (Still friends to this day, in a surprising number of cases.)

“It’s the end of tape 13. There’s nothing more to say.” Empty hallway. If she walks through that door, which we know she will, then it’s over. That’s her suicide, really. We still see the flower on her backpack, from a time when decorations mattered.

My take on the “13 Reasons Why” alternate ending

I read the alternate ending, and I see why Jay Asher’s editor Kristin Pettit nixed it. It’s only partly because of the message. The problem is the necessary plot holes. In the alternate ending (not spoiling anything here), everyone “knew” she’d died by overdosing on pills. The school and the community mourned her loss, believing that her family had left for an out-of-town burial, when in fact it was Hannah’s hospital that was out of town. After some weeks, Hannah and her family returned home, but it was even more time before word got out that she’d survived.

Are we to believe that in this hyperconnected world, there was no way for those pieces of information to get back to anyone? That nobody, not students, school officials, or even law enforcement would have noticed the absence of a death certificate, or that they had somehow been sworn to secrecy so that not even the teachers knew? That neither Hannah nor her parents would have said anything? That Hannah wouldn’t have so much as left her house? There was no even remotely credible way to make that work.

But back to the story’s message. Having Hannah survive would be a deus ex machina ending that would have undercut the whole story’s theme of finality. People are still arguing hotly about all sides of Hanna’s suicide (BTW, those ensuing arguments have not changed the opinions I expressed in my earlier post). Did the book or the show glorify or romanticize suicide? Was she guilty of cynically weaponizing it as an act of revenge? How much did she think her suicide would be an end to her own pain versus an end to the pain she believed she caused the people around her?

If she had survived, the story would not have been that suicide is an ugly thing that is absolutely permanent, and benefits nobody. It would have trivialized Hannah’s actual suffering, and even her character–we would have felt about her the way Heather Duke felt about Martha Dunnstock.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Asher was going for.

 

13 Reasons Why series 2?

Of course, rumors are flying everywhere about a second series for 13 Reasons Why. I’d like it to happen, but in no particular order, here are some things I think they’ll need to do if they want it to succeed. Jay Asher would probably disagree…

  1. Get more professional consultants. For example, a second series would almost certainly cover the Bakers’ lawsuit against the school district. They made some obvious gaffes in that subplot in Series 1, and it’s sure to be a major plot line in Series 2.
  2. Tyler’s false-bottomed steamer trunk let us see his stash of weapons, including pipe bombs. There are other hints that he’s planning some serious violence. If this happens, he should be captured alive. Or maybe they could have a butterfly effect prevent the act before it happens.
  3. Bryce needs to go to prison. A combination of Jess and Justin coming forward, Clay’s “Tape 14”, and forensic evidence from Hannah’s autopsy should be enough to convict. Getting those things to happen won’t be easy though. In any case, if Bryce thought he got a lot of Dollar Valentines at Liberty High…
  4. Who shot J.R. Alex? A multi-episode arc on the multiple possibilities could be Series 2’s central mystery.
  5. Kat should move back. She could be a serious dramatic foil for the people who are covering their own backsides. Also, Skye’s character should be more prominent–she and Clay could get together, albeit complicated by Hannah’s memory.
  6. They should tackle a different Big Issue. One (possibly fake) teaser for Series 2 has Jess shooting herself. The danger here, from a storyline standpoint, is that we don’t want this to turn into Heathers. This is not supposed to be a comedy, and if the bodies keep piling up, social media will turn it into one.
  7. Hannah flashbacks should be used with extreme care. We don’t want to have to keep mourning her death again and again (although that’s precisely what will happen if Bryce or the Bakers go to trial).
  8. Porter was not a bad guy, he was just bad at his job. I’d like to see the story of him maybe going back to grad school to become a better counselor, and maybe we find out that he ultimately became an excellent therapist.
  9. Justin needs to get his mom into rehab. Maybe one of her abusive meth-head boyfriends could be Bryce’s cellmate. If Bryce gets put away, Justin won’t have the pool house to use as a crash pad.
  10. Don’t stomp on our hearts too much. They can have pretty serious drama without taking us all the way to hell. Maybe if there’s a Series 3, they could put it back into high gear.
  11. There needs to be redemption for characters like Marcus, Sheri, and Zach. They exhibited bad judgment and misplaced priorities like any adolescent, but with unexpectedly severe consequences.
  12. There was absolutely no mention of religion in Series 1. It might be interesting to explore that in Hannah’s aftermath.
  13. The tattoo artist who inks all these under-18s should be a minor character. Only to satisfy my own curiosity, since the place where I get inked doesn’t even let kids into the waiting area.

Thirteen again. Funny how that number keeps popping up.

My Take on “13 Reasons Why”

I originally posted this as a note on my Facebook account. I’m reposting it here for archival purposes. It certainly won’t increase the number of people who see it. 🙂

Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the whole series.

I’m on my second pass through, and since I completed it a few days ago, I’ve thought long and hard about it, and my reactions to it. I’ve also read what a lot of critics have said, both positive and negative. So here are the thoughts I’ve had about it that I think are worth your time to read. Note: I won’t go too much into how it affected me personally, because this is a public post and has to pass the “would I want to see it on a freeway billboard” test. As to my background, suffice to say that I qualify for a semicolon tattoo. Anyway…

1. Hannah is an unreliable narrator. She tells us the truth as she perceives it, which may or may not bear any resemblance to the objective truth. The show has been criticized for not addressing Hannah’s mental health issues. This is because she does not know she has them.

2. Hannah is an adolescent. She does not have a fully developed frontal lobe. Her bad judgment is natural. Catastrophizing is natural. Inability to evaluate the scope and extent of a problem is natural. Another reason that Hannah’s mental health issues are not addressed is that she can barely say anything to anyone about what she is going though, much less say that she’s suicidal and needs help. More generally, teenagers don’t talk, a lot of the time because they don’t know how to translate their abstract thoughts into English. When my 17-year-old son gives me one-syllable answers to complex questions, I recite my parental mantra: “Developmentally appropriate”.

3. The rape is what killed her. Not metaphorically, literally. We see it when she stops any pretense of resisting. Her head is resting on the edge of the hot tub. She’s facing us, eyes open and unblinking, her face slack, nothing moving. I have watched people die, and that is what it looks like. (This was brilliant acting and cinematography, BTW.)

4. Hannah never disregarded the effect her death would have on those who cared for her. Because of this, she didn’t see her death as being a tragedy to those she cared about. She saw it as unburdening them. This bears emphasizing, because so many people think suicide is just a cry for help, or an attention grab, or a permanent solution to a temporary problem (or even a permanent problem). What’s not often recognized is that the suicidal person can truly believe that the best thing they can do for the people they care about is to disappear from those people’s lives.

5. Hannah has no adult support. We know that Porter was not good at his job. He missed signs, and completely mishandled what Hannah told him in their last meeting. Her teachers are just trying to get through another day. The parents of the kids in her social circle are out of the loop, either symbolically or literally absent.

6. Hannah’s parents aren’t at fault. She knew they were having money problems, and that the store was about to go out of business. From her perspective, all she did was make the situation worse by losing the deposits; she was no help to the business. She also believed that since they were going through the most difficult times of their own lives, she shouldn’t burden them any further with her problems, so they never knew.

7. Hannah did not kill herself “at” anyone. As the show progresses, one tape per episode, it can look that way. It’s this misreading of the tapes that gave rise to the #welcometoyourtape memes going around. She may have wanted to punish each person for their contribution, but after the rape, she says, “I started with Justin. Then Jessica. Who each broke my heart. Alex, Tyler, Courtney, Marcus, who each helped to destroy my reputation. On through Zack and Ryan who broke my spirit. Through tape number twelve, Bryce Walker, who broke my soul.” That’s everything. She’s dead. The only thing left is a final system shutdown.

8. Hannah’s death was a systemic failure. Tony said, “We all let her down.” But it was not just individuals who did that. It was also the framework in which they operated, which allowed enough bad things to happen, in the right order, to end in tragedy. With the exception of the rape, there was no one thing that, had it not occurred, would definitely have saved Hannah’s life. (Side note: How would all this have played out if the school were here in New Jersey, under its strictest-in-the-country anti-bullying laws?)

9. Alcohol is bad. All of the worst events involved alcohol. There were people too drunk to stop themselves from doing bad things, and people too drunk to stop bad things from being done to them. More generally, I wish that the roles in society of alcohol and marijuana were reversed. Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign set the moral standard that [Some] Drugs Are Bad, but alcohol is OK because we who are talking down to teenagers don’t want our booze taken away. There’s no such thing as “pot goggles”. Pot does not take away your inhibitions, allowing you to do evil things you’d never do when not under the influence. Probably the top ten worst things I ever did were when I was drunk, because the all the internal controls were disabled. When I was stoned, I stared at my hand.

10. Kat is an important character. One of the questions I had a hard time answering was, why was Hannah hanging with the ultra-popular A-list jocks and cheerleaders in the first place? My hypothesis is that she did simply because Kat did, but Kat had the street sense to understand how the war-zone social dynamic of the top echelon really worked, and how not to get burned by it. Neither Kat nor Hannah knew it consciously, but Kat kept Hannah from getting hurt by getting caught up in situations she wouldn’t understand. If Kat hadn’t moved away, she would have stopped at least some of the hurtful things done to Hannah.

11. Much in the side stories was unrealistic. A working-class teenager using a classic Mustang as a daily driver. Hannah’s mother claiming that the magazine would “show their hand” when their lawyer would have already advised them that they’d have to do just that during discovery. No involvement of Child Protective Services in Justin’s household (or Bryce’s for that matter). They’ll have to clean that up if they want a successful second season.

12. No character is all good or all bad. Not even Bryce, who was the only one Justin could turn to when Justin’s home situation became intolerable. Every character has at least one tragic flaw and at least one redeeming quality. This is part of why the system was vulnerable to failure. In a complex system, problems are detected most easily when they are binary–some part of it works or it breaks and gets fixed. It gets much tougher when something sort of works, most of the time, or works just often enough to ignore it for the moment. In human systems this leads to doubt, and plausible deniability, ripe for exploit.

13. Suicide is a symptom, not a disease. The disease is that people can inflict so much pain on each other, can be so unspeakably cruel, get away with it, and even have it rewarded. Not only do adolescents lack the judgment to see how much damage their actions can cause, they’re sometimes trained to do those things. In our win-at-all-costs society, where you’re either part of the steamroller or part of the pavement, we stop considering whether anything justifies the ends, never mind whether the ends justify the means.

Thirteen. See what I did there?

Discussion is invited.

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After enough years that I’ve literally lost count, I’ve moved my horch.org vanity domain off of Hyperreal, where they’ve let me freeload all this time. For that, they get a HUGE thank-you from me.

I moved to Bluehost, because it scored near the top of the surveys I read, and because there’s an affiliate link for them at coverville.com (tied with Night Vale as my favorite podcast), and I wanted to throw a few bucks their way.