“How did we get here?” That’s one question asked in 13 Reasons Why’s fourth and final season. If it wasn’t already clear that the once realistic show about the challenges of high school had taken a turn towards soapy teen drama territory—the last season solidified it. Some moments were just too absurd to even be close to believable. But, if you can accept the fact that the writers abandoned relatability in favor of dramatic twists and turns then it’s possible to endure the season. Actually, you might even enjoy it.
A huge storyline in the final season of the popular Netflix original is that the faculty at Liberty High School has chosen to implement safety measures like metal detectors, police officers monitoring the hallways and security cameras. This leads to a deep divide between teachers and students, especially after a lockdown drill goes wrong and ends up with main character Clay Jensen in a psych ward.
This becomes the most unrealistic plot point. Would a middle to upper-middle class suburban high school ever fire gunshots in an effort to “prepare” its students for an active shooter situation? Doubtful. Would forensics ever be called to evaluate graffiti? Nope. And would students get away with blowing up a principal’s car during a walkout? Not a chance. Perhaps it’s the show’s episode titled “Acceptance/Rejection” where viewers might have checked their screens to make sure they were still watching the same show.
Nevertheless, I think it’s the show’s less shocking storylines that feel reminiscent of the quieter moments that made 13 Reasons Why a hit in the first place. The moment of crumbling after losing the girl you love. The moment of supporting your friend through a tough time. And the moment of looking past all the pain, and choosing to survive high school and ultimately, life. Because that’s the real theme of the final season: survival.
One of the first lines of the season is uttered by Clay: “Will I survive? Because I know too many people who didn’t.” And, he’s right. Three high school students have died in the past three seasons. But, they’re not the only ones. You didn’t think the show would end without another death, did you? The big mystery of the season is “Who died?!” The show opens with a scene at the funeral of an unnamed person. Presumably, a Liberty student. It’s not until the last episode that it’s revealed that the dead student is none other than Justin Foley.
’13 Reasons Why’ addresses the belief that someone’s actions can lead to a person ending their life.
It’s an understood fact within the 13 Reasons Why fanbase that Justin was the character with the most character development. He evolved from the hated jock who had not one, but two tapes. Remember, he was the one who spread rumors about Hannah and was an all-around jerk to anyone who wasn’t a football player. But, the guy who devastatingly passed away from AIDS was not that person in the end. Despite this transformation, we can’t forget he let his best friend at the time, Bryce, rape his girlfriend, Jessica. He apologized numerous times throughout the series (and once more before his death), but that doesn’t change the fact that his actions (or lack thereof) are something Jess will carry with her for the rest of her life. His life is evidence that taking responsibility isn’t always enough and can’t completely fix the damage that’s already been done.
Like I explained earlier, it’s the smaller moments that made this season special. Watching Alex, who used to be hung up on Jess, navigate his sexuality felt natural and honest. He came out and found happiness. Who would have expected that after he attempted suicide in the first season? Who would have expected Clay to be voted the senior class speaker at graduation? His speech surely will bring tears to viewers’ eyes because it shows that all of the Liberty seniors might not have made it through high school unscathed, but they did make it.
The show’s main premise comes down to responsibility. The responsibility to take accountability for your actions. The responsibility to understand the power of words. The responsibility to step up when someone is in the wrong. The responsibility to be there for your friends. And most importantly, the responsibility to live another day, and another and another after that. Hannah’s suicide is proof of what can happen when people don’t take responsibility. Of course, Bryce’s despicable actions of raping Jess and then Hannah couldn’t be wiped away with a mere apology. 13 Reasons Why addresses the belief that someone’s actions can lead to a person ending their life.
The show’s main premise comes down to responsibility.
Most of the main characters felt tremendous guilt after hearing Hannah’s tapes and for their actions in subsequent seasons. They were the reasons she killed herself, but was it who they were or what they did? Justin, Jessica, Alex, Tyler, Courtney, Marcus, Zach, Ryan, Sheri, Clay, Bryce and Mr. Porter all hurt people. And the list goes beyond the names on Hannah’s tapes. Some hurt people accidentally, while others hurt people maliciously. Jess and Hannah’s sexual assaults should have never happened. There is no scenario where it is OK to violate another human being in such a way. Yet, Alex still admitted to feeling regret over killing Bryce. And, Jess took Justin back despite the pain he caused her. We all have people in our lives who have hurt us. I’m in no way diminishing the criminal acts of some of the characters. The question is: Do those people have the capacity to change? If we believe the stories in 13 Reasons Why, then the answer is yes.
It’s interesting to think that a show that began with a teenage girl’s suicide can have such a hopeful ending. But, seeing the students at Liberty graduate and move on to better days and brighter futures reminds us that we all have that within us too. So much of the show has been about people trying—and sometimes failing—to save others. The simple truth is we can’t save everyone, but we can save ourselves. We can survive to see another day and hopefully, be a better person.