Netflix Makes Changes to Controversial Hit Show

Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why hit Netflix today with 13 new episodes.  Continuing where Season 1 left off, we find out that there’s still much to learn about the life and death of Hannah Baker.  As the show says “Just because you have the picture doesn’t mean you have the truth”.

Perhaps the number one criticism of Season 1 was it’s graphic scenes showing brutal rapes, foul language, and Hannah’s gruesome suicide.  It’s dramatic storytelling certainly captivated viewers but, for many, concerns led to controversy.  Netflix seemed to learn from this in Season 2, which opens with a clear disclaimer from cast members, sharing that the show may not be for everyone.  They go on to warn viewers about themes the show will explore, including “sexual assault, substance abuse, and suicide”.  The characters encourage young viewers to talk to a trusted adult such as a parent, counselor or help line, if they need someone to talk to.  Watching with adults is also promoted, along with a visit to 13ReasonsWhy.info, created by Netflix to offer resources.

Episode one opens in a court room, where we learn about the civil case between Liberty High School and Hannah’s parents.  In watching the first few minutes, it felt like the series had matured a bit in presenting it’s content in a more responsible way.  Clay Jenson even encourages coping skills as an alternative to destructive behavior, something that was non-existent in Season 1.  No doubt, these moments of hope give a nice contrast to the dark storyline.  It gives parents, educators, and mental health professionals some key discussion points, when processing the show with teens.

Watching the communities’ reaction to the tragedy of a student-involved death hits close to home.  In a time where America is haunted by school shootings, teen suicides, and gun violence, it was natural to empathize with the characters.  Today, Netflix announced that they were cancelling their premiere party, out of respect for those effected by the school shooting at Santa Fe High School, in Texas.

The courtroom scenes were especially compelling as they do a brilliant job of showing what happens when a teen suicide case goes to trial.  As in real-life, Hannah’s parents’ main objective is for others to hear their child’s story.  Like any good attorney, character Dennis Vasquez counsels Hannah’s mother that mentioning the tapes (which depict why she killed herself) is a bad idea.  Hannah’s faults, he shares, must be hidden from the public eye if she wants to win the case.  The goal is to paint her purely as a victim, while demonizing other students and the school.  The prosecutor tells jury that they will hear about “a girl in crisis, poisonous school culture, and an administration that could have avoided a tragedy and didn’t.”  He goes on to say, “You’ll hear about a beautiful, innocent, sensitive girl who was bullied to death.”

Examining the phrase “bullied to death” is all too real for parents who have lost their children, to suicide.  Often, these parents, just like Hannah’s, make it their mission to try and eradicate bullying by holding others responsible for their child’s death.  13 Reasons Why aims to tell both sides of the story, saying that “Hannah wasn’t innocent”.  What could Hannah have hid?  Was there more to her than met the eye?  In school shootings, it’s very common to hear the entire backstory of the shooter.  Hearing potentially damaging information about suicide victims, though, is rare.  Many victims would have been guilty of breaking the very “anti-bullying law” that later bears their name.

Netflix seems to tease that viewers will struggle to tell whether a character is good or bad.  Like reality, people are so much more complex than the labels they wear and the lenses that we view them through.  The show continues to highlight just how pervasive school bullying can be. It also gives a reminder to adults that it’s important to be present, be supportive, and ask good questions.  The social and emotional issues that arise in the life of teenagers, and even younger children, can plague their minds.   When these thoughts reoccur and are not dealt with appropriately, they can end in tragedy.  Thankfully there are opportunities each day to have intentional discussions.  This show might just be your opportunity.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of help, check out the resources at 13reasonswhy.info.  You may also contact our friends at The HopeLine.  Remember that things get better, when you talk about it.

To learn how to stop bullying in one week, get my free training video for parents and educators at FreeBullySolutions.com.