One Scene In Netflix’s 13 Reason Why’s Finale Really Bugs Me
There's something in the 13 Reasons Why finale that nearly ruins the whole thing.
Last week I sat down to watch the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why and found it nearly impossible to tear myself away from it. Entirely an exercise in masochism, 13 Reasons Why is designed to be a difficult watch and almost wants to punish the viewer scene after dispiriting scene.
And I kind of love it.
It veers into the MTV school of storytelling a few times, going into overwrought and forced territory more than a Dashboard Confessional EP, but it’s anchored wonderfully by great leads and a mystery that draws the viewer in. Each episode focuses on a single player in the grand stage production of Hannah Baker’s suicide, unravelling what hand they had in her taking her own life. It’s an interesting premise and one that works, though protagonist Clay’s refusal to listen to all the tapes at once can be quite frustrating.
Thirteen episodes later, I was slumped on my couch feeling just a little sad and exhausted. 13 Reasons Why is draining to watch and will likely stick with you for days after you watch it; no doubt you’ll suck the tears up through many montages set to some acoustic music of the heartbreaking “relationship” between Hannah and Clay.
After the gloom subsided, I looked back on the final and realised just how terrible one scene is. It’s the most ham-fisted and unbelievable twist I think I’ve ever seen in a television show.
Introduced early, Alex is an outsider who is part of a trio with Hannah and Jess, a sort of “outsider” friends group. None of them really fit anywhere in the typical high school social ladder, so they meet up every day after school every day to drink coffee and say ‘FML’ a lot. As this is a young adult orientated show, the trio split up with Alex dating Jess, much to the chagrin of Hannah.
For some teenage reason, Alex decides to write a list that will make Jess jealous and result in Hannah being bullied and sexually assaulted, which results in Alex becoming one of the reasons why she eventually killed herself. This tears him up inside, leading to fights (that he loses, badly) later in the series and the inkling that he might do something dramatic.
And he does. He shoots himself in the head.
The writers decided to jam in an attempted suicide that felt offensively rushed and almost, weirdly, inconsequential. We never know if he lives or dies, just that he’s ultimately a storytelling tool to guilt the counsellor that bit extra. The show spends thirty seconds on his suicide attempt as an afterthought, just to drive home that bullying has a butterfly effect one last time.
While it works to show that you can sometimes never really know when someone’s on the verge, it’s really just a scene that was lazily shoehorned in at the last second. It doesn’t do justice to the character of Alex, who has a redemptive story and ends up being arguably the most likeable of the bunch. The “shock factor” feels cheap and reflects poorly on the episode and even the series as a whole – there must be a better way to finish things than with another possibly dead kid.
Shows like 13 Reasons Why are important, but by making one of its more endearing characters another PSA on mental health and a caricature of the “troubled” teen, it’s hurting itself as much as thirteen kids did to Hannah.