When I first heard of the television series “13 Reasons Why,” I thought it was another, average teenage show that poorly presented everyday issues adolescence go through in high school. But when I actually watched Seasons One and Two, the series blew me away because the show addresses the significance of bullying and mental health.
“13 Reasons Why” primarily focuses on 17-year-old Clay Jensen who is trying to advocate for classmate Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after being sexually assaulted and bullied in their high school.
Hannah coped with her problems at school by recording a series of cassette tapes about the 13 people who caused her to plan suicide. She puts the main blame on a student named Bryce Walker, who bullies her at school and rapes her.
In 2017, when the show premiered, it received lots of criticism about how it introduced topics of suicide, sexual assault and mental health. A character like Hannah Baker was said to influence teens or others struggling with problems to consider suicide.
In Season Two, viewers were exposed to more female characters who had been sexually assaulted by members of the school’s baseball team, which Bryce leads. As a way to combat these issues, the show began to feature disclaimers and forewarnings for viewer discretion before each episode and web links for mental health crisis resources at the end of each episode.
Viewers eagerly waited for Season Three at the end of August, only to be disappointed by how much it branches away from the initial messages of the first two seasons. I was upset with the trajectory of the show, and I’ll explain why Season Three brought about major setback.
First, in Episode One, viewers discover Bryce has been murdered by someone in town. The season becomes focused on the drama between Clay and his friends who are trying to find the culprit instead of giving more character development to past characters who had mental health issues.
Second, there is more emphasis on trying to get viewers to see Bryce’s changing into a better person who learns from his mistakes. But that emphasis gets overshadowed by flashbacks to prior seasons that show Bryce behaving badly toward women and the people who cared about him.
Season Three shows Bryce wanting people to see him as someone other than a rapist and he wanted to prove that people like him are capable of change. Season Three episodes show him becoming more aware of his tendencies toward violence and toward overpowering females for sexual conquests. However, he does not get the proper mental health treatment he needs. He has counseling with a guidance counselor he has seen before, but only for a short period of time, and falls back into some of his bad habits.
Third, there is a heavy focus on trying to make other characters have empathy for rapists like Bryce, who believe they are capable of becoming better persons. I argue this focus seems to disregard people who are victims of sexual assault.
Interestingly, viewers become acquainted with a new character named Ameretat "Ani" Acholi. After she develops a sexual relationship with Bryce, he begins to form an emotional attachment to her as a means to be a better person and improve his life.
Ani chooses to overlook the fact that Bryce is known throughout town as a hated rapist. She tries to see him as human and that creates a romanticized idea of having a relationship with a rapist.
While the message of Season Three focuses on the idea of people being capable of change, it does not go about it the right way. Bryce tries to change, but near the final episodes of the season, viewers still see that he is a bad person and the world will always see him as such despite how much he tries to be better.
This season essentially gives a rose-tinted view of how sexual assaults and mental health should be handled. It sends controversial mixed signals to audiences about these important topics. I hope Season Four offers more clarity on these issues.
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