Like Hannah’s suicide scene in Season 1, the anal rape of Tyler by Monty (Timothy Granaderos) was brutal and devastating. Understandably, it has the internet abuzz with opinions – from condemnation to praise for its confronting portrayal of a terrible act. Was it necessary? Not specifically that act, but from a narrative point of view, something had to push Tyler over the edge for it to be believable that he would get back into the mindset of wanting to go on a killing spree.
After having endured everything that have been dished out to him and then turned his mental state around through the school-enforced diversion program, it seemed like Tyler had been “fixed”. But as with Bryce’s (Justin Prentice) attack on Hannah in the hot tub, Tyler’s rape went so far beyond anything that had happened to him up until that point, and it’s easy to see why it sent him to the darkest place imaginable.
Is a school shooting storyline appropriate, especially given the continued occurrence of such events in real life? I’d say those tragedies make it especially important for these issues to be explored in a thoughtful and sensitive manner. And I believe 13 Reasons Why does that. As with teen suicide, school shootings happen, and it benefits no one to bury our heads in the sand and hope for the problem to go away. By depicting the factors that could lead to such a tragedy, it opens a discussion about what we are doing, gun control aside, to stop them from occurring. How do we recognise the signs? How can we better support our children to prevent these things taking place?
For me, 13 Reasons Why answers these questions by hammering home the point that actions have consequences. Everything that was done to Hannah and, in Season 2, happened to Tyler had an effect. Yes, Tyler made mistakes and poor choices, but the relentless victimisation he suffered was unwarranted. It was certainly not the place of someone like Monty to dish out punishment.
The biggest criticism I hear about 13 Reasons Why is that it glamorises suicide or drug use or bullying. I disagree. None of the show’s characters are in enviable positions and the series does not suggest theirs is a path worth pursuing. What the series does do is demonstrate that when teenagers – indeed, people of any age – behave horribly towards each other, it does not end well. If we need to see some horrible things happen to get that message across, then so be it. Because getting the message across that we should all think about our actions and the consequences they have is what’s important.
Much of the focus of Season 2 was the question of who’s responsible when terrible things happen, like Hannah’s suicide. Her parents took the school district to court, but the answer I felt came through is that we’re all responsible. Schools should be aware of the types of behaviours taking place when they have responsibility for children; parents should be present in and engaged with their kids’ lives; teenagers should show kindness and tolerance towards each other – something that should be taught and reinforced at home and school.
I understand the concern from parents and schools about 13 Reasons Why. It does not shy away from serious topics – topics that are difficult to talk about with teenagers, but the very fact that subjects like suicide, rape, underage sex, drug use and bullying are difficult to discuss makes it even more important that a show like 13 Reasons Why exists to facilitate that conversation.
Don’t feel your kids are old enough to watch it? Don’t let them, until you feel they are mature enough to grapple with the subjects. It comes with an MA15+ rating for a reason. Worried that they will mimic the behaviour they see? Watch it with them and turn it into an opportunity for open discussion. But discuss it. And be unsettled by it. And hope that the show’s central message of respect, accountability and responsibility sinks in.
Does Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why deserve all the hype and controversy? Is Riverdale too dark? And what about teen series of years past – do Dawson’s Creek, Gossip Girl, The OC and Beverly Hills, 90210 still hold up? This week’s special episode of WHO magazine’s TV podcast, Binge List, answers all those questions and more as we delve into hit teen dramas past and present. Plus, we look at under-the-radar series Veronica Mars, Scream and The 100, and millennial mystery Search Party. Join Matthew Denby, Clare Rigden and Gavin Scott as they celebrate the best of teen TV. Listen below, or on iTunes: http://po.st/syE3JF or OMNY: http://po.st/Uj6J8R