The Netflix phenomenon moves off-book and reveals much bigger ambitions.
When 13 Reasons Why took the world by storm in early 2017, the media coverage that followed the controversial teen show oscillated greatly. Firstly, there were the multitudes of praise that put the show on everybody’s radar in the first place. But that eventually melded with criticisms aimed at the show’s ultra-graphic portrayal of rape and suicide. These may have been the core themes of the series, but to call the show’s depiction of them “harrowing” would be an understatement.
Nevertheless, 13 Reasons Why, which is adapted from Jay Asher’s young adult novel of the same name, was ultimately such a hit that Netflix decided to keep it going, even without a follow-up book to base a narrative on. Showrunner Brian Yorkey has claimed to have considered a second season upon wrapping the first, but the news of an actual renewal still raised a plethora of questions as to how the story would pan out after protagonist Hannah Baker’s death.
Hannah (Katherine Langford) is the crux of the first season of 13 Reasons Why — she is the whole reason for its very title. We may have ended up caring for some of the other characters that inhabit Hannah’s periphery, but the show did seem like an open and shut case if we just considered her as the prime focal point. Of course, the season did not end with a neatly-tied bow, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t effective in delivering its distressing message.
Regardless, the overlords at Netflix had spoken. We now have our first glimpse into where the second season of 13 Reasons Why could potentially be heading thanks to a new trailer. However, despite the fact that Hannah evidently isn’t gone for good, the show already feels like a rather different beast. Watch the trailer below.
In some ways, the trailers for both seasons of 13 Reasons Why structurally resemble one another. Hannah still manifests as a result of Clay’s guilt — perhaps more insidiously this time around. Moreover, there is still an element of extreme urgency attached to the overarching mysteries of both seasons. But rather than disseminate troubling messages via cassette, this season’s reckoning comes in the form of polaroid pictures that reveal some of the dark secrets of Liberty High School.
Opening with a tribute to Hannah at the school, we hear Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) saying in voiceover, “I felt like this whole thing was going to be over. But it’s not.” Clay then opens his locker and a polaroid of a girl with football team captain Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) falls out. The words “Hannah wasn’t the only one” are scrawled on the other side. As a stark reminder of the abuse that led to Hannah’s death, this is a thoroughly effective shot and sets the rest of the trailer in motion.
The footage then moves onto present snapshots of the various personalities populating Liberty High’s halls, some old and some new. There’s no need to point every single person out, because the trailer clearly keeps most of the season’s plot as vague as possible. However, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), who definitely looks worse for wear, is a noteworthy mention. And for good reason too, considering her own traumatic experiences in the show’s first season. Along with the aforementioned polaroid, Jessica’s very presence proves that what happened to Hannah wasn’t an isolated incident.
Certain aspects about Jessica purposely mirror Hannah, including her own narrative of rape, which makes me see some potential in her being a vital component of Season 2. Naturally, Clay and numerous other characters still feature heavily in the trailer, and 13 Reasons Why is ultimately an ensemble piece. But consider this: the showrunner’s own opinions about the lack of finality in Jessica’s storyline hint at her important role in the upcoming season, or at least one that she ought to have.
Yorkey said to EW:
“When people intimate that Jessica’s story is done, I find that a horrific thought… I want to see how [her recovery from trauma] at least starts to play out and I want to do Jessica’s story the deserved justice of following her as she goes back to school, as she tries to begin to recover from what happened to her, because it’s something that millions of young women go through.”
Still, the overall vibe coming off of the trailer as a whole is that 13 Reasons Why wishes to reach a broader focus as well, and there is concern over whether they can have their cake and eat it too in this regard. I wouldn’t be surprised if the show prioritized Clay’s mystery solving, which could limit the amount of time the audience spends with Jessica and the trauma she must deal with. We also still have to get justice for Hannah, which can probably be expected from the subplot involving Hannah’s mother (Kate Walsh). Then the trailer further hints at some normalized cultural behaviors that allow the jocks to still exist unscathed in the aftermath of Season 1. 13 Reasons Why has clearly gotten ambitious very fast.
As a result, the upcoming second season feels uneasily amorphous at this point; the show would have benefited from remaining small and contained in its follow-up episodes. With its sprawling storylines, it recalls any other generic teen thriller instead of the pointed, confrontational character piece that was Season 1. That’s not to say that 13 Reasons Why wouldn’t be able to juggle everything, but it all has to come together cohesively to retain the power that shook Season 1 viewers to the core.
The second season of 13 Reasons Why will be available for streaming on Netflix on May 18th.