WARNING: The following article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for 13 Reasons Why Season 2. Proceed at your own risk.
The first season of 13 Reasons Why courted controversy. Based on the 2007 Young Adult novel by Jay Asher, it told the story of one high school student’s suicide – and the 13 reasons why she killed herself. The story’s unique selling point was that the tale unfolded after the event, with a series of audio cassettes left behind by the girl in question — Katherine Langford’s Hannah Baker — meant for those she held accountable, each implicating a different person.
The sensitive subject matter caused a stir, but one which opened up a difficult conversation around high school life, mental health, rape and teenage suicide. Season 2 comes splashed with warnings about graphic scenes and its depiction of delicate issues, but it doesn’t pull its punches, as you might have expected following the outcry. In fact, it left us reeling. Here are five times we were gobsmacked watching Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why.
We get a glimpse of the first Polaroid in the first episode. Slipped secretly into Clay’s locker by a mystery whistleblower, a note scrawled on the back of the picture says: ‘Hannah wasn’t the only one’. The picture shows a girl sprawled across the lap of a member of the baseball team. Both are drinking and apparently having a good time. The suggestion, though, is that this girl might have been a victim of rape, in the same way that Hannah was.
But what’s shocking is that the photos, as we see more of them, become increasingly graphic in nature with a couple showing Bryce Walker – assailant of both Hannah and Jessica in the first season — apparently forcing himself on an unconscious girl. Eventually, it’s revealed that there’s a Polaroid of every girl Bryce and his close gang of jocks have ever lured to their clubhouse hideout. The scale of the issue is astonishing.
The Cam Girl
As Alex continues to recover following his attempt to take his own life at the end of Season 1, he’s struggling to adjust to the damage he’s done to himself, both mentally and physically. One of his problems is erectile dysfunction, and he’s worried he’s broken. In an attempt to test his performance, he clicks on a cam girl, gets himself prepared in front of his screen with a few squirts of lotion and off he goes. But the most surprising thing about is it the amount we see of her routine. She starts doing her thing, and we’re privy to it too. We’re not sure how necessary it was to show this but hey, 13 Reasons Why is definitely interested in pushing the parameters.
Bryce’s testimony in court told his heavily skewed version of events. In other words, he lied through his teeth. But afterwards, when he’s home alone thinking back on the true events, his thoughts slip back to his attack on Hannah in the pool. In flashback, we’re reminded of what actually happened, with him overpowering her and aggressively raping her. There’s a shot of her terrified face, then him holding her down. And then the camera cuts back to Bryce in the present day.
The shot moves down his body to his crotch, and you can clearly see a bulge in his trousers, which he reaches for. It’s sickening – not only because he’s turned on by the horrific act he perpetrated but also because he blatantly has no remorse.
Tony struggles with anger issues. We learn in Season 2 that the person Hannah entrusted with her secrets in Season 1 — and those tapes — was responsible for two physical assaults that resulted in an order for him to attend an anger management programme. After revealing this in court, we are shown a flashback to the moment when he launches himself at a stranger.
The person in question mutters a homophobic slur as he walks past Tony kissing Ryan Shaver. Yes, he and Ryan once had a fleeting thing. While the man’s verbal abuse was inexcusable, Ryan urges Tony to leave it. But before he knows it, Tony is delivering a savage beating to the passerby, a brutal act of retaliation that includes a rally of kicks and punches, leaving the man with a horrifically bloodied face on the ground.
The Brutal Assault
Just as you’re thinking the season finale is all about delivering justice and wrapping up the events of last season, a new and arguably more vicious and vile attack happens. As Tyler Down’s story ramps up, Bryce cohort Monty takes it upon himself to dish out some payback for a prank played on friend Marcus and a stunt carried out on the sports field. Almost from nowhere, Monty and two accomplices burst into the school bathroom intent on intimidating Tyler.
Suddenly, Monty smashes Tyler’s head against the mirror then whams his head down against the basin with extreme ferocity. Dragging him to a cubicle, he forces Tyler’s head into the bowl before commanding his two sidekicks to hold him down. Before horrifyingly violating him with a mop handle. When he draws it out, it’s covered in blood and we’re left stunned.
The savage attack and the ensuing fallout sets up a third season, which looks likely to leave Hannah Baker behind to explore Tyler’s story, as the series continues to look at the deep-rooted issues at Liberty High.
13 Reasons Why is now streaming on Netflix.