The Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why takes an unflinching look at the issues facing teenagers today. It depicts rape, assault, stalking, and bullying in ways that are at times hard to watch. The story of the show revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), itself a tough subject. The fact that she killed herself is discussed throughout the series, but made into a brutal reality in the show’s final episode when the act is finally shown.
The show faced backlash for the way in which they chose to depict Hannah’s death. The YA novel the series is based on, written by Jay Asher, handled the character taking her own life in a very different way. The creators of 13 Reasons Why were very deliberate in the choices they made and the reasons why the way Hannah killed herself was changed.
Hannah’s Suicide in the Book
When it comes to 13 Reasons Why, there are several differences between the book and Netflix series. The biggest difference that we’ll be addressing here is the way in which Hannah commits suicide. In the book, Clay mentions that Hannah died by taking a handful of pills. There are very few details other than that rumor and the act is never shown.
In the first version of Asher’s novel, Hannah actually survives her suicide attempt. In that first ending, her parents arrive home in time to find her and rush her to the hospital. The author ultimately decided that he wanted the message to be stronger, so he changed the ending to Hannah actually committing suicide.
Hannah’s Suicide on the Show
In the Netflix version of 13 Reasons Why, Hannah kills herself by slitting her wrists. The scene is shown in incredible detail, down to her buying the blades and getting in the bathtub. It is a very hard scene to watch. There is nothing glamorous about the act, no music or cutting away from the screen to cause a distraction.
All of these choices were made by the show’s director and producers to send a message. In the “Beyond the Reasons” video, where the cast and crew spoke about the show, executive producer and writer Brian Yorkey explained why they made the drastic change. “We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide,” he said. Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who directed the episode, told Vanity Fair, “If you don’t show the horror of it, then you’re inviting people to conjecture that maybe the act itself isn’t so bad.”
The powerful scene was met with mixed results. Some praised it for its honesty, while others felt it went too far. One of the show’s writers, Nic Sheff, even wrote an op-ed about his own experience with attempting suicide and the importance of showing the action on screen. These are difficult conversations to have, but necessary ones when it comes to the way mental health is represented in the media.
Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why is currently available to stream on Netflix. Season 2 premieres on May 18th.