Netflix Show Prompts Teen Suicide Discussion

Annette Ungermann, Staff Writer

Netflix’s release of it’s latest, and immensely popular original television series 13 Reasons Why has received both praise and criticism for its depiction of teenage suicide.

Season 1 was released on March 31 of this year, and the series is adapted from a young adult novel of the same name published in 2007 by Jay Asher. The story begins after teenager Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide, focusing on her close friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he learns the details of the people and events that drove her to take her own life.

The show picks up after Jensen receives a box of cassette tapes at his front door, not long after Baker’s death.

Each side of a cassette tape explains each of her 13 reasons why she killed herself. Baker talks about an event that changed her in each tape, via audio and a flashback. 12 people are focused on in these tapes- with one repeated character -and in each episode, Baker, tells the person what he or she did to her and how she felt about it. These stories are interspersed with Jensen’s own, and how he copes with learning the details of his close friend’s suicide.

Jensen battles with the reactions of his peers who are featured on these tapes, as they often wish to keep him quiet when he wants to divulge their wrongdoings.

The show deals with heavy themes like rape, sexual assault, suicide, bullying, underage drinking, and a myriad of other topics that are incredibly difficult to watch. As such, the show labels trigger warnings before its particularly intense episodes. The way that 13 Reasons Why has dealt with such dark themes- by showing them in unflinching detail -has been praised as groundbreaking, yet has also come under hash criticism for its mature content, some critics even implying that it glorifies suicide.

Despite the show’s controversial approach, it highlights the extreme gravity of teenage suicide and how it affects those closest to it. By showing it through the lens of young people, without much guidance in how to navigate their emotions, the acting is real and raw. The show also has a short episode that plays after the series entitled 13 Reasons Why: Behind the Reasons that features talks with experts regarding teen suicide prevention.

Though the show is dark, and at times emotionally draining, the storytelling is never stagnant. The show does not drag on in its sad scenes, and as it has almost 13 different story lines and characters that it focuses on, there is always something new for the viewer to uncover about Baker’s story.

This show is certainly not one to be taken lightly, and its weight leaves a palpable emotional impact on its viewer, telling a story that is fairly unique for mainstream television.