As someone who used to work in public safety, I found it incredibly difficult to sit and watch 13 Reasons Why without being left frustrated with how irresponsible a television show could be with real-life difficult topics. This isn’t just a show that is attempting to tackle taboo subjects like death or divorce — no, this is a show that has taken on the task of attempting to start conversations about opioid addiction, suicide, self-mutilation, mental health disorders, and school shootings. In today’s climate of violence and mental health awareness, I always can applaud the people who put entertainment that attempts to shed light on matters that people will not openly discuss, but how far does entertainment go that crosses a line? When does shedding light on stigma-involved topics turn into an exploitation of difficult subject matter for the purpose of shocking the viewer? On 13 Reasons Why, the shock factor is an incredibly inappropriate device, especially when used with the content displayed in the second half of the second season.
After conversing with other binge watchers like myself, I discovered that I was one of the rare few that was looking forward to a second season of 13 Reasons Why. Most people that I talked to either couldn’t finish the show because of the graphic content or thought that it was altogether too extreme. As someone who used to work in public safety, I am a bit hardened to graphic content; perhaps this is what makes me one of the few that was not so dismayed by the material. I felt the benefits of the series outweighed the parts that were a bit too much — in the first season, at least.
I can always applaud efforts to open conversations. When there are stigmas associated with topics, especially anything mental health related, people are always more afraid to open up and talk. For this, I applauded 13 Reasons Why for taking the chance of trying to hurdle that barrier. The characters were real and believable. I empathized with them, even the ones who had made questionable choices. When it was announced that there would be a second season, I actually internally commended 13 Reasons Why for going “there” — to the places that most shows don’t go: the aftermath, the repercussions, the hurt and pain that often follows these types of incidents for years.
Then, I began the sad, slow journey of getting through the first half of 13 Reasons Why season 2 and discovered the painful path that the writers decided to take with a show that could’ve had so many opportunities. This is the review of the first six episodes, so before those who watched the whole season weigh in, I am warning you that I am breaking these episodes down from the perspective of someone who formally worked in public safety.
Disclaimer: I am no expert in mental health, assault, addiction or medical issues; however, I come with some experience with working with people who struggle in these areas and have some familiarity with the topics.