Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is the most recent, and most divisive, Beautiful Dead Girl narrative to infiltrate American popular culture. If you haven’t watched the series, you’ve likely caught wind of debates over whether its portrayal of teenage suicide glamorizes the act of taking one’s own life—and, thus, whether or not the show’s young audience will be deleteriously affected. But regardless of the many potently negative reactions, the show has been renewed for a second season.
This news comes from The Hollywood Reporter: the venue reports that the series will return in 2018 with Brian Yorkey continuing his tenure as showrunner. The narrative apparently “picks up in the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) death and the start of the characters’ complicated journeys toward healing and recovery.”
“Hannah’s story is still very much not finished,” Yorkey told THR. “She’s an integral part of whatever the next chapter of the story is, and she’s very much still at the center of it.”
Yorkey’s comment seems to indicate that Langford, the show’s star, will return, even though the last season culminated in her graphically depicted suicide. And because the second season’s structure will be identical to the first—thirteen hour-long episodes that interweave past and present-day—it seems even likelier that Hannah’s memory (and memories, for that matter) will continue to steer the course of the show.
That seems like an appropriate choice. Living means being haunted, whether by the dead, the absent, or even our past selves. Of course the characters Hannah implicates in her death will continue to ruminate over their relationships with her—the one exception perhaps being the horrifyingly sociopathic Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice). (But then, the last episode seems to imply that justice will be served, and oh man do I hope that asshole lands in prison.)
All that said, it’s not clear whether 13 Reasons Why should have been renewed for a second season in the first place. Certainly questions still remain regarding Hannah’s death. That’s one of the most painful aspects of suicide: for as little as we can ever know about the inner lives of others, suicide is particularly obfuscating.
But what sort of impact is this show having on its target audience? As others have observed, 13 Reasons Why indulges our—albeit human—desire for revenge. It moreover proffers the fantasy of, as it were, attending one’s own funeral à la Tom Sawyer. Because Hannah acts as narrator, she feels present to us; thus, it’s easy to forget that she doesn’t actually witness the fallout of her suicide. She doesn’t know how dearly Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) loves her or how her parents have crumpled with grief. The evidence she sought for choosing life comes too late.
My own adolescence was burdened by depression and anxiety, so I was especially interested to watch 13 Reasons Why for myself. And after finishing I wondered how my 15-year-old self would have reacted to the series. I’m certain I would have wanted to see it, but I’m not sure whether it would have prevented some of the bad decisions I made. I do know that the story would have haunted me, and that I would have needed to talk about it—with my friends, sure, but also with my parents and therapist.
We certainly do need more opportunities for raw conversations about mental health and suicidal ideation, but I don’t know that they should necessarily mimic 13 Reasons Why. That said, if conversation is bubbling up as a result, I’m glad, and hope that the adults involved will engage with empathy and open-heartedness. And if you have a teenager in your life who is watching 13 Reasons Why, I strongly urge you to check in with them, and learn their reactions to Hannah Baker’s story. I’m still reeling from it myself.
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).