Why 13 Reasons Why should have ended after its first season

The show's third season reduces itself to a cliché to avoid criticism

This season, 13 Reasons Why attempts to tackle a variety of contemporary issues, but fails to give any the proper attention.
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The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why is one of the most controversial, boundary-pushing television shows on the platform—and perhaps in modern television. But despite its strong first season and talented cast, the series has since proven it should never have continued past its initial 13 episodes.

Since its 2017 release, the show has prided itself on confronting real-life issues facing teenagers with honesty, striving to inspire conversation on serious topics like mental health, bullying, and suicide. While the show’s initial episodes lived up to the challenge of depicting the highs and lows of the teenage experience, its third season has a strained relationship with the contentious subject matter—and it suffers as a result.

Earlier this summer, Netflix removed the heavily criticized scene of protagonist Hannah Baker’s suicide from the show’s first season, more than two years after its initial release. The decision was made in response to the backlash against the graphic depiction of Baker’s suicide, content that critics felt would negatively influence young viewers.

13 Reasons Why’s newest episodes feel like further response to this criticism, with a seemingly deliberate emphasis on stirring up less controversy than the show has in the past. This time around, the show’s writers avoided any new scenes depicting sexual assault and mentioned Hannah’s death as infrequently as possible. The result is a complete divergence from the series’ unique and captivating storytelling. Instead, it shifts to a tired and unoriginal teen drama cliché: the murder mystery.

The focus of this season is the death of the show’s main antagonist, Bryce Walker, and its airtime is dedicated to unravelling the mystery behind who killed him.

Despite spending the previous two seasons establishing Bryce as a manipulative, privileged bully and serial rapist, 13 Reasons Why’s third season centers around a redemption arc for its most despicable character.

With much of the season’s story devoted to exploring the events leading up to his murder, Bryce gets too much screen time. In a completely bizarre and unprecedented turn of events, he spends most of the third season coming to terms with the fact that he’s hurt numerous people through his actions, and striving to change for the better.

While the show rightly establishes that Bryce isn’t owed forgiveness from any of the other characters, almost every episode attempts to garner empathy for him. As such, the character is often shown feeling sad, lonely, and rejected due to his recent status as a convicted rapist.

13 Reasons Why once focused its efforts on emphasizing the importance of considering the impact of your actions on another person’s life. It’s since redirected these efforts toward forcing its viewers to feel pity for Bryce Walker: a rich, white male rapist.

This might seem like an oversimplification of complex and thought-provoking topics such as forgiveness, atonement, and a person’s capacity to change. That’s because it is.

13 Reasons Why’s third season is so saturated with topical issues and convoluted moral questions that it fails to devote an appropriate amount of its limited narrative to adequately address any of them.

From steroid use to heroin addiction, abortion to deportation, and school shootings to internalized homophobia, the show tackles just about every contemporary issue you could think of in a limited 13-episode story arc. The show’s third season doesn’t inspire important conversation about complicated issues, it briefly touches on a myriad of socially relevant topics without committing enough time to sufficiently delve into the complexities of a single one.

The wholly unsatisfying and socially irresponsible structure of 13 Reasons Why’s latest season is a testament to why the show should have wrapped up its story in its first 13 episodes.

The teen drama’s current season perfectly illustrates how the show has devolved from pushing important boundaries and boldly addressing controversial issues to cowering behind clichés in the hopes of avoiding further criticism.

With a fourth and final season already in the works, 13 Reasons Why has one last opportunity to address its past seasons’ flaws and give the story a satisfying conclusion.

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