Photo Courtesy of Radiotimes.com
By Katie Van Lew
On June 5, 2020, Netflix released the final season of the controversial yet gripping series, 13 Reasons Why. The first season of the series closely follows the storyline of author Jay Asher’s novel, 13 Reasons Why. The book introduces Clay Jensen, a student at Liberty High School, who is given a set of 13 cassette tapes. During this time, the community mourns the loss of Hannah Baker, Clay’s friend and classmate who committed suicide.
Upon receiving the tapes, it is revealed that Hannah made them before her death to tell her story, as every tape addresses all of the reasons that ultimately led her to take her life. On each tape, Hannah speaks directly to one of the thirteen people she addresses, describing how each person on her tape had contributed to her death.
Many applauded the show’s performance in breaking the stigma of mental health, yet many criticized the glamorization of suicide. After the first season, the television series deviated from the book, and the writers cultivated a series that displays real-world issues involving drug abuse, sexual assault, and mental health.
The introduction to the fourth season sent viewers into a wave of panic, as the series finale begins at a funeral before the scene cuts to the opening credits. The episode then flashes back in time, six months prior to the funeral. Viewers are tormented for the rest of the season with the knowledge of another character’s untimely death in the back of their minds. In order to dive deeper into the series, spoilers will be mentioned beyond this point.
Season four of 13 Reasons Why primarily focuses on Clay’s declining mental health. Throughout the series, Clay becomes the primary source of support for his friends. In times of tragedy and despair, Clay is the first person to put himself in compromising situations to ensure the safety of his friends and family. Yet after facing devastating loss, and coming face to face with evil, Clay is left with a problem that he is incapable of solving: himself. As a result of the trauma he has faced, Clay begins having nightmares, hallucinating, and blacking out for long periods of time. As his mental state rapidly declines, Clay begins to act irrationally, posing as a threat to many Liberty High students, including his friends. Realizing that he is not only hurting himself but the people he loves most, Clay’s parents set him up with a therapist, who questions his innermost thoughts and intentions. Throughout the final season, Clay slowly realizes that even the strongest of people need their own means of support.
In the series finale, Clay and his friends mourn the death of Justin Foley. Justin, who is adopted by Clay’s family in the show’s third season, experiences bouts of homelessness along with drug addiction. In the beginning of season four, the Jensens and friends welcome Justin upon his return from drug rehabilitation. In the finale, Justin is taken to a hospital where it is revealed that he has contracted AIDS. The loss of Justin is rather problematic as AIDS is a disease that many people live with and does not necessarily equate to death. Many viewers were disappointed with the finale, as Justin is the most transformative character in the series. Justin fought to live, to find every reason in his life to keep going, despite the abuse and turmoil he endured. Once a high school jock, he transformed into an individual that extended beyond his talents on the football field. He was the prime example of a redemptive character arc, as he was able to overcome trials and tribulations in order to become the best version of himself.
The series finale to 13 Reasons Why is bittersweet. Throughout the course of its four seasons, the series has raised awareness for suicide prevention and contributed to the destigmatization of mental health problems and reaching out to specialists and loved ones for help. Although often problematic and potentially triggering to some viewers, the series does a commendable job in providing plots that highlight topics in society that are “off-limits.” Many people were dissatisfied that Netflix continued the show beyond the first season, as it deviated from the novel; however, there is value in a show that speaks on forbidden topics and goes beyond the established work of a previously written novel. Though the show highlights pain and trauma in the characters’ lives, the ending of 13 Reasons Why elicits hope for viewers.
In the last moments of the show, Clay and his friend Tony are seen driving to college. Despite the devastation Clay and his friends have faced, this moment provides viewers with the notion that people are stronger than the hardships they face; that life is complicated. The show teaches that life is unpredictable, and at times unfair, but it is imperative that people constantly search for the light in life.