The caps have been tossed, as the class of 2020 in the controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, finally graduate. In its fourth and final season, the high school drama attempts to wrap up loose ends, as the teens at Liberty High face the paranoia, guilt, and psychological repercussions of loss and murder.
When you take our current social climate into account, the focus on guns, cops, riots, and criminal cover-ups certainly came at an inappropriate time. With its unpolished storyline and slew of mental health misconceptions, the series felt like Brian Yorkey gathered every provocative issue out there, threw them into a NutriBullet, and diluted their potency in the name of “friendship.” This left viewers with confusing messages surrounding topics like toxic masculinity, violence, HIV, and more. 13 Reasons Why, for too long, has fetishized grisly murders and mental health struggles.
What Happened in Season Four?
Season four concentrated more on loyalty than authentic relationships. Sure, the gang of high school students was traumatized, but they literally killed the show’s main bully in season 3 without ever getting caught. What happened to all the sanctimonious talk about justice? It’s like the younger, godawful cousin of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. Oh, and if you’re an entitled middle-class suburban kid, don’t worry if you’re pissed the eff off and feel compelled to storm into your local police station waving around a gun. It’ll simply result in a comforting shoulder to cry on rather than, you know, being tackled, beaten, or shot. Clay Jensen is nothing more than a controlling narcissist with megalomaniac tendencies, yet the show continuously romanticizes his character, portraying him as the “good guy” amid all the chaos.
What initially starts with a few teens helping a friend cover up a murder, transitions into a declining school system and the inability to handle important issues like feminism, suicide, and addiction. The closest the show comes to accurately portraying an issue was in episode 6 when the school goes into lockdown. The students are unaware that the lockdown is premeditated (a sickening decision made to adequately “prepare” the kids). The raw emotion and fear of the students left my heart pounding and tears in my eyes. It could certainly never account for the real debilitating horror or psychological wounds that real incidents like these cause — but it was one of the more “authentic” scenes this season.
While many students come to suspect Clay and his band of misfits as the culprits behind Bryce and Monty’s deaths, nothing ever comes from it. One of Monty’s ex-lovers, Winston (Deaken Bluman), even transfers from his prep school to Liberty High to uncover the truth – working alongside Monty’s (never mentioned) younger sister, Estela (Inde Navarrette). Even though he gets his answers, he simply walks away in the end, deciding not to clue the cops in on what actually happened.
Most of the primary characters fell flat for me. Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), for instance, was responsible for killing Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) last season. Instead of being pulled into the emotional turmoil Alex should be feeling from the trauma, the season primarily focuses on exploring his sexuality. While this is certainly an important topic to discuss (especially for those struggling to define their sexuality), ignoring the murder — and, ultimately, never being charged for it — only serves to glorify violence and teach the younger audience that there are no repercussions for their actions.
Meanwhile, Clay (Dylan Minnette) experiences a prolonged haunting of guilt throughout the season. He succumbs to paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations, fugue states, and disassociation – all displayed in a rather demonic light. He continuously sees the ghosts of Monty and Brice who appear in vulnerable moments of anxiety, yet there is no explanation or insight into the corporeal hallucinations. Same with Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) and her visions of Bryce. And with all the macabre events over the series, how come no one seems to think (or really care) about Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) anymore?
Real Situations, Unreal Portrayals
Despite bringing up topics like substance abuse, oppression, sexual trauma, terminal illness, school shootings, activism, and sexual fluidity, the series does little to accurately portray these very real, very emotional issues. In fact, let’s just ignore them and enjoy watching as our favorite teens dance at prom, give empty graduation speeches, and get into college (Ivy League, no less).
After four seasons, the show does nothing more than exploit its marginalized characters. Why were the storylines of sexual assault and non-binary activist Casey (Bex Taylor-Klaus), anti-establishment punk-rocker Cyrus (Bryce Cass), and Clay’s self-mutilating ex Skye (Sosie Bacon), merely a blip on the radar? Racism is alluded to, but never examined or tackled in the manner which it deserves.
Justin Foley Deserved Better
And, honestly, I can’t even talk about Justin Foley’s (Brandon Flynn) storyline without literally choking on anger and tears.
While the show has always been highly controversial among both critics and fans, nothing has outraged people more than the ending of season four.
— paulina (@justinsplaydate) June 6, 2020
— 𝓜𝓲𝓬𝓱𝓮𝓵𝓵𝓮 ❥ (@sanchezlopezm_) June 7, 2020
13 Reasons Why has been an emotional rollercoaster. It had its moments. I laughed. I SOBBED. But really, I just felt like WTF. Let me know what you thought of season four in the comments below!