Friday, April 7, 2017

REVIEW: '13 Reasons Why' - Hannah and Clay Reach Out to Mr. Porter in 'Tape 7, Side A'

Netflix's 13 Reasons Why - Episode 1.13 "Tape 7, Side A"

Hannah seeks help from Mr. Porter, the school counselor. Clay plays the new tape for Tony and weighs what to do next.

13 Reasons Why has explored a number of themes remarkably well throughout this season. It's covered the isolation of suicide, the grief of the aftermath of death, the ways trauma can affect life in unexpected ways, the anxiety of high school, the difficulties of being a parent and the struggle to accept tragedy and find a way to continue living. Hannah Baker's life was complex and tragic. She touched so many individuals. Many people cared about her too. As she notes in her final tape though, no one cared enough to stop her from killing herself. These tapes have provided people with the context of her story and what she was going through when she made that decision. It gives the people left behind some clarity. But it has also forced dark secrets to the surface. Ones where people don't want to accept what truly happened. The pursuit of answers can be difficult - especially when they are coming from a dead girl. She left the tapes behind for a reason. And yet, only a few who listened actually understood what it all meant and responded accordingly.

This finale is absolutely brutal because it centers on the last day of Hannah's life. She started it having recorded the first twelve tapes. She's mapped out this journey and has decided to give life one more chance. One more opportunity for someone to pull her out of this death spiral. A chance to give a renewed sense of purpose to her life. She wanted someone to provide her with that feeling of hopefulness and optimism. But all she got in the end was more tragedy and misunderstandings. The sequence in the middle of this episode that features Hannah, Clay and Mr. Porter is absolutely devastating. It's easily one of the most effective but grueling sequences of the season. The show just allows it to linger for the right amount of time to truly deliver on all of the devastation. Hannah goes into the guidance counselor's office hoping for an adult to bring clarity to her life. She talks about needing it all to end. The pain of her life has just gotten too overwhelming. This season has shown how ineffective Mr. Porter is though. So, it's not surprising that he's not able to offer Hannah with any of the things she is searching for. And yet, the way he lets her down is absolutely heartbreaking and soul-crushing.

Mr. Porter almost treats this moment as an interrogation. He's trying to pull information out of Hannah instead of allowing her to feel comfortable with her feelings. He's operating as if he doesn't know what high school life is really like. He first believes that Hannah simply has regrets about a hookup from a party. Even when she tells him it wasn't consensual, he pushes back. He wants to know if she fought. He wants to know if she said no. He wants to know who the guy was. But the one thing Hannah wants in this moment is to know if Mr. Porter can guarantee her rapist will be jailed for his crimes and she'll never have to see him again. It's impossible for him to guarantee that for her. And yet, his advice on how to handle all of this is absolutely horrifying. Because she doesn't give him details, he can't go to police to report this crime. He instead tells her that she should just move on. That her attacker won't be around forever. She should just find a way to forget it happened. That's horrendous and cements Hannah's fate. It shows that even a guidance counselor can say the wrong thing and hurt an impressionable young mind. An adult doing this to her made it all the more easy for her to go home and slit her wrists in the bathtub. Her parents find her when she's already gone.

It's also fascinating to see all of this from Clay's perspective. This sequence is so powerful because it intercuts the two conversations Mr. Porter is having with these students. Plus, Clay is fully aware of how things went with Hannah because she recorded the entire conversation for the thirteenth tape. She was reaching out for help and he failed her. And now, Clay is still trying to find a way to move on. He has to accept the burden that is placed on his life because of Hannah's suicide. Mr. Porter is again not very helpful because he's speaking in general terms about not knowing what someone else is going through. Meanwhile, Clay knows exactly how Hannah felt and why she made this choice. And now, he's simply doing his part to pass the tapes on to the next person in line. But the discussion also pivots to what happens next. Hannah left no instructions for what should happen after everyone on the tapes has listened to them and heard her tragic story and their involvement in it. Clay gives them to Mr. Porter in addition to the new tape he made with Bryce's confession on it. He does so because he hopes the adult will know what to do with this information. Of course, that may not be helpful enough considering all the ways people failed Hannah and how this community is still failing its students.

However, Clay really does seem to learn his lesson from the tapes. It took him a long time to get through them. They were painful to listen to because he loved Hannah so much. And yet, he's also making a conscious effort to do a better job at listening to other people and making sure they feel heard and loved. He made the tape of Bryce confessing to rape. But he reached out to Jessica to see what she wanted to do with it. She's the one who would be directly impacted by its release. She's the one who would have to relive that tragedy. She has a new appreciation for Clay because he was the only one who didn't lie to her. She doesn't want the tapes to be released but she doesn't want them destroyed either. It's fascinating to then see her testify that she doesn't know about their existence followed by her confessing her secret to her father. It shows that she's willing to accept all of this too despite how difficult it is going to be. Meanwhile, Clay's actions motivate Tony to share the tape with Hannah's parents. It's very astute for Clay to say it's what Hannah needs them to do instead of what she wanted. They need to give her parents closure while also forcing the others to face the consequences of what they did to her. And finally, Clay and Tony end in a very peaceful place with them driving away from school with Brad and Skye. That shows that they are willing to let other people into their lives and show that they actually mean something to them. Clay may not be able to love Hannah enough to bring her back to life. But this seems like an appropriate first step to learning from past mistakes.

Of course, this finale is very weird as well because it leaves so many things open. I was under the impression that this show was going to be a close-ended miniseries. It's an adaptation of the novel by Jay Asher. And yet, the season leaves the fates of so many characters in some precarious and dark places. Perhaps it's all just a commentary for how dark and all-consuming a tragedy like this can be. As a TV critic though, it seems like the creative team is purposefully leaving things open so that more stories could be told if the show turned out to be a breakout success. Of course, enough things are wrapped up in interesting ways for this to be a satisfying ending. But there are a few frustrating details as well. The biggest has to be the lame and manipulative cliffhanger from the previous episode. That hour ended with a kid being hushed to the hospital following a gunshot wound to the head. It was implied to be Clay but he shows up early on in this hour perfectly fine and eating breakfast with his dad. The longer the finale plays out, the more it seems like the show just forget about that tease altogether. And yet, it was also clear that Alex was missing from the story. That set up the tragic reveal that perhaps another student at Liberty High has committed suicide. It's a dark and bleak way to end the show. It highlights the importance of being there for one another in times of turmoil. It shows that Clay's efforts to improve his life aren't without serious setbacks. Not everyone was going to have the same reaction to this story. And yet, all of it feels like a purposeful cliffhanger to build suspense and demand for a second season - even though the material doesn't exactly need it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tape 7, Side A" was written by Brian Yorkey and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez.
  • I was wondering if the show would actually show Hannah killing herself. This finale does. But more importantly, it feels necessary despite how brutal and horrifying it is. It's painful to watch. But it also drives home how she's feeling in this moment. She would rather push through this pain to have it all be over with instead of live another day of her life.
  • This was such a terrifically directed show as well. That sequence between Hannah, Clay and Mr. Porter is made even better because of the close-ups of the characters. The camera always cuts back to Hannah which effectively makes Mr. Porter seem like nothing more than a cold and disconnected observer to her story.
  • The depositions are fascinating to watch because they show what the other characters learned from all of this. Zach faces the truth that he hurt Hannah but doesn't go into specifics. Marcus has a similar reaction but has a false rationalization. Courtney continues to cruelly deny the truth. And Tyler causes the most friction by actually confirming the existence of the tapes.
  • Speaking of Tyler, what is going on with him? He was seen buying a gun in the previous episode. And now, he has a ton of ammunition in his room. Plus, he has pictures of everyone else from the tapes. Is he planning on exacting revenge on them? Does that also hint at there being more to Alex's suicide attempt than there appears to be?
  • Also, what was with that scene where Zach gets a text from Alex but someone else answers the phone? Is it just a tease for the dark twist yet to come? Or is something more suppose to be going on there as well?
  • Justin seemed like a cruel character at the beginning of the season. And yet, he's had a tragic story as well. He ends the season needing to rely on his girlfriend's rapist to get beer and clarity. His life has been completely destroyed with nowhere else for him to go.
  • This season was about Hannah's story. It reaches its natural conclusion in this finale. So if the show does another season, what's the structure and purpose? This creative team handled the material well. So, they could probably figure something out. But without Katherine Langford's strong performance, the problems of the narrative could be more apparent.
  • And yet, I also have to call out a number of really terrific performances from this show. So much of this story wouldn't work without Langford and Dylan Minnette. That was clear from the first episode and they only got better as the season went along. Miles Heizer, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn and Kate Walsh delivered some strong performances as well.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.