Jealousy and gossip take a toll on Hannah's relationships. As Alex struggles with feelings of regret, the guys pressure Clay into getting drunk.
More of "Tape 2, Side A" happens in the present-day story than the previous two episodes. That's because the audience already knows how Alex hurts Hannah. All of that context came from the second episode. The two were close friends. Then, he started dating Jessica. The two of them broke up once a list went around school listing the best and worst female body parts. Hannah was given "Best Ass" while Jessica was defined as "Worst Ass." Alex was the person behind that list. That list has importance. It's still affecting the present-day story. Hannah's mom now has it and wants to know more about what was happening in her daughter's life. But more importantly, that list highlights how high school pranks can seriously go awry. It also focuses on how different people react to the same thing. Alex had his own reasons for writing Hannah and Jessica's names on that list. But it's also important to see how Hannah and Clay reacted to it once it spread around school. Plus, it has even more context following Hannah's death.
To Hannah, the list changed everything for her. She already had a reputation as a slut. She got that as soon as Justin bragged about having sex with her to his friends and sent a picture throughout the school. And now, things are only getting worse for her. This may just seem like a joke to others but it ruins Hannah's life. Her male classmates see her differently now. Everyone is ogling her body. Other girls are whispering about her. The conversation seems to be all about her and that's terrifying. Plus, it gives guys the validation to sexually harass her. That's not okay. And yet, no one else sees it. No one does anything about it. Hannah experiences it by herself. There are still things in this world that give her pleasure. She still has a convenience store she can go to for chocolate and comfort. But even that is corrupted when Bryce shows up and gropes her ass. He's not punished for that at all. In fact, he's still an athletic leader at the school. He's still the one calling all of the shots. He comes from a life of privilege. And not even Hannah's death has forced him to see the error of his ways.
To Alex, the list was simply a way to get Jessica to have sex with him. That was his only intention. And yet, that's not what happened. Instead, Jessica lashed out at Hannah and then broke up with him thinking he cheated on her. It's definitely weird that he's friends with the jocks when he's a band geek. He explains that he became friends with one of them and the rest followed from association. His father supported it because he had male friends and wasn't just hanging out with girls like Hannah and Jessica. He was just going along with what his new friends wanted to do in regards to the list. He wrote Hannah and Jessica's names down just to feel accepted. But now, he feels more isolated than ever. He was able to listen to all of the tapes in one night. However, he's still unraveling because he feels so guilty. He believes that he's responsible for Hannah's death. That's what she believed in calling all of these people out. It wasn't just a harmless action. It was something that was a huge contribution to her death. Alex has to live with that. And more importantly, he still has to be friends with the jocks because they have the shared secret of the tapes. It's an alienating world. It's what makes that final shot of him falling into the pool so devastating. I already knew that Miles Heizer was a great actor thanks to Parenthood. But this show only continues to prove how great and captivating he is. Alex is lashing out because he's adrift and not sure what to do in the aftermath. He hoped he had a new ally to talk to about the tapes in Clay. But Clay is still only moving slowly through them.
And finally, Clay never understood what the big deal was about the list. He did see the harassment that Hannah endured because of it. And yet, he was too clouded by his personal feelings for her to do anything about it. Their little moment on the rooftop of the movie theater is sweet. The show is definitely slow-playing their connection. But once everything is revealed, it's going to be absolutely devastating. However, this episode also highlights how Clay just doesn't get it. He still doesn't understand why Hannah was hit so hard by the list. He sees other girls adjusting well in the aftermath and not taking it personally. He sees it as a compliment because she had competition for that prize. But it's not a desirable prize. It's an honor that changed perception of Hannah. Clay can't step into her shoes no matter how hard he tries. He wants to understand everything that happened. He wants to confide in the other people who are on the tapes. But ultimately, he finds himself succumbing to peer pressure. He may have a friend in Alex once he listens to everything. But right now, he's being manipulated by the same group of jocks. It's horrifying to see them pit Alex and Clay against each other in a beer chugging contest. It's equally mysterious to think that Tony may not be a friend as much as Clay thought he was.
It's also poignant to note that Hannah was aware that these tapes would cause a butterfly effect just like the list did to her. She couldn't predict what would happen in the aftermath of her death. She certainly hoped that the people would listen to her tapes and understand the role they played in all of it. She's certainly hoping that it will change their lives. She wants these people to look at their actions and know that they have devastating consequences. That way they don't make the same mistakes again. And yet, listening to them at Clay's pace may only be further amplifying the anxiety. High school is already a very anxious place. This show does such a phenomenal job in establishing that tone and twisting it so the audience feels very afraid for whatever the characters will do next. It's something that may prove to be unsustainable over a long period of time. But it also allows us to feel just like Clay. It could be very frustrating that he's moving so slowly through the tapes. And yet, he explains that listening to them in large chunks gets him very close to a panic attack. This is a girl that he had a crush on. It likely went further than that too. And yet, she was bullied and beaten down at this school. It's horrifying to listen to the trauma she endured and know that nothing can be down about it because it's already in the past. Plus, the people who know the full story don't seem any better because of it. In fact, they largely seem even more torn apart.
Some more thoughts:
- "Tape 2, Side A" was written by Diana Son and directed by Helen Shaver.
- This show gets many details about life in high school right. And yet, high school kids don't have that many tattoos! Isn't it illegal for people under the age of 18 to get tattoos without parental consent? It's more than a little distracting to see so many characters with multiple tattoos on their bodies.
- It's fascinating to see that Hannah's mom really didn't know any of her friends. She is desperately searching for answers about her daughter's life. Tony is definitely providing some context. And yet, she doesn't even know about Clay and the dynamic he had with Hannah.
- Hannah's mom has also filed a lawsuit against the school for what happened to Hannah. It's a little foolish that she believes the principal will tell her anything though. But it's also clear that the school administration is trying to learn all the details so that they can protect themselves. However, it seems like Mr. Porter may know more than he's letting on about Hannah.
- Justin is the character who started it all in the tapes. So, it's interesting to see the show providing more backstory for him as his life spirals too. He's crashing in Bryce's poolhouse because his mom is an addict with new boyfriends constantly showing up in the apartment.
- However, Justin and Jessica are still strong as a couple. Sure, Mr. Porter believes they are covering for each other in their stories about Hannah. But they seem fine and will be entering a costume contest together. Plus, Justin will finally be returning to school and basketball practice soon.
- Clay returning home and throwing up on family dinner was a horrifyingly gross visual. It was a little unnecessary too since his parents already knew he was drunk. And yet, being grounded isn't stopping him from following every direction of Hannah's tapes. In fact, the stakes only continue to raise because she says the next involves doing something dangerous.
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.