Hannah's date on Valentine's Day doesn't go as planned. Alex gets in a big fight at school and has to face the honor board.
13 Reasons Why is starting to lag a little bit. It's a problem for a number of Netflix shows where episodes run for 50+ minutes and seasons run two or three episodes too long. This season at least has the device of Hannah telling 13 stories. That makes it understandable why it's doing 13 episodes. But some of these stories require more time than others. The devastating reveal of what Jessica and Alex did to Hannah only works once all the buildup of their friendship takes place. That takes time. That contrasts with the reason Marcus is on the tapes. The audience has known for a few episodes that he would be showing up eventually in this narrative of Hannah's. But his story is ultimately just a bad first date that goes awry because he's a player looking for sex and not all that interested in Hannah as person. That has been a consistent theme throughout this season. The perception of Hannah is very different from the person she actually is. And yet, if the story just keeps hitting that same note, things will grow considerably stale.
Clay is suffering from a bit of a lull as well. He's seemingly learned his lesson about hurting the other people on the tapes. He's scared straight and is just slowly listening to this story. He's still taking his time with all of this - to the surprise of the others who know the full story. But he too is following a pattern. It's just easy to assume that anyone who comes up to Clay acting nice is eventually going to be revealed as one of the people Hannah named in the tapes. That's just become a conventional reveal on this show after six episodes. It's been much more apparent with the girls at the high school. With the guys, it seems like they are all assholes who only want to befriend Clay for the personal reason of keeping their secrets quiet. It's very much out in the open why they want to welcome him into the friend group. With the girls, it's much more covert. They are trying to shape Clay's perception of them before he simply takes Hannah at her word because he loved her. They are frequently operating with more information than him and use it to try and manipulate him. It highlights the many different ways that people react to this scandal.
However, Clay's story is still fundamentally good, emotional and interesting. The formula of it all is starting to get problematic. Sheri represents a chance for Clay to move on from all of this. He could wallow in the misery of the tapes and join the friends who vow to keep it all quiet. He doesn't see Sheri that way. He just sees her as a nice girl who is simple compared to all the heavy stuff he has had to deal with because of the tapes. It's an escape. He wants to feel things that are completely unrelated to Hannah. But it's also clear that that is very hard for him to do. Even when he is kissing Sheri, there's the worry that he's distracted by thoughts of Hannah. Sheri listened to the tapes and knows how Clay felt about Hannah. The tapes probably go into great detail about the dynamic they had. The audience isn't completely blind to that fact either. It's clear that they both wanted something to happen between them. And yet, high school reasons have largely kept them apart. Clay has been awkward and afraid to just confess how he feels. Meanwhile, Hannah resorts to a cheerleader matchmaker algorithm to give her a reason to date Clay. Neither of these efforts work. It's sweet but it's still heading to tragedy as well. That's the direction things take with Sheri as well. Clay is still that awkward guy who doesn't know how to express his feelings. Instead, he just makes a girl cry as she leaves his house.
And then, there is that devastating scene between Clay and his mother. She has been waiting to understand what he's been going through. She can tell that he's not quite himself lately. And yet, he's not opening up to her. She didn't know if he was friends with Hannah. She has no clue what's going on in his life. She wants to belief that he's a good boy. But the secrets have formed a divide between the two. Clay thinks his parents are together because they love embarrassing him. That's probably not true at all. His mother just wants to be in his life and help him through all of this. None of the other kids on the tapes have told their parents about them. And yet, it doesn't seem like any of them have great and trusting relationships with their parent. Alex refers to his father as "sir." Justin's mother is an addict who is barely keeping it together. Bryce's parents are constantly out of town. Hannah's parents had no idea what she was going through at school. Clay's relationship with his mother may be the best parent-child bond on the show. But that's still not that great.
The show does a phenomenal job in exploring how difficult it is to be a parent to a teenager. It's a time when the rules change. High school is the time in a kids' life where they have the freedom to explore new possibilities while still having a stable structure at home. It's a constant question of how much freedom to give kids during this time. There has to be enough trust in this relationship for things to be open and honest. But kids keep secrets as well. As Clay's father pointed out earlier in the series, it would be more troubling if Clay wasn't keeping secrets. In this moment though, Clay is just teasing his mother with enough information that he may not be as good as he seems. That could be a huge wake-up call for her. She won't be a part of this lawsuit if Clay can give her a reason. But he has to open up to her. He's still reluctant to do so. He believes he still has to keep all of these feelings inside until he knows everything. And yet, the tapes are destroying the lives of all of the kids. And none of them have the proper outlets to express themselves. Things are just getting more and more tense. That's not anything new but things continue to escalate. How bad will things get though? Alex is already in a fight with another student. But will it take another tragedy to really open the eyes of these teenagers to the errors of their ways? That's still very much unclear.
Some more thoughts:
- "Tape 3, Side B" was written by Nic Sheff and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez.
- Sheri tells Clay that she doesn't want Hannah's tape of her to cloud his opinion of her. He hasn't gotten there yet. However, she's listened to his and is still interested in him romantically. So perhaps, his tape isn't as damaging as the rest. Or maybe Sheri just doesn't care enough about what Hannah thought about Clay since she's now dead and they have to keep on living.
- The scenes between Hannah's parents are starting to grow stale as well. Something comes up that challenges their perception of their daughter. Here, it's her dad wondering if the outcome would have been the same if they hadn't moved. But it still ends with the two of them committing to each other and finding a way to honor Hannah. It's just a formula that has defined them all season so far.
- The school administration doesn't really seem great at their jobs. The vice principal doesn't want to do anything about the fight because it happened on the street outside of the school. Plus, they only have a problem with vulgar language during the honor board hearing for punishment.
- I'm really starting to get worried about Alex. He was right to be upset because Montgomery almost hit him with his car. And yet, that fight had devastating consequences for him and he wanted even more punishment. He seems like a potential wildcard that the rest of the friends will have to worry about in the future.
- Sheri is the one who suggests that Hannah answers the call from Marcus. However, that doesn't seem like the reason she'll be on the tapes later on. It seems too simple. There's no way she could have known how horrible it would go for Hannah.
- Jeff and Skye are friendly towards Clay in this episode as well. So that makes it seem very likely that they'll pop up on the tapes sometime too. It's such an easy pattern to hold but perhaps the show will surprise us somehow.
- The focus of the next tape will probably be Zach. The audience already knows he's on them. Plus, once the date with Marcus goes awry, he's the one to return to the diner to see if Hannah is okay. She even had a flicker of hope. But that will soon go away too.
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.