Another student sabotages Hannah during a class project. Clay's nightmares about Hannah spill over into the daytime.
It was just in the previous episode's review that I was complaining that the series was starting to become predictable and stale. It was suffering from Netflix streaming drift. And then, the show delivers an episode like "Tape 4, Side A." It's easily the most emotionally devastating episode of the series to date. It also focuses on the most simplistic action that hurt Hannah in this story. It's effective in its simplistic. Yes, it's manipulative as well with the kind of psychotic break that Clay is having. And yet, it all culminates in that remarkable final sequence. In that moment, it all feels worth it. It's a stunning sequence to end this hour on. It's a true game changer and it's all about Clay's reaction to this story. He hasn't even gotten to his tape yet but he's still hitting his breaking point. This hour has the potential to really change all of the characters' lives moving forward. Yes, there are still silly subplots happening - like Jessica and Justin drifting further apart. But overall, this is a very effective hour.
The show has played with fantasy sequences before. The first time it happened was very startling. It was this over-the-top moment that didn't really fit the tone of the show. And yet, it was a necessary component to highlight how Clay really isn't do well with all of this information. He has lashed out at the people in the tapes. He's tried finding his own justice for Hannah. He's hurt several people already - including Tyler and Courtney. Everyone is just waiting around to see what he does next. Everyone is scared that he'll do something that exposes these secrets to the rest of the world. Justin and his friends have tried to intimidate his silence. And yet, nothing seems to be working. He's still listening to the tapes and lashing out at the people just because Hannah tells him the horrifying things they have done. It's a pretty marvelous breakdown to watch. At times, it's very hard to watch. Clay is just barely holding onto reality at the moment.
It was also previously established that Clay was taking medication for something. A condition that hasn't been disclosed to many of the characters as well as the audience. But now, it's clear that he suffers from panic attacks and vivid nightmares. It's something that his parents have to be aware of even though they have no clue what's going on in his life. He's acting out and they know it. But they still haven't pressed too hard to understand what's going on. This hour also confirms that Hannah killed himself by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. That's a brutal way to go. It's also unclear if Clay knew that before. That visual is now playing a role in his nightmares. They are also invading his everyday life. The weight of this journey is taking its toil on Clay. It could be very frustrating that it's taken him this long just to listen to seven of the thirteen tapes. But it's also clear that this is a very physically draining experience for him. He wants to lash out but lacks the confidence to do so. He feels like a man adrift in his life who could explode at any moment.
It's a quality that Hannah outlines very well throughout this episode. In the beginning, Clay fears that he's listening to his tape. Hannah is playing a game and delaying the reveal for as long as possible to complain about someone who was seemingly nice to her but hurt her in a small but deeply personal way. It's not Clay though. This time it's Zach. That was the expected person given the way the previous episode ended with him being there for her after her disastrous date with Marcus. But it's also clear that Zach hurt her in such a profound way. She says the action he took against her could seem small in comparison to the rest of this story. But in context, it's one of the worst things that's happened so far. This season has broken her down. Her reputation has been ruined by her fellow classmates. People just keep piling on her. This episode does a terrific job in setting the mood of loneliness and isolation. That's how Hannah was feeling in this moment. She relied on small anonymous compliments from communications class to get through the day. Zach took those away from her. She then poured her soul out to him in a letter only for him to toss the note away. That's what his betrayal to her was. He took away one of the last comforts she had in this world.
And yet, this story also highlights something that has been suspicious all season long. Hannah is lying on the tapes. At the very least, that's how the other characters see it. She could have thought that Zach got rid of the letter. In reality, he didn't. And yet, he also did nothing to change her perception of him. All of this makes Hannah a bit of an unreliable narrator though. It's so easy to sympathize with her because of how brutal this experience is for her. But this hour also calls into question if she's right to criticize these people this way. Zach still holds onto the note and is willing to share it with Clay. He doesn't want to read it though. This is the moment that finally breaks him. Learning that what Hannah is saying may not even be true is devastating to him. It was already difficult enough to hear the pain in her voice as she was telling this story right before she killed herself. It's doing a number on him and he may not be able to bear this entire journey knowing that it may not be true. Handing over the box of tapes to Tony could be really devastating to everyone involved.
However, it feels like an uplifting moment for Clay as well. He is feeling isolated and broken down just like Hannah while he was listening. After he decides to stop, he is suddenly upbeat and friendly to all the people at school. It's startling to say the least. He's asking how people are and compliments them on everything that has happened lately. It feels like a burden has been lifted. But this doesn't heal him. The vivid dreams continue. He's still experiencing things that aren't there. He does really ask Mrs. Bradley why she didn't do more to help Hannah knowing that she felt suicidal. It's a moment that shows he may be even more reckless like this. That is quickly confirmed a beat later when he's giving a tour to the new foreign exchange students at school. Instead of talking about all the great qualities of this school, he chats about the horrifying realities of this learning environment. The pain of the past that everyone is trying to cover up. He feared the tapes being released for all to hear. He feared how the others would react to all of this. But he doesn't care because he thinks the truth should be out there. It's an inspired ending. Clay has broken. And now, he's heading to Mr. Porter's office where he will presumably be grilled about what he meant in this public accusation about Hannah. That's a very tense way to end the episode.
Some more thoughts:
- "Tape 4, Side A" was written by Elizabeth Benjamin and directed by Gregg Araki.
- Clay keys Zach's car. That's his way of lashing out in that moment after seeing how Zach's life hasn't changed at all after the tapes. But Zach immediately knows that it was him. Clay doesn't deny it either. So, that leads to a tense conversation between the parents.
- When Clay is keying Zach's car, Skye shows up. She's been a curious character so far. She feels like a loner as well. The audience doesn't have the full backstory of why she and Clay aren't friends anymore. And yet, she also encourages Clay to lose his shit and not be afraid of what that means. That's advice he clearly takes.
- Jessica keeps getting drunk. She's showing up late for cheerleading practice and games. Plus, she seems distant to Justin. So, her story may be taking a tragic turn too. Or perhaps it's just going to be a typical story about high school relationships not working out.
- Clay was the only person really leaving notes in Hannah's compliment bag. They were just little drawings but it was clear they were from him. They really lifted Hannah's spirits. And yet, he probably didn't even know that Hannah wasn't getting them after awhile.
- Clay's parents believe he needs to start seeing a therapist again. His mom just wants him talking to someone if it's not her. She's a big fan of talking. And yet, she's not the one who approaches him with the subject. It's instead up to his dad who just worries that Clay doesn't have a proper outlet for his feelings. After his final outburst, this may actually do Clay some good.
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.