Wednesday, April 5, 2017

REVIEW: '13 Reasons Why' - Clay and Tony Go on a Rock-Climbing Adventure in 'Tape 4, Side B'

Netflix's 13 Reasons Why - Episode 1.08 "Tape 4, Side B"

Inspired by a friend's poetry reading, Hannah pours her heart out. Tony confides in Clay about the night of Hannah's death.

Is it okay for the audience to have more information from the tapes than Clay? This season has been great so far. But it hasn't shifted from the pattern and structure of each episode. Each hour stars and ends with one tape. It's an effective way to tell this story. And yet, it does start to get familiar after awhile. This episode starts just like all of the others. The audience hears Hannah's voiceover. We are listening to the eighth tape. However, it's weird that we are listening to it when Clay handed the entire box over to Tony in the previous episode. He was completely done with them. He didn't want to hear anymore. He was perfectly fine with Tony releasing them to the entire world. He no longer cared and was happier because of it. This hour opening in the same way as all the other episodes takes a lot of the tension out of Clay's story. It seems inevitable that he'll take the tapes back from Tony and continue listening. The show being too committed to the structure is the reason why this episode feels more lackluster.

Perhaps things would have been better if this hour tried to tell things in a more linear fashion. Clay and Tony go on their adventure in the present day. It's only after Clay finds his emotional clarity on the situation and takes the tapes back that the show starts telling the audience of what's on the eighth tape. This isn't even the most interesting or engaging story about the betrayal of a person who contributed to Hannah's death. Ryan has just been on the fringes of the high school environment for most of the season. It was clear that he and Tony had a thing for a brief moment. But he's largely been defined as the school magazine editor and that's it. So, the show could have afforded delaying this story and then just telling it as a whole at the end of this episode. It would fit the emotional journey of the episode in a more meaningful way. It would still build to the same conclusion. It's still fascinating to see Hannah find an outlet in poetry and then have it too be corrupted by the selfish decisions of her classmates. It's nice to see that she had aspirations but no one was actively trying to help her in a genuine way.

Plus, the final moment of Clay delivering the poem to Olivia is very strong. Things are definitely awkward between them following their previous encounter at Hannah's house. Olivia is desperate for more information about her daughter. Her story has grown a little stale simply by hitting the same plot beats over and over again. Hannah's parents are important characters in this story. It's important to see how they are dealing with all of this. It's only now that they realize they didn't know their own daughter. This little fight seems a little weird. Olivia is still a mother even though her daughter is dead. That hasn't changed. She still experienced the joys and difficulties of parenting. Andy asking if they should move is a reasonable question. Is it still important that they live in this town knowing that it's where their daughter died? However, it's the only place where they'll get answers as to what happened with Hannah. So, it seems like Clay's gesture at the end is very cathartic. He is able to share something with Olivia that she didn't know about Hannah. Yes, it highlights that she was in an incredible amount of pain. But it's also a gift of understanding that resonates with her in a way that was just lost on Hannah's high school classmates.

That moment between Clay and Olivia is strong. Tony revealing how he connects to Hannah's story despite not being on the tapes is very moving as well. He adds some more details to the final moments of her life. He's doing all of this for her at risk of destroying his own relationships because he feels guilty for not stopping her. He blames himself just as much as Hannah blamed the people she called out in the tapes. He could have stopped her when she delivered the tapes to him. He didn't because he didn't think it was important. It was and he regrets that. It's just very weird that this strong moment comes immediately after the silliest story this show has produced yet. Clay and Tony rock climbing is just awkward. It feels like the show trying to pad this story out to fill thirteen hours. That's never a great way to tell a story. It tries to find purpose in it by saying it took Clay doing something he feared for him to become better about the pressure of the tapes. It took him being confident in this adventure for him to no longer fear what Hannah says about him and the remaining people. He had to stop because it wasn't healthy for him. And now, he'll seemingly be able to continue with very little side effects. As a way to work around these issues, it's pretty lame though. It shortcuts the weight and grieve that he's feeling in this moment. Plus, Tony makes it all feel inevitable because Clay hasn't listened to his tape yet.

And finally, this hour also highlights just how dim Clay is. He's not great at reading other people. He's been friends with Tony this entire time. And yet, he somehow doesn't know that he's gay. The show hasn't come out and said that in those words. But it was clear to tell - first from his dynamic with Ryan and then with his coffee hangouts with Brad. The fact that Clay is clueless to all of that probably explains a lot about how awkward he is in social interactions. And yet, it just feels so obvious that it then becomes easy to judge and criticize Clay for not seeing something that everyone else knew. He doesn't think it's that obvious. And no, it wasn't until we started seeing Tony interact with other guys. But it was still easy for the audience to see it and accept it without needing to be told it. It was a fascinating way to include that character detail. Has it provided a whole lot more depth to Tony? No, he still comes across as the all-knowing guy who keeps pressuring Clay into finishing the tapes. However, this hour seems to suggest a greater bond between the two of them. They know each other's secrets. Tony had to open up about Hannah in order for Clay to continue on this journey. It's a humanizing moment but it's awkward and weird as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tape 4, Side B" was written by Kirk Moore and directed by Gregg Araki.
  • The previous episode ended with one of the best sequences of the series so far. Clay was spiraling out of control which led him to Mr. Porter's office. And yet, he's able to get out of any potential consequences so easily. It's very disappointing and lackluster. Perhaps it's even more proof that Mr. Porter is bad at his job. He has no idea how to help Clay and just lets him walk out of the school no problem.
  • Clay's mom has a sit down with Mr. Porter as well. It takes him awhile to even mention Clay and how troubled he may be in this moment. He's still just sticking to his story of only meeting with Hannah once to discuss her college prospects. So yeah, he's just not very successful in interacting with others in a genuine way.
  • Justin is now suggesting that they just kill Clay in order to keep their secrets. That's a dark twist with him that is a little hard to take seriously. It's high school students talking about murder. It's great that no one agrees with him. But it's still something the audience should be aware of moving forward.
  • Of course, Justin is also struggling to have sex with Jessica. That's easy to just not care about. Meanwhile, it only further confirms that Jessica is on a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol. No one seems to notice or care either.
  • Alex has been spiraling as well out of guilt for what he did to Hannah. He doesn't live in denial about what he did. And yet, he's also internalizing a lot of that guilt which is potentially harming his body physically. He now gets his prescriptions filled at the Bakers' store. But he has no idea how to talk to Hannah's parents either.
  • Ryan has probably listened to the tapes as well. That's if they are being passed along in order of Hannah's story. However, he's not seen with any of the other people on the tapes conspiring to keep it all a secret. Tyler isn't either but no one really suspects him of doing anything. Perhaps Ryan has the same feeling though he really isn't confronted about it in the present day.

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.