Hannah witnesses a traumatic event at a summertime party. Clay tries to reason with Justin, and Marcus warns him that the worst is yet to come.
In the previous episode, I wondered if it was fair for the audience to have more information about Hannah's story than Clay. He wasn't listening to the tapes at the time but the story was still being delivered in the exact same way to the audience. And now, the reverse happens in this episode. Clay starts this episode having already listened to all of the ninth tape. He's operating with information the audience doesn't have. That could be dangerous as well because the story of the tape is playing out slowly across this entire episode. Meanwhile, Clay is acting on all of that information from his very first moment on the screen. It also features him returning to acting out against the person who is the focal point of the tape. That could easily be such a frustrating quality about this show. Clay is so single-minded that he listens to the tape and lashes out at that person instead of trying to listen to Hannah's entire story. If it wasn't for Dylan Minnette's compelling performance, that aspect would really drag the story down. And yet, it all somehow works in the finished product.
This hour takes perhaps the darkest twist yet. It shows Hannah wanting to reinvent herself after her disastrous sophomore year at Liberty High. She gets a new haircut. She walks around with a renewed attitude towards life. And yet, her problems persist despite all of this change. She hoped things would be different. They tragically aren't. And yet, Hannah is a bit more introspective about all of this as well. She realizes that she's to blame just as much as everyone else. She knows her actions hurt someone else that she cared about. That's what this story is ultimately about. Her target isn't the person who did a horrifying action to her. Instead, it's about how she and Justin failed to stop a rape from happening. The show has finally reached Jessica's party. It's been teased as a crucial turning point in the tapes for a long time. It's the moment where Jessica truly believes that Hannah is lying. She doesn't believe this happened. She refuses to accept that this horrifying thing happened to her. Everyone is willing to support this lie which only showcases how they really haven't learned anything or changed because of the tapes.
Jessica's party was a huge turning point for Hannah as well. She teases that there are three stories from this one party. She's withholding information from the audience as well. At times, the narrative has forced the audience to question if Hannah can be trusted as narrator. For the most part, she can be. She's telling the truth as far as she sees it. She was wrong about Zach throwing away the letter. But the lies people have believed have just been those characters refusing to believe they were true or take action. Hannah doesn't tell us why she was in that bedroom at Jessica's house. That's a story for a future episode. Maybe it will include Clay considering he was at that party as well and getting really close to her. Or maybe it won't. Right now, it's just important that Hannah was there and froze in the closest while she watched Bryce rape Jessica. She simply didn't know what to do. And thus, Jessica was hurt in ways that she's still just processing. But it's also fascinating to note that what Hannah does here is similar to what other characters have done to her. People like Courtney and Zach did what they did to Hannah simply because they were afraid and didn't know what to do. Hannah can understand that. All of this just ended in tragedy because no one knew how to talk to one another. That's the greatest tragedy of these characters.
Plus, all of this changes Clay's perception of Justin and Jessica. The audience seems them a bit differently as well. For most of this season, they've been the ones in charge of the secret-keeping group. This is the secret they've been protecting. They've done so to protect themselves. And yet, they are still covering up a crime. A crime that one of them didn't actually commit against Hannah. Instead, Bryce is the guilty party. He's completely ignorant to the tapes. Plus, he's always come across as the popular jock who thinks he runs the school. It's not surprising in the slightest that he rapes Jessica. He's a privileged character who believes he can just take it because Justin is his friend. It's a horrifying reveal in the story. It cements Bryce as a horrible person. But it also reveals Justin to be not as bad as he was before. This episode operates under the surprise that it's not Justin who rapes Jessica. Everything is seemingly pointing to that. But it's not true. He was all over Jessica that night and was drunk too. But he wasn't the one to take advantage of her. It was instead Bryce. And now, Justin isn't covering it all up to protect Bryce for some twisted reasons. He's covering it up to spare Jessica from the painful truth. This would devastate her and he loves her.
That's what makes Clay so unpredictable and worrisome to the secret-keeping group. They don't know what he will do. He's already acted out and punished people for less. This story could actually break him and reveal everything that happened to Hannah. Their efforts to manipulate him into submission aren't that successful. Marcus plants drugs on Clay and he gets a three-day suspension from school. That forces him to reveal to his mom that he was close friends with Hannah and is absolutely devastated by her being gone. That reveal has been a long time coming. And yet, it was a very powerful scene too as Clay was breaking down over feeling empty. His mom isn't even aware of how comforting and empowering her words are in that moment. Just because Bryce can't be prosecuted doesn't mean this should stay quiet. Clay uses that to just talk with the people involved. His interaction with Justin is intense. It doesn't bring them closer. It doesn't make them understand each other. But it does shift their perspectives a little bit. It allows Justin to be there for Jessica in a genuine way. They can no longer deny the fact that this happened to her. That comfort may be enough to pull her out of her alcoholic spiral. And yet, Clay isn't a part of that. He doesn't know that's happened because of what he did. Instead, he only continues to lash out because he doesn't understand how everyone can just do nothing. The next few tapes will probably only increase the intensity and pressure on him. And yet, they'll hopefully provide some context and comfort that he needs in this moment as well.
Some more thoughts:
- "Tape 5, Side A" was written by Hayley Tyler and directed by Carl Franklin.
- Andy storms into Mr. Porter's office with the poem as evidence that the school knew about Hannah and her suicidal thoughts. That could potentially be a foolish move because as Olivia notes it's revealing to school what their strategy is for their legal battle.
- Is it weird that the school just lets Ryan print his magazine completely unsupervised? It's not a school-sanctioned program. The administration doesn't see anything wrong with it until they become aware that Hannah's poem was it. So, they are still just barely reacting to all the horrifying things happening at the school.
- And yet, Ryan is punished because Clay wanted to do something for Hannah and her family. Clay couldn't have predicted what Andy would do that and it would have consequences for Ryan. But that's exactly what occurs. However, Ryan doesn't immediately then team up with the rest of the secret-keeping friends to hurt Clay.
- Alex continues to be ready to blow at any moment. He and Justin get into a fight in the cafeteria simply because they have different ideas about how to handle Clay. These increasingly violent tendencies can't be good for Alex even if he's seemingly doing the right thing now.
- Skye and Clay's dynamic continues to be fascinating. He's so clueless when it comes to the school searching students' bags for contraband. She tells him what's going on. And yet, he also seemingly hurts her because he makes that comment about not knowing what anyone is capable of doing.
- Clay's mom also believes he has a drug problem. She was too worried looking for the warning scenes for suicide that she thinks she's missed this. His dad seems more reasonable. But learning about Clay and Hannah's friendship definitely complicates his mother's feelings for the case.
- Tony tells Clay that he'll support any action he wants to take against Bryce and the rest of the people on the tapes if he sits down and finishes the tapes. He does seem like a calm and supportive friend in that moment. And yet, is Clay suddenly going to be able to listen to the remaining four tapes in one sitting? That just seems very unlikely.
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.