13 Reasons Why: “Tape 7, Side A”

“One last try. I’m giving life one last try.”

Some TV finales aim for huge and impactful and fall short (looking at you, The Walking Dead). Some stay true to the show’s spirit and deliver thoughtful, talky installments that might not be thrilling in concept, but work beautifully given the skill in front of and behind the camera (I’m thinking of Halt and Catch Fire‘s brilliant “NeXT”). 13 Reasons Why‘s “Tape 7, Side A” falls firmly into the latter category. It’s an engaging, heartbreaking, tough-to-watch end to a show that, while occasionally uneven, was still as bold and confrontational as its protagonist.

What I love most about the finale – and the show really sticks the landing here, guys – is that it ties up some loose ends, but leaves others unaddressed. This might be seen as making way for a season two, so I want to go on record and ask Netflix, very kindly: please, please end the show here. Not knowing, in this case at least, is so much better than knowing (as one scene here makes vividly, horribly clear).


Since most of the plot – such as it is; the show is told mostly in flashback – has been taken care of, 13 Reasons can ease off the gas pedal and focus on the fallout from Hannah’s tapes. That’s not so say it isn’t a tense episode; it is, and it ranks up there with the show’s best. But, like the aforementioned “NeXT,” most of “Tape 7, Side A” is a series of conversations.

There’s the depositions, where the kids all take turns lying about how well they knew Hannah (Courtney, ever more monstrous, says she doesn’t know who is in the photo of the two of them), but they do, at least, admit to some wrongdoing – in a way. Marcus says he “might have” hurt her feelings, and Zach goes so far as to say he said hurtful things to Hannah. But it’s time for secrets to come out, and Tyler – currently hiding a footlocker full of guns in his bedroom – comes clean, on the record, about the tapes. Lainie (who should recuse herself the moment Tyler says Clay is on the tapes) doubts their existence, because Lainie was sent to earth to punish good people – but it doesn’t matter. Olivia and Andy Baker have the tapes. Tony handed them over on a USB drive. It’s one of the few times this episode will allow the viewer some relief.

The thirteenth tape, I should say, is dedicated not to a student but to Kevin Porter, the counselor. It’s a nice twist: Hannah got nothing but scorn and rejection from her peers, so she went to someone whose very job it was to listen to her. But Porter does a shit job of it; when probing Hannah about being raped by Bryce, he asks if she did something she regrets, then suggests that she just try to move on from it. And that’s it for Hannah. Her conversation with Porter is brilliantly juxtaposed with Clay’s conversation with him, wherein Clay outlines Hannah’s last hours, after leaving Porter’s office, finding no help there.

Look: I know there’s a lot of chatter and think pieces online right now, asking if 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide. (All those hyperlinks are to different articles about the same thing, and there are definitely more.) But, from my perspective at least, I have to disagree. We see Hannah commit suicide, and it’s brutal. More than that, it’s gruesome. This is not romantic, and 13 Reasons Why takes pains, literally, to show that this result is not commensurate with whatever problems you’re facing. (Hell, if anything romanticizes suicide it’s The Royal Tenenbaums, a movie I like in which Elliott Smith plays while Luke Wilson’s blood flows painlessly, almost beautifully, into a sink.) Hannah’s suicide is not painless. It’s hard for her to break her skin with the razor blade. She cries, whimpers, grunts; it’s the bravest that Katherine Langford has been on screen. And seeing Olivia and Andy discover her body is even worse. It’s bad enough to hurt yourself, the show is reminding us, but think of what it does to others.

“Tape 7, Side A” knows well enough to end on a hopeful note. There’s hope that justice can be found; Justin abandons Bryce, and Jessica tells her father what happened (beyond that, Clay included Bryce’s confession as side B of tape 7 before giving the tapes to Porter). But more than legal or criminal justice, there’s hope here too. After leaving Porter’s office, telling him “We can all do better,” Clay sees Skye in the hallway. He’s used to passing her, but he doesn’t this time. He asks her how she’s doing, if she wants to hang out, and they ditch school to hang out with Tony and Brad. And yes, I know there’s more to suicide prevention than just being nice to people, but you know what? It’s a good start. Clay’s right: we can all do better.

 

“Tape 7, Side A” score: 4.5/5

13 Reasons Why series (?) score: 4/5

This was a good show, and it was a lot of fun to write about it for you guys. I hope you enjoyed the reviews. But remember that the show, and Hannah Baker, is fictional. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, please, for your own sake and that of everyone you know, reach out to someone. You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-276-8255. Not to get too personal, but I know from experience that the men and women working there are compassionate, selfless heroes. In addition, you can visit their website here.

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