Jess has one of the strongest arcs on the show, so it follows that the episode featuring her testimony is the best of the season so far. That said, “The Drunk Slut” hits both the highs and lows of 13 Reasons Why: It addresses topics that deserve attention, including mental health and institutional sexism, but I wonder if it’s been done in a way that’s ultimately helpful. (The show also strikes me, to a lesser extent, as a sort of teen Handmaid’s Tale, insomuch as it sometimes seems to revel in the misery of its characters.)
The crux of Jess’s testimony is the way that high school – and life – is fundamentally different for girls and boys. As Jess puts it, girls are labeled and that’s that, whereas boys are given the chance to define themselves. It’s a generalization, certainly (and broad in a way that doesn’t include different sexual and gender identities), but where Liberty High is concerned, she’s not off the mark. To wit, the defense doubles down on labels, calling Hannah jealous and vindictive as a result of Jess’s testimony. The one thing that could change the course of this trial would be for Jess to tell the truth of why her friendship with Hannah ended, but to do so would mean reliving her rape — which she tells Alex she already has to do every day at school.
Speaking of which, Sonya is the worst. I get that it’s her job to act on behalf of the school, but the way she manipulates and pushes these kids when they take the stand is awful. She comes close to forcing the truth out of Jess, just as she had done to Courtney in the last episode, but Jess relents, keeping mum instead of speaking out. Though she doesn’t need to explain herself, there’s still something significant in what she tells Clay when he asks, once again, about the possibility of her telling the truth. “She was sweet and sensitive and white,” she says of Hannah. “I’m not the right kind of victim to go against Bryce.”
It’s a dynamic that crops up again when Clay asks Tony to help him go look for Jess’s former boyfriend, Justin. Tony is a little affronted by Clay’s plea, noting, “You’d ask your brown friend for help, navigating the streets.” Clay fesses up to it, though he protests that he’s not racist, and the two end up finding Justin on a street corner. He’s not well — he seems to have developed a slight drug habit — but he’s alive, at least, and hopefully he’ll be able to help them somehow.
Luckily, this episode sees Clay a little more clear-eyed about the happenings in his own life, as he tries to keep tabs on Skye. Though he’s on edge after being run off the road by a car that looks suspiciously like Bryce’s, he’s impressively levelheaded when he finally gets through to Skye — and when she breaks up with him. It’s for the best, honestly. They make a cute couple when there’s no Hannah drama, but there’s no world in which Hannah won’t be at the center of this storm. Though she tells Clay that her winding up in the hospital isn’t his fault — which feels especially worth noting, given the ways that the “blame” for suicide or self-harm are attributed on this show — it’s the end of the road for the two of them.
Back at school, Tyler experiences something of a fresh start. Though he’s still a bit persona non grata with the faculty and most of the students due to his part in the Baker case, he’s brought into the rebel fold by Cyrus, the punk he met in Porter’s class. At episode’s end, Tyler is no longer completely vulnerable to the harassment of the jocks, and is fast friends with Cyrus to the point that he’s hanging out over at his house.
There seems to be a parallel reaction occurring among the jocks. As Alex and Jess point out given the threats they’ve received, the jocks are closing ranks around Bryce in an effort to protect him. (Even Zach, the “good” jock, seems to be on Bryce’s side.) But who knows how long that’ll last, or how effective it’ll be, given that Bryce has been called to testify — not to mention the fact that Olivia has her sights set on him. She’s managed to piece together that the mystery girl on tape nine is Jess, and knows that the case would fundamentally change if Bryce’s history of sexual assault were brought into play. Though she tries to coax the truth out of Jess, confronting her in the bathroom after she says nothing on the stand, Jess still needs more time.
• Clay might want to point some of that newfound clarity towards Tony, who’s dealing with some dangerously pent-up aggression. We’ve seen him boxing a few times now, and during the search for Justin, he beats the crap out of a homeless guy who happens to be wearing Justin’s old jacket.
• Race also pops up as Marcus, the student body president, deals with the ongoing trial. His parents are justifiably concerned given Marcus’s reputation as a model student, a concern that’s heightened by his recent acceptance to Harvard. When Marcus tells them they’re overreacting, his father says, “The rules are different for us.” It’s a reasonable concern, though less so given we know that Marcus tried to assault Hannah, as well as cover up the tapes.
• Once again, Porter is wilding out. This time, it’s in the form of actually going to Bryce’s house to speak with his parents, which I cannot imagine to be sanctioned by the school, as well as going to a different school to interview for a job. He seems to be approaching the end of his rope, and his tendency to act out has me a little worried!
• Who is Nina Jones? We’ve seen her try to talk to Jess multiple times to no avail, and her interest doesn’t seem to be incidental.