13 Reasons Why Season-Premiere Recap: Picture Imperfect

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Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix
13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why

The First Polaroid Season 2 Episode 1
Editor's Rating 3 stars

For all of us wondering just how 13 Reasons Why would continue given that the 13 audio diaries detailing the reasons behind the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) had all been played, season two begins with the answer: Instead of tapes, we’ve now got testimonies.

Five months after the events of the first season and contrary to everyone’s expectations, the case between Hannah’s parents and the county school district has gone to trial. First on the stand is Tyler (Devin Druid), who has to answer to having stalked Hannah, and taken (and shared) pictures of her that he shouldn’t have. Given the circumstances, he’s more sympathetic than he has any right to be, mostly thanks to Druid, who nails Tyler’s social awkwardness effectively enough to make it clear that there were some good intentions behind his inherently misguided attempts at getting closer to Hannah. (When the up-skirt photo of Hannah began circulating, Tyler reacted by telling her that he still thinks she’s beautiful, and asking if she’d like to do another photo shoot soon, which, yikes.)

As is this show’s M.O., there are a few more upsetting details that come out of Tyler’s testimony. The first is that it becomes clear that the defense will do its best to paint Hannah into a sort of “she deserved it” corner, as they use the fact that Tyler had taken photos of Hannah before (with her permission) and that he’d seen her sexting someone as evidence she liked attention.

The second is just how much deeper the drama at Liberty High seems to run, as Tyler is sent a threat in the form of photos in the darkroom, all of him, and all with their eyes scratched out. Though both Bryce (Justin Prentice) and Clay confront him about his testimony in unnecessarily aggro ways, accusing him of being a snitch and a liar, respectively, neither seems to know a thing about the vandalized photographs.

Which brings us to Clay, who, as in the first season, is the glue binding the disparate threads of the show together. I’m not trying to be glib here, but as we kick off the second season, Clay kind of sucks. I’m not talking about how he passes out while getting a tattoo (a semicolon in honor of Hannah, though he only manages to stay lucid for a comma’s worth), or the fact that he can’t stop thinking about Hannah. Both things are completely understandable, especially given the circumstances. It’s just that he’s so self-righteous in his pursuit of justice that he seems to be ignoring the fact that he’s got some introspection to do, too.

His attempts at helping his girlfriend Skye (Sosie Bacon) control her instincts to self-harm feel too aggressive, as he presses method after method upon her that she tells him outright don’t work for her. On top of that, he seems to be ignoring the fact that he himself may be triggering some of that behavior, as he keeps bolting away from intimate moments in a way that, given his refusal to admit to hallucinating Hannah, comes off as disgust to Skye. But the plot plods on, as Clay deals with being basically the only main cast member not called to testify (which is making all of his peers very antsy) and the discovery of a Polaroid with the message: “Hannah wasn’t the only one.”

The implication here is that Bryce’s behavior was even worse than what we already know: He raped Hannah and Jessica (Alisha Boe), and seems to be facing consequences for neither crime, given the fact that Hannah’s audiotapes are not included in the trial because of how some of the material would reflect on Hannah, and so the case can’t be taken further without Jessica coming forward.

Though student counselor Mr. Porter (Derek Luke) physically threatens Bryce to stay away from Jessica (which seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, no matter how much of a trash heap Bryce is), it’s not a warning that Bryce heeds, brazenly telling her that they ought to get drinks and catch up. Though Jessica has maintained a brave poker face since returning to school with Alex (Miles Heizer) — who I frankly don’t think we’ve talked enough about, especially regarding the fact that his father is played by Lost’s Jesus Mark Pellegrino — it shakes her up, as does the mystery culprit who TPs her house in the middle of the night, and leaves a gagged blow-up doll with the word “slut” written on it hanging on her porch.

Alex, meanwhile, is trying to piece together his part in the story. He attempted suicide at the end of the first season, and has only just recovered enough to be out and about. After retrieving his suicide note from his mother, he reads it to several of his peers, asking them each what they make of the line, “I could have stopped it.” Nobody seems to know, or want to answer. It doesn’t help, of course, that the school has effectively put a ban on any discussion of suicide, Hannah, or Alex, though the baseball coach is seen talking to the team about affirmative consent.

If this season premiere feels a little imbalanced, that’s because it is. 13 Reasons Why is one of the many Netflix shows that would benefit from episodes being pared down to 45 minutes, or even half an hour, and the sheer amount of drama that the show packs in in order to fill its run time is wearying at best (just look at all that exposition!). Fingers crossed that things will even out as the season progresses.

B-Sides

• Bryce acting like he’s untouchable gets a little more context as we’re introduced to his father (Jake Weber (!)) who seems to be a big shot around town.

• That’s angel on earth Kelli O’Hara as Jackie, a confidante to Olivia Baker (Kate Walsh). Olivia’s going to need the support, as she’s briefly seen mid-episode with a conspiracy board to rival the best of the best, and making mincemeat out of a target at the gun range.

• Halluci-Hannah now talks back!

13 Reasons Why Season-Premiere Recap: Picture Imperfect