“Smile, Bitches!” is an unpleasant episode on a couple of levels. For one thing, nothing particularly good happens in it, and for another, it doesn’t stand on its own. All the narrative progress that’s been made seems to come at a cost, and it’s merely setting up for the final leg of the season — which, if I had to guess, I’d say is going to get ugly.
It’s Tony’s turn on the stand. Though there aren’t any real bombshells in his testimony — the defense twists what he says to make it seem like Hannah was a bully, while the Bakers’s lawyer makes him seem unreliable in order to mitigate it — the flashbacks that accompany it tell their own story. The friendship between Tony and Hannah seems sweet. They’d confided in each other: Hannah about her experiences at her last school, expressing regret at having helped ostracize Sara in order to fit in with her new friends, and Tony about his sexual orientation, coming to Hannah for encouragement and support. (They even go to get manicures together.)
It’s only after Hannah eggs him on that Tony asks Ryan out. They’re a cute couple, though their honeymoon period doesn’t last long. While they’re walking down the street, Lucas (who has both eyes intact at this point) curses at them, calling them “faggots.” When he refuses to back down, Tony handily beats Lucas to the point that he loses the use of one of his eyes, and bystanders begin calling the police.
It’s also down to Hannah that he avoids being arrested. He ducks into the movie theater and begs for her help — and she agrees, hiding him and telling the police that she didn’t see him go by. Of course, this act of kindness doesn’t make it into Tony’s testimony, as it would implicate him in a third assault and get him sent to prison. This means it doesn’t do anything to help the case, though Tony does his part to set the cosmic scales of balance right by visiting Sara, whose testimony made Hannah out to be a toxic bully, and telling her that Hannah really did regret what she’d done.
The rest of the episode gets dark enough that I’m worried as to how this show will end. At this point, 13 Reasons Why feels like a rival to shows popularly dubbed “misery porn,” like The Handmaid’s Tale or The Walking Dead. The only reason that it hasn’t also fallen under that umbrella is that it doesn’t really look like its peers; there’s no dour color-grading, and its cast is made up of teenagers. (This categorization isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. As with all art, your mileage may vary.)
At least the Scooby Gang has finally made some real progress in their investigation. After Sheri manages to get access to the Clubhouse (in a tense scene that reminded me of Game of Thrones, in that it made me wonder just how much violence against women — threatened or otherwise — really needs to be in any TV show), Clay and Justin go looking for the Polaroids that they’ve learned the jocks take as a form of insurance against anyone who goes in or out.
Three big revelations come of their trip to the Clubhouse. The first is that the mystery person who’s been leaving Polaroids for Clay is … Zach. He catches them in the Clubhouse after storming off of the field mid-game, finally fed up with Bryce and the school system that’s keeping him protected. Instead of ratting Clay and Justin out, Zach hands them the box of remaining pictures, telling Clay that he wasn’t brave enough to do anything about them, so Clay must do it himself.
The second is that the girl from the second Polaroid is … Chloe. There’s another picture of that night in the box, making it clear that it’s her and that she’s unconscious. If they can convince Chloe to testify against Bryce, that just might turn the tide of the case.
The third, as always, is a wrench. As they’re looking through the photos, Clay discovers one of Hannah. She’s alone in the photo, suggesting that whoever took the photo was the only other person in the Clubhouse with her.
Given the way that Clay reacted when he found out about Hannah’s relationship with Zach, this discovery can only mean that things are about to go extremely sideways. I’d say the same for Tyler, too, who has become more isolated than ever. He tags along with Cyrus to a punk concert, but he isn’t exactly built to handle a mosh pit. He retreats to the sidelines after getting elbowed in the face, where he’s found by Mackenzie, who tries to tell him that she knows what happened at the theater and that it’s perfectly fine. In an effort to save face in front of Cyrus’s friends, he yells at her to shut up. Unfortunately, Cyrus arrives just in time to hear it, and kicks Tyler out. Things only worsen when Tyler gets home, when it becomes apparent that he’s been trolled by a fake Grindr account, and his parents confiscate his phone and camera after discovering he blackmailed Marcus.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that someone has vandalized Olivia’s pharmacy. The way that the town once was looks to be going the way of the dodo, and somebody isn’t happy about it.
• Porter truly doesn’t give a crap about the school administration anymore. Despite being told not to talk to any of the students until his performance review is finished, he calls Justin into his office to try to set him straight.
• Nina and Jess have their first argument, as it becomes apparent that Nina isn’t quite as at peace with herself as she’d like it to seem. Jess is also still on the outs with Justin, though she stops her dad from tearing Justin to pieces after catching him while driving her to school.
• Jackie’s gone! She left Olivia a letter, which we’ll presumably get to read in a later episode.