Credit where credit’s due: Justin Prentice is terrific. Bryce Walker, on the other hand … I’m not sure what this show is trying to accomplish by filling in his character this late in the game. Generally speaking, I understand the impulse to humanize the characters, but Bryce is a serial rapist. If the show is going to point out how complicit the administration is in letting him get away with it all by giving the coach the “promising future” spiel, I don’t think it can also try to justify or otherwise make excuses for his behavior, particularly not by suddenly revealing that he’s also had thoughts of suicide in the same episode that shows him with an erection while recalling raping Hannah.
Sure, his parents are never around. Sure, he’s dealing with loneliness. Sure, he actually liked Hannah. But assault is assault. Over the course of “Bryce and Chloe,” we’re subjected to flashbacks of his rape of Hannah in his own memory as well as Clay’s, as Clay’s hallucination of Hannah echoes the tape that she’d made recounting that night. It’s awful (and, I’d argue, unnecessary), especially as the writing seems to be going to lengths to make him sympathetic.
Which, incidentally, is exactly what the Walkers’ lawyer is doing. They clean Bryce up for the trial, even giving him his old glasses, and of course, Bryce lies on the stand, saying that he and Hannah had had a whole relationship. The only part of this that’s true is that they’d been friends, unbeknownst to Clay and the rest of the class, though things went sour after Hannah drew a firm line, saying that she only liked Bryce as a friend.
Then there’s the fact that there’s something grim going on in his relationship with Chloe. We know that he raped her, and now she knows it, too, as Jess shows her the photos in an attempt to get her to testify against him. Again, it feels like a strangely manipulative move — yes, Chloe deserves to know the truth about what happened to her, but it’s so specifically for a means to an end that I feel even worse for her. Even Jess points this out, noting to Clay that this is the kind of revelation that will change Chloe’s life.
Though Chloe agrees to testify against Bryce, by the time she reaches the stand, she’s singing a different tune. She testifies that she’d been conscious and had given him consent, when that’s clearly not true. That said, it’s not hard to get a faint sense of why she’s still hanging on. She confesses to Jess that she’s the one who’d put up the photos of her earlier in the season, hoping that it would scare her off from testifying, and that she’d wanted to believe that Bryce was telling the truth. It seems that’s still at least partially the case.
Unsurprisingly, the direction that the case has taken has stirred up some drama at school. Justin attacks Bryce in the middle of the hallway, leading to an all-out brawl (even the coach and Mr. Porter trade blows). Though it offers some insight as to the shifting mentality of the school — one of the jocks does his best to shrug off Alex’s questioning as to why he didn’t attack him, saying that he’s not a rapist, and Zach officially quits the team — it also offers someone a chance to break into Clay’s car to steal the Polaroids.
In combination with how ambiguous Bryce’s testimony makes his past relationship with Hannah seem, the loss of the pictures is the straw that breaks Clay’s back. Though Tyler, now cut off from Cyrus, tries to make him feel better by taking him out into the woods to shoot cans, it only escalates the situation. When the cops get called on them, Tyler scampers, leaving Clay with the gun.
Without the pictures, without Chloe’s testimony, and with less and less certainty that he knew Hannah at all, Clay takes the gun to Bryce’s house. Justin manages to arrive in time to stop him, though Clay is in hysterics, saying that he can’t make Hannah’s ghost stop. As he puts the gun to his own head, Bryce appears, and the episode ends.
It’s a lot to pack into an hour. Some of it’s good — for instance, Hannah points out that Clay is more than a little hypocritical in how he thinks of her, noting that he says he’ll believe her and then never does, and always seems willing to believe the worst of her — but what to do with the rest?
• Bryce’s mom is decidedly no longer on her son’s side. She confronts him after his testimony, asking him if he was really telling the truth. He gets unpleasant with her quickly, describing the encounter in graphic detail until she slaps him across the face.
• Alex is making a little more (conveniently plotted) progress. During the school fight, he recalls being at Bryce’s party the night that Hannah was raped. He remembers hanging out with Montgomery and playing video games, and overhearing the assault. Unfortunately, it seems like someone’s been keeping an eye on him, as he’s delivered a package containing a gun. (How do these kids all seem to have such easy access to firearms? What is going on??)
• Presumably because he thinks he’s got nothing left to lose, Tyler posts the pictures of himself vandalizing the school field to social media.
• And, to put the cherry on top of the bad-luck cake, by the time Olivia is granted access to the Clubhouse, it’s already been converted back into a plain old storage shed.