If “The Box of Polaroids” was perhaps too insular, “Bye” takes the opposite tack and goes way too wide. There’s too much in this episode — particularly in the way that it’s all been framed — that’s been ripped straight from the news in a way that doesn’t quite work, at least not for my money.
More than anything else, it’s just a strange episode, as it begins with what feels like an ending. A month after the events of the previous episode, Bryce is sentenced to three months of probation. (So much for that, though in this case, the injustice of it is arguably the point.) At the hearing, Jess speaks about her rape in a sequence that turns into a broader comment on sexual violence against women. Each of the female characters in the show takes a turn speaking about an incident of sexual assault or abuse, which feels especially affecting in light of how the judge gives Bryce a light sentence so as not to “do any more damage.” Justin, of course, is given twice as much time, as well as being held in juvenile detention given the fact that his mother has skipped town.
But, for all that, it’s a good moment in a show that’s had a hard time in balancing pathos with wringing emotion out of its audience, it’s immediately undermined by what comes after it. The fact that it opens the episode instead of ending it should clue viewers into the fact that there’s something brewing, and what awaits is flat-out awful.
In the time that’s passed, Tyler has completed his behavioral guidance program, and seems to be doing a lot better. The school also has a new student counselor (in the form of Parminder Nagra), and though the bridges Tyler has burned haven’t completely mended, they’re not as bad as they could be — though Cyrus doesn’t think they ought to be friends again, they have a conciliatory talk, and Mackenzie, though dating someone new, is happy enough to see him.
The same doesn’t go for the jocks. Bryce may have washed his hands of it all — he’s transferring schools, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize the terms of his probation — but Montgomery, who is like the Über-Justin in just how dependent he is on his friendship with Bryce and the structure of the team to provide him with a family, takes extreme action. Blaming Tyler for the premature end of the sports season, the jocks attack Tyler in the bathroom, and rape him with a mop handle.
This scene has sparked a lot of controversy, and with good reason. The plain and simple is that it’s simply not necessary. While sexual assault on men is a topic that ought to be addressed, I don’t know that the way it’s being treated here is the best way to do it. As I’ve pointed out many times about multiple story lines on this show, it feels like a means to an end, and the end here is gun violence.
In the aftermath of the assault, which leaves him bleeding, Tyler decides that his only recourse is a school shooting, and brings an assault rifle to the school dance. Clay confronts him before he manages to go inside, asking him if he really thinks that a school shooting will change things, and saying that the adults will mourn it for a while and then move on. It’s a good point insomuch as illustrating that gun violence is never the answer, but it’s also entrenched in the exact kind of thinking that this show seems to be trying to counter. It’s strange to have this coming from a character that this show has gone to such lengths to make sympathetic, and I’d argue that trying to explain what might drive someone to gun violence is different from explaining what would drive someone to suicide.
It also feels strange to try to justify the chain of events that would lead from point A to point B given the culture around gun violence in contemporary America, especially when it comes to white males. Sure, Tyler relents, but what’s being accomplished by this story line? How many people was he going to kill if Clay hadn’t stopped him?
It all leaves an incredibly sour taste behind, even more so because it trumps what ought to be the episode’s biggest emotional beat: Clay finally lets Hannah go. But there’s no space for that revelation to breathe. Instead, the season ends with Clay standing outside the school holding an assault rifle, while police sirens wail in the distance. It feels like a blatant grab for a third season (which, incidentally, has been green-lit), and a strangely curt dismissal of Hannah’s case. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but it’s hard to say. The only thing I know for sure is that Hannah Baker deserved better.
• The actors all deserve better, too. One of the best things about 13 Reasons Why is its cast, who have been uniformly great this season. Given that Katherine is one of the strongest links in the chain, I’m curious to see if she’ll truly be gone next season. I’m inclined to think that’ll be the case, given how (again, oddly) cleanly her case wrapped up.
• Besides Parminder Nagra, there’s one other notable addition to the cast: Anthony Rapp appears as a local priest, who allows the Bakers to hold Hannah’s service in his church. I wonder if he’ll be back. Olivia certainly won’t be, as she informs Clay that she intends to move to New York in honor of Hannah’s wish to move to the city.
• Some last odds and ends: Clay’s family adopts Justin so that he won’t have to go back to juvie. Justin seems happy about it (he cries when Clay breaks the news), though he hasn’t yet kicked his drug habit. He also hasn’t kicked his crush on Jess, who attends the dance with Alex but hooks up with Justin in the locker rooms. Tony and Caleb, meanwhile, seem to be doing all right. Which leaves Chloe, who appeals for Jess’s help in the restroom, telling her that she’s pregnant.
• Phew. Season three, here we come?