Well, now we know what Zach’s been hiding! As it turns out, the reason Zach’s been so cagey this whole time is that he’s been keeping a very, very big secret: He and Hannah dated for the whole summer. And more than that, they lost their virginities to each other. Taking into consideration the fact that the two fatal flaws of 13 Reasons Why are (1) a level of subtlety best described as “nonexistent” and (2) a tendency to present a hot-topic issue and then say that that counted as a productive discussion (it doesn’t), “The Smile at the End of the Dock” is a pretty good episode, and possibly the closest thing the show has to a bottle episode, as its story, while relevant to the overall show, could easily stand on its own.
13 Reasons Why
Though there are a few sidebars into what’s transpiring at school, the episode focuses on Zach’s testimony (and on Zach and Hannah’s relationship) with a weight that hasn’t been given to the other testimonies so far. The reason why is obvious — again, Zach’s testimony is a bit of a bombshell, and fills out some crucial missing pieces to both his and Hannah’s stories in a way that strongly affects Clay, ostensibly the protagonist of the series. It also serves as a sort of microcosm for a lot of the broader points that the show is trying to make, e.g. the double standard when it comes to sexuality for young men and young women, discovering and becoming comfortable with sexuality, and the difficulties inherent in talking about depression.
The burgeoning flashback-relationship between Zach and Hannah is cute. It starts the way pretty much all high-school relationships start: Zach keeps making excuses to come by where he knows Hannah’s going to be (in this case, the movie theater where she works) and talks to her a little each time before finally working up the nerve to ask her out. (Their first significant interaction is when they bond over how long and boring 2001: A Space Odyssey is, which is not a take I necessarily completely agree with, but respect, given Hannah’s note that it’s often a movie that “pretentious” people name-drop.)
Their first “date,” as such, ends up being a movie date — Zach comes over to Hannah’s house, as his mother won’t let him have girls over, and they watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. On that date, they come perilously close to being discovered by Hannah’s parents, though Zach manages to hide in the nick of time. Upon further questioning, Zach admits that he didn’t tell anybody else about their relationship, which eventually soured things between them despite their best efforts.
That said, he does genuinely seem to have cared about her. As he tells the court, she was the only person to whom he could really talk to about the death of his father. That closeness, however, prompts the defense to ask if they were ever more than friends. Zach, golden retriever that he is, tells the truth, confessing that they lost their virginities to each other and continued to have sex through the entire summer. In a remarkably sincerely executed sequence, Hannah tells Zach that she wants to lose her virginity on her own terms and with someone she likes, and she and a nervous Zach go to bed. With that initial awkwardness out of the way, they go about figuring out what they like. It’s all stuff that feels underexplored in popular media despite how prevalent themes of young love and virginity are, so it’s nice — for once — to see the show putting its money where its mouth is.
In the aftermath of his testimony, Zach is dressed down first by Clay, who mostly seems to be mad that Zach was Hannah’s first love and not him, and then by his mother, who asks why he kept it from her. Through tears, Zach tells her that he never knows how she feels, even about the death of his father, and that he hasn’t even been able to tell her that he’s sometimes felt suicidal. Her response is to tell him, “You don’t feel that way, you’re fine,” which is the problem he’s trying to get at in a nutshell.
Clay, meanwhile, is going through something of an existential crisis due to the news about Zach. He even asks Halluci-Hannah if, had he been in town that summer, it would have been him instead. It’s an ill-timed wrench in Olivia’s plan to get him to take the stand and plead Hannah’s case, as he no longer feels the same way about her (at least not in this immediate moment). He’s also dealing with the fact that the whole school knows about Justin now (including Jessica, who tells Justin that she’d rather he were dead (!!!)), as well as his parents, who berate him but let Justin stay once they realize that he has nowhere else to go, and a mystery burglar who breaks into Clay’s house and steals something from Justin’s bag. Add to that the fact that Sheri’s discovered where the Polaroid of Bryce was taken — a jock hangout called the Clubhouse — and he’s got a full plate.
• Alex is told that he can’t testify due to the fact that his memory of what happened is based solely on the tapes. He finally snaps out of frustration, lashing out at Zach, but on the bright side (?) he gets a boner while they fight, which suggests that he’s recovering a little better than he’d thought.
• I would say that Tyler and Cyrus need adult supervision, but they have adult supervision and their story line is still bonkers. Tyler’s dad’s solution to discovering that his son was shooting guns in the woods is to take him to the shooting range, which I get as a way of making sure they’re shooting responsibly (I don’t know how else to phrase it). But maybe, just maybe, seems like the wrong way of trying to teach some fatherly lessons. Cyrus also manages to hack Zach’s iCloud, and finds a video of Marcus getting a lap dance, which I imagine we’re going to see come into play sooner rather than later.
• Domestic unhappiness abounds. Mrs. Porter is not happy with Mr. Porter for getting arrested, which is a situation that only seems to be getting worse as the coach drops by his office to tell him that he’s taken care of the arrest record. And Andy is put in the hot seat as well, as Olivia refuses to hold his hand on the court steps despite Jackie’s advice, and burns him with an “I know” when he confesses that he lied about living with Valerie and her daughter.