To be honest, I’d almost forgotten about Mr. Porter. He’s been absent for a couple of episodes after, you know, physically threatening a student and then getting into a fistfight with another student’s de facto stepfather, but he’s back in the spotlight as “The Missing Page” places him on the stand. It’s the most affecting episode of the season so far, if also a showcase for both the best and the worst that 13 Reasons Why has to offer.
Across the board, the acting on the series is stellar. But no performance as of yet is as devastating as that of Derek Luke’s in this episode, as Porter’s guilt builds to a pitch he can’t ignore. To put it in more subjective terms, this is the first episode to make me cry.
As I’ve mentioned before, the trial structure is starting to grow stale, but Porter’s testimony veers into the kind of fabulist territory that’s previously only been reserved for Clay, and it gives the episode a much-needed boost. As he recounts the times that Hannah had tried to speak to him about what was troubling her, his memories shift into imagined alternate timelines. Each scene plays out twice — we see (or hear) what originally happened, and then we see what Porter wishes had happened.
The most affecting scene is that pivotal last moment in which he lets Hannah walk out of his office feeling like she doesn’t have any other options. As he breaks down in tears on the stand, sobbing to the assembled court that he could have done more to help Hannah, he imagines stopping her, telling her that her rape wasn’t her fault and that men can actually control themselves (which somehow still seems to be a contentious point in our present climate). When she breaks the illusion, saying that it’s too late, that she’s already dead, Porter says that he knows. But somebody else out there is in that same pain, and he doesn’t want them to die, too.
It’s a fundamental point that it feels like 13 Reasons Why has been skirting around, as well as one that isn’t getting enough emphasis. Hannah’s suicide, which is the driving force of the show, has become more and more secondary to the drama between the other characters, to the point that it’s started to feel like a means to an end. Needless to say, it’s a little grim. The other issues that the show attempts to address are obviously also important, but the number of balls in the air doesn’t necessarily lend itself to sufficient exploration of each topic.
This episode, however, is a home run — at least when it comes to Porter and Hannah’s scenes. The rest isn’t quite as smooth sailing. Porter names Bryce in his testimony as Hannah’s rapist, and given what happened at the ribbon-cutting in the last episode (for which Marcus is now suspended), the atmosphere in the school is starting to change. I worry for Chloe, who seems to be hiding something as she tells Zach that she trusts Bryce’s version of events, despite skipping out on breakfast with Bryce’s parents without any warning and telling Bryce that she has to think about his offer to bring her on vacation with his family.
Granted, Bryce does his best to butter her up, saying that she’s special to him, but there’s something else going on. His behavior is growing more noxious as well, harassing Clay at school and arranging to have him beat up in the locker room. Even if it weren’t for the efforts of Cyrus, Tyler, and Clay (now inducted into their little punk group) graffiti-ing Walker Field and burning the word “RAPISTS” into the grass, the tide has started to turn, as it well should.
The only person for whom this bodes well seems to be Jess, who is making slow but steady progress as she continues hanging out with Nina. Alisha Boe is consistently terrific despite — much like the use of Hannah’s story — occasionally being given material that relegates her to being a narrative tool instead of a fully fleshed-out character. When her father catches her out (and kissing a new boy, no less), the conversation that follows teeters between tense and tender, with worry petering out into the emotion behind it: love.
There’s love between Justin and his mother, too, though the balance between parent and child is much more skewed. As it turns out, Justin has only really come home in order to steal some of her boyfriend’s money in order to get away and start again. When his mother confronts him, telling him that it’ll be her life on the line if her boyfriend finds out, Justin peels off some of the bills and hands them to her, telling her to get away and start anew, too.
Tyler and Mackenzie go on their date, though it doesn’t quite go according to plan. He prematurely ejaculates while they’re making out, and in order to hide it, pretends he’s got a family emergency and … leaves her at the theater. Cyrus is understandably not happy about having his sister abandoned at the movie theater, which Tyler plays off as anxiety about dating his friend’s sister. Okay!
• The stress of having released the tapes is really starting to get to Clay, to the point that he even asks his dad if they can move, and if he can transfer schools. This isn’t a suggestion that flies, and Clay’s anxiety is only compounded when the principal calls him into his office to talk about the tapes, and about Hannah.
• We’re one step closer to figuring out what’s up with Tony and Lucas, the one-eyed man. Caleb has pieced together that they’ve got some unresolved history, though Tony says the reason he’s been avoiding the gym and acting dodgy is because he’s anxious about his upcoming testimony. Be that as it may, he’s still dealing with some major anger-management issues, as seen when he lashes out upon finding his car vandalized, socking Caleb (who, by all appearances, is an absolute sweetheart) in the face.
• There’s a new wrench in the system as well: Maureen and her daughter Sara, who have some unpleasant history with Hannah, have shown up in town for the trial.