How 13 Reasons Why Handles the #MeToo Moment

Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) in 13 Reasons Why. Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix/Beth Dubber/Netflix

Spoilers for 13 Reasons Why season two ahead.

Though 13 Reasons Why is largely driven by the suicide of high-school student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), it attempts to spark a larger discourse about the events that led to her death. Namely, her sexual assault by fellow student Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice). In its second season, the Netflix series shifts the narrative even further away from her suicide and focuses on bringing her attacker to justice. While her high school is on trial for negligence most of the season, Walker’s crimes are brought in as evidence crucial to the case — except none of his other victims are emotionally ready to accuse him from the stand.

But before Hannah’s parents (Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James) lose their lawsuit, one of Walker’s living victims, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), does what she couldn’t at the Bakers’ trial and officially reports her assault to the police, opening a criminal investigation into Walker. (Her ex-boyfriend, a witness to her rape, also reports him.) It’s in this pivotal moment that 13 Reasons Why enters the conversation launched by #MeToo, the movement taking down sexual abusers one Hollywood predator at a time.

In the show’s season-two finale, we learn that Walker has been found guilty, but Davis must give her victim-impact statement before he can be sentenced. She’s emotional but stern, addressing Walker directly as she rehashes the traumatic details of her rape. And as the camera pans from her face to his and back, she’s also not up there alone. Hannah tells her story. Then another of Walker’s victims does the same. Then another. They are students we’ve heard from all season, now revealing their assaults for the first time.

Suddenly, the stories of sexual misconduct become everyone’s story, because almost every woman has one: Hannah’s mom tells hers. Clay Jensen’s mom (Amy Hargreaves), a lawyer, does too. She stares dead-eyed into the camera to share what happened to her: “I was a second-year associate. He invited me to a strategy meeting in his hotel room. He answered the door in his bathrobe. I spent the evening insisting we work on the case. At the end of that year, I was let go.” Her story is particularly damning because it sounds ripped from the headlines, and could be interpreted as referencing the ones we’ve heard time and again, about the tactic Harvey Weinstein would allegedly use to prey on women — in a hotel room, wearing a bathrobe, and under the false pretenses of a business meeting.

Bryce Walker is not the offender in all of those women’s stories, because the story of assault is bigger than him. All season, several students — friends of Hannah and Jessica — attempt to use vigilante efforts to get Walker behind bars only to learn he’s just the first crack in the dam. Turns out, there’s a rampant rape culture at Liberty High, one where the baseball team is routinely assaulting women at a “clubhouse” behind the field, and keeping photographs of their crimes as a sort of trophy. (One such photo reveals that Walker assaulted his new girlfriend while she was unconscious.)

The show’s creator, Brian Yorkey, has said #MeToo had little bearing on the show’s second season, which first revealed Hannah and Jessica’s sexual assaults last year, prior to the movement. And however similar Clay’s mom’s misconduct story sounds to the Weinstein scandal, Yorkey says those episodes were written and filmed before the bombshells dropped. “It was remarkable to watch it happening, but nothing that we did was a response to it. It all predated it,” he told THR. By the end of the season, for all of Walker’s crimes against women and his ultimate conviction, he is reprimanded with only three months probation.

How 13 Reasons Why Handles the #MeToo Moment