For being a pivotal episode, “The Third Polaroid” feels weirdly blah. Of course, that might have just as much to do with the fact that I’m still not 100 percent in the Clay/Hannah boat as it does that “The Smile at the End of the Dock” is a tough act to follow. There’s also just a lot going on in this episode that puts it tonally all over the map.
The episode opens with a dream sequence that feels like it could have been pulled out of Legion, the strangeness of which I’ll admit distracted me through the entire rest of the hour as I wondered what 13 Reasons Why would look like if it went full-on Noah Hawley. Suffice to say that in my Legion–13 Reasons Why dream, there’s a sort of PostSecret aspect to it all, and there are fewer characters, but a dream is a dream.
It probably comes as no surprise that Clay’s court date, despite his hope that it’ll bring him closure, is something of a mess. His testimony is sweet, i.e. exactly what Olivia was hoping for, right up until the defense gets involved. Clay is painted as a bully for having circulated pictures of Tyler (in retribution for Tyler spreading pictures of Hannah) and, on the stand, is forced to admit that he did nothing when Hannah expressed suicidal feelings to him, and once took drugs with her.
Through flashbacks, we get a sense of the context in which it all happened, which amounts to nothing new: Clay has always had a huge crush on Hannah, and had a semi-wingman in Jeff (who died in the first season), who set up the party where Clay and Hannah did drugs. In an echo of the dream that begins the episode, the two of them lie on the floor, ruminating on infinity, love, and other freshman-level philosophy topics.
It’s a sweet moment, if only because everyone who’s ever been a teenager with a crush has probably felt the pangs embodied in this scene. The same reasoning, except in relation to anger and frustration, is also the only thing that saves Alex’s breakdown in this episode. We’ve all felt like screaming under the pressure of expectations and out of frustration at what is and isn’t possible, so when he calls Bryce a rapist in the middle of school, snaps at Zach for still hanging out with the jocks, and then falls to pieces at his own birthday party, I get it. It’s frustrating as hell to watch (which, to me, suggests that this emotional crest is not entirely earned), but I get it.
I also get the impulse that makes him scream at Bryce, because the further we get into the series, the more I want to reach through my screen and strangle him myself. He keeps getting worse and worse despite the fact that the narrative vise is (hopefully) closing in on him. He hangs Marcus out to dry with regards to the lap-dance video, saying that he doesn’t need to get involved because he’s not shown in it, and pointing out that he hadn’t asked for Marcus to lie during his testimony. More significantly, we see him pressure Chloe into sex. He doesn’t get proper consent from her, which begs the question of how many times this exact scenario has played out between them before.
It’s horrible and stressful to watch, as is Jess’s panic attack at the mall. While clothes shopping with Nina, she breaks down in a dressing room as the act of taking her clothes off triggers a flashback to her rape. Nina, as another survivor of assault, is understanding, though, like most other characters on the show, I get the feeling that she doesn’t quite get that recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all path.
Adjusting is also turning out to be something of a rocky road for Tyler, who’s tentatively feeling out a romance with Mackenzie, Cyrus’s sister, while also dealing with the fact that Cyrus can’t give him all of his time. He’s too isolated, as stressed by the way he gets kicked out of Alex’s birthday party. Jess and Zach corner him and force him to leave, telling him that Alex only invited him to be nice, and that he doesn’t really want him there. As it turns out, this isn’t true, but Tyler’s already gone by the time Alex finds out.
Mixed signals are also at play between Olivia and Andy, or at least, that’s how I took their interactions in this episode. While tending to Hannah’s grave, they share a tender moment (Olivia heartbreakingly worries over the history of depression in her family), and a kiss that doesn’t quite strike me as platonic. In their very next scene, however, Andy asks to finalize their divorce. Pick one thing and stick with it, man!
All that said, things are about to get severely shaken up as, after ruminating over how his court date went, Clay decides to release the tapes to the world.
• It’s kind of entertaining that this episode is framed through Clay’s voice-mail messages to Skye, as his observer role is sort of nuked by the fact that the episode focuses on his testimony. It only makes it clearer just how much narrative heavy lifting is done by having Clay as something of an emotionally compromised Greek chorus.
• I have to say I also find it funny (if, again, also understandable) that Clay is so jealous of Justin, who is settling in at the Jensen household just fine. When he sees Justin watching a movie and eating popcorn with his parents, he storms straight out of the room.
• Did anyone else find it weird that Jeff played such a big part in this episode? Again, like centering an episode on Ryan, it feels a fundamental imbalance when so much screen time is devoted to characters who haven’t played a large (if any) role thus far.