When Netflix renewed its high school drama 13 Reasons Whyfor a second season last year, more than a few observers wondered whether a second installment was, in fact, necessary. It's a common question faced by television shows adapted from books, which are increasingly venturing beyond their source material into independent storytelling. (See also: Big Little Liesand The Handmaid's Tale.) After watching all of 13 Reasons Why Season 2, the answer to the question of whether it should have been made in the first place is... eh, probably not.
Unlike The Handmaid's Tale, which is also going beyond the scope of Margaret Atwood's novel in its second season (with the author still acting as a consultant), 13 Reasons Why's approach in Season 2 seems to be to retcon events that happened in Season 1. Throughout the 13 episodes, there are several occurrences that will leave viewers feeling like they'd been misled or outright deceived by the way things were depicted in the first season.
And to what end? Sure, one of the central themes of 13 Reasons Why — both the series and Jay Asher's young adult novel, on which it was based — is that no one really knows what's going on with another person, even if they think they do. But Season 2 takes this idea so far that by the end, some of the characters we grew so attached to in Season 1 are almost unrecognizable. The motivations for this are unclear, but if often feels like a convenient way to create more storytelling yarn or take certain characters' storylines in a dramatic new direction. (It's also worth noting that Asher is not involved with this season in any capacity, according to a statement Netflix released after the author was accused of sexual harassment.)
Overall, the formula of Season 2 is similar to the one set forth in Season 1. The events still revolve around the shocking suicide of high school student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), only this time the central mystery is not what drove Hannah to kill herself, but rather who's sending threatening notes to her classmates in an effort to stop them from speaking out about those events.
The performances, particularly by Dylan Minnette and Miles Heizer, who play Clay Jensen and Alex Standall, respectively, live up to the high bar established in Season 1. And the show still has powerful, important statements to make about the impact of bullying, especially among adolescents, and how easy it is for authority figures and other adults to turn a blind eye for any number of reasons. But as part of Season 2's revisionist narrative, the writers make some choices that are questionable at best, including a ludicrous sequence that ends the season on a cliffhanger that's borderline offensive.
The season also could have done with a shorter episode order. Season 1 consisted of 13 hour-long episodes — one for each of the tapes Hannah created explaining how various people in her life contributed to her death. Season 2 sticks to the same episode count, but probably only has enough story to fill about ten without dragging.
13 Reasons Why was harshly criticized in Season 1 for its graphic depiction of teen suicide. Clearly in response to this backlash, the series takes a more socially responsible stance in Season 2, with content warnings ahead of each episode and PSAs, some featuring cast members, sprinkled throughout. The show still deserves praise for presenting an unflinching look at the way modern-day high schoolers talk and behave. There's no watering-down here, which is perhaps why it feels so jarring when some action feels inauthentic or out of character.
It's a shame that the second season of 13 Reasons Why is premiering so soon after Netflix's unexpected cancellation of its freshman series Everything Sucks!, an endearing show that also followed a group of high school students, albeit through far less depressing life events. (Mark my words: Everything Sucks! will go down as the Freaks and Geeksof its time.) While it certainly doesn't boil down to an either/or situation, Everything Sucks! would have benefited from a second season far more than 13 Reasons Why did, at least from a storytelling standpoint.
In short, for anyone who watched and loved Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why, the follow-up will be must-see TV, if only to learn how wrong your interpretations of certain characters and events turned out to be. And it will be interesting to note whether fans' affection for Season 1 will be enhanced or diminished by the reveals in Season 2. It's a treat to watch these young performers interact on screen again, but whether a second season needed to be made in the first place is debatable.
Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why premieres Friday on Netflix.