’13 Reasons Why’ Offers One Last Batch of Melodramatic Twists for Its Final Season
The fourth and final season of “13 Reasons Why” somehow found enough reasons to keep the plot going all the way until graduation. Liberty High had long ago joined other TV campuses where suburban teenagers endure a lot more than just puberty, homework and chores. They also have to cover up murders and other high crimes before applying to college. Readers may recall how promising this show was at the beginning, when it was simply the adaptation of an acclaimed young adult novel by Jay Asher dealing with suicide. The final season reclaims only crumbs of that sensibility, preferring to go out with more of its recent combo of cheese and melodrama.
It is senior year and all the main characters are haunted emotional wrecks. Back as the main narrator is Clay (Dylan Minnette), who suffers from surreal nightmares involving dead jock and rapist Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) and dead jock and rapist Monty (Timothy Granaderos), who met a sudden end while in prison. Clay’s circle of friends were there the night Bryce met his end, so they are all keeping the secret tightly locked away, including increasingly boozing Zach (Ross Butler), Jessica (Alisha Boe) and Alex (Miles Heizer). Another guilty party is last season’s newbie, Ani (Grace Saif), who helped pin the blame for Bryce’s death on Monty after the former was conveniently extinct. But transferring over to Liberty is rich kid Winston (Deaken Bluman), who had a fling with Monty and is now determined to find out the truth. Meanwhile Justin (Brandon Flynn) is out of rehab and back at Clay’s home, but he also has terrible secrets that could unravel their lives. The only one with problems that seem regular is Tony (Christian Navarro), who last season lost his entire family when they were deported back to Mexico. He remains obsessed with boxing even as others encourage him to sell the family auto shop and go to college.
At this point in the game “13 Reasons Why” is designed specifically for the diehard fan who remains loyal to this story for reasons only they comprehend. Its saving grace remains that somehow in-between the increasingly stale twists it drops in buzzwords and themes about teenage depression and school violence. Yet much of its potential for any depth gets lost in how unbelievable much of it has become. The first season focused on student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), an outsider and eventual rape victim who decides to tragically take her life. Sure the story had some typical YA flourishes, but its central message was striking. Season 2 was a grasping attempt at keeping the original story relevant, basically retelling it from other characters’ points of view, and season 3 was the ultimate bad revamp with new murders, cover-ups and other activities that make you wonder how these kids can possibly go to college without literal PTSD. What makes it even sillier is how serious the show takes itself. Peers like the CW’s “Riverdale” are forgivable because even as they explore issues of sex and high school within their over the top plots, they are self-aware and knowingly melodramatic. They are consciously soap operas. “13 Reasons Why” is a kind of fake “woke” program, seriously attempting to make us believe life in this pristine suburban landscape is more dangerous than, say, high school in a more urban setting (the kind of which remains very unrepresented on TV). And of course nothing has topped HBO’s “Euphoria” in seriously dramatizing the darker shades of suburban Gen-Z life.
Season 4 carries through until the end with a bizarre, almost surrealist touch as Clay hallucinates with Bryce and Monty in nearly every episode. In a way it is understandable. In season one he was a regular, insecure high schooler for whom a crush meant life or death. Now he is an accessory to murder tormented by a guilty conscience. But quickly enough the rest of the story becomes a “13 Reasons” checklist. Sexual identity is covered by Alex beginning to explore his orientation, including by kissing Zach while trying to keep the football player from drunkenly falling off a roof. Winston is the wealthy one who we are not sure is friend or foe, he also brags about his 2.8 GPA. Tyler (Devin Druid) was once a potential school shooter and rape victim after being attacked by Monty, but this season he is more in the background, finding peace again through his photography for the school yearbook. There will also be orientation-revealing kisses at a Valentine’s Day dance, Clay finally loses his virginity (to a sheriff’s daughter no less), someone will spray paint “Monty was Framed” in the high school which puts extreme pressure on Clay, a college tour ends with a brawl at a frat house and by the final episode someone gets AIDS.
Now about that final episode. The series finale is another Netflix time stretcher clocking in at 1 hour and 28 minutes. Essentially feature film length. In an ultimate wink to the fans who have remained loyal to this show, Clay not only gets tapped to deliver the class’s graduation speech, he also receives a box in the mail from Hannah Baker’s mother with more of those famous, original thirteen tapes she left behind (and which give the show its name). At least we get spared even more “mysteries” that would hint at a potential fifth season. Of course never say never. There will be much heartbreak in the final episodes, including a hospital death scene that is the season’s one strong dramatic moment. But happy endings are spread all around, even Tony gets to go to college.
One of the finale’s last moments is also the perfect metaphor for what should happen now with “13 Reasons Why.” Clay and the gang gather to bury Hannah’s tapes, and while she has not been a part of the story for two seasons now, it is a perfect closing. There is no gas left in the tank of this story. These excellent young actors can now explore new projects worthy of their talents. Unless we get a collegial edition, “13 Reasons Why” has finally run out of reasons to be.
“13 Reasons Why” season four begins streaming June 5 on Netflix.