Whether we like it or not, 13 Reasons Why isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Netflix announced on Wednesday, June 6 that it was renewing its controversial breakout drama for a third season just weeks after its May 18 debut, an anomaly for the streaming service, which usually waits at least two months after dropping a new season to asses whether they want more of it. With a second season that largely failed to prove why its existence was necessary as far as the narrative was concerned, the quick renewal is a clear indicator that the show's remarkably engaged young audience matters a great deal to the company. So, for now, we're stuck with it.
But just because season two was largely a misfire doesn't mean that the show can't redeem itself. It'll just take a bit of work.
For starters, the season two finale painted the show into a bit of a corner with the dramatic cliffhanger that left Clay (Dylan Minnette) holding Tyler's (Devin Druid) automatic rifle outside the school dance as the trouble outsider made a hasty escape in Tony's (Christian Navarro) getaway car as the police sirens got louder and louder. The entire thing felt unnecessary, tacked on solely to create interest in the show's continued existence, and a bit irresponsible as it presented the audience with a troubling and dangerous response to a potential active shooter situation when Clay confronts his unhinged and heavily armed classmate on his own.
Showrunner Brian Yorkey and his writers clearly can't just forget it never happened or make it go away easily when the show returns, but if we're going to be saddled with this unnecessarily provocative storyline, they need to make it clear that much of what the teenage characters do while in crisis isn't all that smart. While it's not wrong that teenagers usually don't turn to their parents for help as often as they should, the ways in which Clay and his friends keep the adults in their lives in the dark border on the absurd. Clay successfully hiding Justin (Brandon Flynn) in his bedroom for days as he detoxed from heroin, with Tony and Sheri (Ajiona Alexus) both taking shifts as nurse while the Jensens were none the wiser, was beyond implausible.
After everything the group of students brought together in the aftermath of Hannah's (outgoing star Katherine Langford) suicide had been through, it's time to see them start acting as if they've learned anything at all. The need to keep the drama alive shouldn't supersede the responsibility of penning realistic (and responsible) responses to dangerous and all-too familiar real world danger, but that's something the cliffhanger has left us concerned is happening.
With Hannah's story wrapped up following her funeral (and apparent ascension to heaven after haunting Clay's broken psyche all season long) and her mom's decision to leave town, there's certainly going to be a void that the writers will likely hope to fill with a new narrative device that mirrors season one's tapes and this season's trial testimony and Polaroids. But they'd also be wise to give up on the gimmicks. Hannah's tapes were effective, the unrealistic testimony as narration was not. They're stuck with the specter of a built-in premise with the titular 13 reasons, but they don't need to strain for a replacement. (Or even strain to make 13 episodes, though we won't hold our breath on that one.)
While the show's desire to shine a light on the worrying issues that are plaguing our youth is certainly commendable, the graphic nature with which it tends to go about it might want to be tempered. After the unflinching presentation of Hannah's actual suicide in season one placed the show in the crosshairs of media watchdog groups and concerned parents alike, season two went there not only with the (thankfully) aborted school shooting, but also Tyler's brutal sexual assault at the hand of another student, which saw him sodomized with a dirty, wooden broom handle. There's a way to tell a dynamic story about issues that matter and also not stoop to exploitative tragedy porn. It shouldn't be hard to get there.
And though the new season certainly has to contend with the narrative box the show's trapped itself in, it would be wise to begin focusing on recovery. Clay's mental health needs to be addressed, as does Justin's continued addiction, Tyler's homicidal anger, and so much more.
There's no reason why 13 Reasons Why can't be a powerful, impactful series worth celebrating. Here's hoping season three can find a way to value nuanced, truthful storytelling over soapy, illogical plotting. Its fans deserve as much.
13 Reasons Why returns for season three on Netflix in 2019.