One day Clay Jensen arrives home from Liberty High School to discover a curious package on his doorstep. Upon opening the box he discovers seven audio cassettes that serve as an explanation for his close friend Hannah Baker’s recent suicide. Over the course of listening to the tapes, Clay discovers the cause of Hannah’s gradual spiral into a crippling depression and the individual(s) responsible.
Clay uses the tapes and his own hindsight to confront the individuals, expose their actions and hopefully provide some kind of closure to Hannah’s grief-stricken parents who are seeking legal retribution and acceptance of responsibility from the school.
What we discover over the course of the shows thirteen episodes, via accompanying flashbacks of the commentary captured on the tapes, is a harrowing account of Hannah’s escalating abuse by those she trusted most and their clear lack of interest in tackling and rectifying their past actions. The medium of cassettes for the audio diary, a bold choice that pays off in spades, blends beautifully with the flashbacks to support the narrative and along with a meticulously chosen soundtrack creates a superbly nostalgic twist of a modern-day story.
The show tackles some incredibly emotionally taxing and controversial subjects, especially for what is essentially a teen drama aimed at a less mature audience, including harrowing scenes of sexual abuse, alcoholism and substance abuse. This is not for the faint of heart!
The success or failure of this show would always fall on the shoulders of its cast of characters, especially the leads of Clay and Hannah. Young actors can be a minefield, especially for television networks. Thankfully any concerns were unfounded and what we are treated to is the best-acted teen drama since Dawson’s Creek. Katherine Langford is mature beyond her years as Hannah and you are instantly drawn to her initially warm and whim sickle character through sharing her anguish, pain and gradual social seclusion into a husk of her former self.
However, it’s Dylan Minnette as Clay that deserves all the plaudits, serving as the show’s detective and audience surrogate with aplomb. The loss and regret are etched across his pale face for all to see as he gradually pieces together the reasons that lead Hannah to make the fateful decision that changed the course of everyone’s lives around her. With his sadness turning inexorably to anger, his quest for retribution against those responsible sees him serve as social judge, jury and executioner.
Although it is hard to criticise the episode count because of the title, the Netflix syndrome of squeezing the length of each and every episode as much as possible rears its head, occasionally leaving a sour taste in the mouth at times, especially when some of the scenes that tackle the aforementioned controversial subjects end up verging on the voyeuristic.
A second season is out now (with a third recently announced to be on its way) but based on the finale it feels as though it’s really isn’t needed and instead is the Netflix show’s cynical attempt to outstay an already dubious welcome. I hope I’m proven wrong.
Watch this if you liked: “Heathers”, “Dawson’s Creek”, “Brick”