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'13 Reasons Why' Season 2 Episode 4 Review: 'The Second Polaroid'

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“13 Reasons Why” was one of the most talked-about shows of 2017. This season, we’re analyzing what each episode means for the mental health community.

Editor's Note

This post is a review of season two, episode four of “13 Reasons Why” and contains spoilers. 

Content warnings: This episode of “13 Reasons Why” contains references to rape, suicide and illicit drug use.

If you haven’t noticed by now, every episode this season is narrated by the person testifying. This episode, Marcus takes the stand. Though Marcus is our narrator, his storyline is the least interesting thing about this episode. It’s hard to tell if Marcus lies on the stand to protect himself and his Harvard admission or his dad. It’s likely a combination of the two, but Marcus seems to have done a pretty good job of convincing himself he’s done little wrong. His testimony is so infuriating that it’s almost nice to see him get paint bombed by Cyrus and Tyler. The “hypocrite” written in paint on his car is a nice touch too.

Late in season one, the seed was planted that Hannah might not always be telling the truth on her tapes. She says Zach threw away the note she wrote him, but we see later on that he kept it. Season two does a good job of showing the way others perceived the events Hannah described in her tape, as well as some things that happened during Hannah’s time at Liberty High that weren’t documented in her recordings. Most notably, in this episode, we get to see Hannah retaliate against Marcus and his advances, showing him what it’s like to be intimately touched without consent. It’s clear Marcus gets Hannah’s point, though no one should have to sexually assault someone to explain why we shouldn’t grope others without their consent.

Marcus isn’t the only person Hannah’s taught a lesson. Mr. Porter seems to really want us to believe he’s learned a thing or two in the wake of Hannah’s death. Either he’s scared he is liable for Hannah’s death or this redemption tour he’s on is really just him trying to come to terms with the fatal mistake he made. Mr. Porter tries to get Marcus to pull a “Mr. Porter” and repent for his “reason why.” He tells Marcus he told his wife about the tapes and “took a long hard look at himself.” He says he knows he’s on borrowed time at Liberty high and wants to help the kids who need help. He also implies that those who do wrong will get the punishment they deserve. Here’s hoping that doesn’t mean more Mr. Porter bathroom chokeslams.

Also repenting is Sheri. Sheri doesn’t say where exactly she’s been for the past five months, but it’s probably safe to say she was in a juvenile detention facility. She comes over to Clay’s house to help Justin, who’s been doing heroin, detox now that Clay has flushed his drugs down the toilet. Justin asks how she knows what a person needs while they detox to which she replies that she had two roommates who went through something similar during her time away. Though she spent five months away, Sheri is eager to help because, as she says, it’s going to take the rest of her life to pay for what she did.

The title of episode four is “The Second Polaroid” because… Surprise, Clay gets a second polaroid. This time it’s a photo of what appears to be Bryce raping an unconscious person. Seeing more evidence that Bryce is up to no good and knowing that the evidence police currently have isn’t enough to land Bryce in jail, Clay is desperate to get someone to testify to Bryce’s actions. Jessica doesn’t want to publicly disclose that Bryce raped her, even her parents don’t know who the rapist is. While Jessica is starting to remember more about that night, she’s still telling the adults on the show she doesn’t remember. Enter Justin, who can testify to what happened that night. But when Clay tells Jessica he found Justin, Jessica wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she doesn’t want Justin speaking on her behalf at all. “It’s my story, and I don’t want him telling it,” she explains to Clay. After losing her autonomy it makes sense she wants to control the narrative from here, but Clay historically has a hard time taking “no” for an answer when it comes to getting justice for Hannah — so we’ll see if he respects her wishes.

Guilt and regaining control are central themes of episode four, and, perhaps, the whole season. While most of the characters in “13 Reasons Why” are trying to process their guilt, Jessica and Alex are working through what happened to them in an attempt to reclaim their autonomy. The show compares Alex’s newfound disability to Jessica’s assault. There is no denying both of their bodies have suffered a trauma — though learning to live with a physical disability is not the same as healing from an act of violence. So far, the writers have handled Alex’s disability in a respectful way, so the comparison doesn’t seem malicious or like veiled ableism. At its roots, it’s a simple comparison. Neither Jessica nor Alex fully know what happened to them — Jessica was drunk and Alex was in a coma after his suicide attempt. But when they both woke up, their lives were dramatically different, complete with bodies that felt foreign to them. For Jessica, it’s like her body is on autopilot, it’s doing its job, but it doesn’t feel like it’s hers anymore. “It’s like you’re living in a stranger’s body,” Alex replies, and Jessica agrees. A stranger’s mind too, she adds.

The episode ends with both of them trying to regain a bit of control. Jessica and Alex kiss, she gives her consent and it’s nice to see her enjoy intimacy until it triggers a flashback. Alex, on the other hand, is desperate to unearth his missing memories. Alex really wants to listen to the copy of Hannah’s tapes. He texts Clay, who is with hallucination Hannah, who suggests they protect Alex by keeping the tapes from him. After all, it was the tapes that triggered his downward spiral. But Clay isn’t having any of hallucination Hannah’s suggestions. If anything, he’s annoyed that Hannah wants to protect Alex from the tapes, especially since she’s the one who caused all of this trauma in the first place.

So Clay hits send, and the episode ends with Alex beginning the tapes.

Stray Observations and Future Questions

  • Wow, that scene with Bryce making out with hallucination Hannah was disturbing.
  • Also disturbing, the scene with Bryce having sex with Chloe.
  • Why did Mrs. Jensen take Clay’s cell phone records from trial evidence?
  • Who put blood in Zach’s bag? Is it just blood, or was there something else in there?
  • Mr. Baker’s back and he’s seeing someone who is not Mrs. Baker. He’s coping with his grief differently and doesn’t seem to understand why Mrs. Baker is hellbent on getting justice for Hannah.
  • Mrs. Baker needs to stop using Tony as her therapist (and repairman). I hope she’s at least paying him.
  • If Tony’s anger issues are that bad that he needs anger management, how does he manage to stay so calm with Clay and Mrs. Baker?
  • I don’t like where this gun plotline with Tyler is going. The man noticing them in the woods seems like it will be relevant in a later episode. We spoke in our recap of season one about how we didn’t want to see a school shooting plotline in this season. Even if no school shooting happens this season, letting characters think that’s an acceptable solution to bullying is dangerous to young viewers.
  • Speaking of guns, another person feeling guilty this episode is Alex’s dad. He feels responsible for Alex’s suicide attempt because it was his gun.

Our rating:  Four stars

Just because I gave this episode four stars doesn’t mean I loved it. Our ratings are about the show’s portrayal of mental health issues and disability, and less about our personal feelings. That said, I thought the show did a good job of showing the pain that sexual assault survivors go through as well as how one’s life changes after a disability.

You can follow along with the rest of our “13 Reasons Why” reviews here.

What would you rate this episode? You can vote in our Twitter poll below or in the comments section at the end of this article. 

Want to watch “13 Reasons Why” with us? Use the hashtag #WatchWithTheMighty when you post your thoughts on social media or let us know what you think in the comments below.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the show’s comparison of trauma and disability fair or dangerous?
  2. What can we learn from the different ways the characters feel and express guilt?

Header image via Netflix.

Originally published: May 19, 2018
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