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'13 Reasons Why' Season 2 Episode 12 Recap: 'The Box of Polaroids'

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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 12 of “13 Reasons Why” and contains spoilers. 

Content warnings: This episode contains references to rape, illicit drug use and suicide. The threat of gun violence comes up in several scenes.

Just when I was starting to like Mr. Porter, he gets fired.

No surprise there, but he did leave something behind for Liberty High — a stack of student files, representing the kids who could use the school’s help. And, of course, Tyler is at the top of that pile. Tyler’s storyline doesn’t take up much of the episode, but bad things keep happening to him and it’s clear that “13 Reasons Why” doesn’t want us to forget about him. We’ve barely seen Courtney, Marcus or Ryan the past few episodes, so there’s a reason the show keeps panning back to Tyler.

The parallels the show draws between Tyler and Hannah are concerning. I talked about this a bit in the review for episode 10, but now that his friendship with Cyrus has fallen apart and he’ll be going to a diversion program for troubled teens (reminiscent of Hannah having to leave her old school for bullying), Tyler seems to be treading into dangerous territory. What would be nice is seeing Tyler get some help; but it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to help him, just punish him.

Also in over his head is Clay. The episode picks up where episode 11 ended, with Clay, Justin, Bryce and a gun. Justin manages to calm everyone down — Clay puts the gun away and Bryce returns to his house without calling the cops. Clay’s still talking to hallucination Hannah and asks her if she wants him to kill Bryce. She replies that she just wants Clay to forgive her. As we’ve mentioned in previous reviews, when a person dies by suicide, they are dead. Hannah doesn’t get to come back and tell Clay what she wants. She’s dead. Clay’s hallucinations are growing more and more concerning and I’m shocked that with only one episode left in the series, we haven’t seen Clay get any mental health help.

In this episode, it’s Justin who is finally testifying. There’s a flashback to Justin’s childhood and we see how he and Bryce became friends. It’s sweet to see a younger Bryce stand up for Justin, who came from a broken home and was bullied, but that obviously doesn’t forgive the person who Bryce grew up to be. Justin testifies that Bryce raped Jessica. Though because he didn’t actually see him rape her (he was behind a locked door), Liberty High’s litigator tries to use that to discredit his testimony. She also brings up Justin’s heroin use and tries to invalidate Jessica’s rape by repeating the rumor at Liberty High that Justin left because Jessica cheated on him with Bryce.

Meanwhile, Alex thinks he knows who has been threatening them. The group devises a plan to get the box of polaroids back by confronting the person they believe has been attacking them — Monty. Monty, who also comes from an abusive home, seems to admit that he’s the one who’s been threatening everyone. Alex pulls out a gun (again with the guns!), startling everyone. He uses the gun to threaten Monty to take him to where the photos are hidden. But, plot twist, turns out Monty doesn’t know where the photos are — or he knows and is keeping them hidden. He takes Alex’s gun and the car and leaves Alex stranded who knows where.

At a dead end, Clay and crew turn to Jessica. The only way to get Bryce is to have Jessica press criminal charges. Alex and Clay give a sweet speech letting her know that they believe and will support her along the way. It is hard for many sexual assault survivors to press charges. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported. There are a number of reasons why people decide not to report — from fear of testifying or concerns their attacker might retaliate — all valid, considering out of every 1,000 rapes only six perpetrators will go to jail.

The show of support for Jessica is sweet and what she needs to convince her to tell the police her story. Justin also goes to the police and shares what he witnessed that night. Clay and crew are waiting for them when they finish and it is an empowering moment.

The gang’s celebrations are cut short because the jury is back with its verdict. The jury finds the school “not responsible” for Hannah’s death. It’s obviously an upsetting moment for many of the characters, though probably a fair verdict considering so many factors were involved. While it’s understandable that suicide loss survivors would want to pin suicide on one thing, suicide is complicated. A guilty verdict won’t bring back Hannah nor the trauma her death caused her loved ones.

While Mrs. Baker is giving a speech to reporters, some justice is served. The cops come and arrest Bryce for felony sexual assault. It’s great to see Bryce cuffed and taken away in front of everyone and a camera crew. Less great is seeing the same thing happen to Justin, who is arrested as an accessory since he didn’t call for help. Justin knew this could happen though — that’s what his talk with Clay’s mom was about. But, as Justin said earlier, he has nothing left to lose.

Stray Observations and Future Questions

  • Clay’s mom is back and Clay seems happy to see her.
  • Justin and Hannah spent a sweet moment together the night after their date. It was nice of her to house him when he had nowhere to go. That must have made Bryce sending the photo Justin took feel 100 times worse. (Though Hannah didn’t know it was Bryce and not Justin who sent it.)
  • Zach freaks out when Alex falls asleep and doesn’t answer his texts, so his mind goes to the worst place. This is something that’s incredibly relatable for anyone who’s had a loved one attempt suicide.
  • In his closing argument, the attorney for the Bakers mentions that Mr. Porter was a mandatory reporter and should have told police that Hannah was assaulted. I appreciate the show bringing this point up.
  • The scene between Chloe and Bryce is obviously upsetting. Asking Chloe to testify right after she learned she was raped (episode 11) obviously didn’t give her any time to process her trauma, but she needs help and time away from Bryce. Even if he didn’t rape her — though, he did — taking her photo while intoxicated and without consent should be enough to want some time and space away from Bryce. Instead, Chloe tells Bryce she believes him.
  • Tony tells Caleb, his boxing trainer and love interest, about his violent past and admits to physically assaulting the one-eyed guy who trains at Caleb’s gym.
  • The baseball coach has officially replaced Mr. Porter as the worst. He tells Bryce he doesn’t want to know about whatever it is Bryce is doing. Great, what a responsible authority figure.

Our rating: Two out of four stars

This episode gets two stars for the empowering scene with Jessica at the police precinct and the realistic way the trial ended. It loses two stars for continuing to let Clay and Tyler devolve without any help.

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.

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

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. Did you agree with the jury’s verdict?
  2. Do you think Mr. Porter deserved to be fired?

Header image via Netflix.

Originally published: May 21, 2018
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