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'13 Reasons Why' Season 2 Episode 1 Recap: 'The First 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 one of “13 Reasons Why” and contains spoilers. 

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

The first episode of season two of “13 Reasons Why” begins surprisingly with Tyler testifying in a courtroom for the Baker trial against Liberty High. After explaining that life at Liberty High was “bad” for kids like him and Hannah, the prosecutor asks Tyler to explain what life is like now at the high school. He replies, “It’s worse,” setting an ominous tone for not just the episode, but the whole season.

Settle in, things are about to get real, fam.

We find out Clay and Skye are an item when they ride Skye’s Vespa together, go to the tattoo parlor (Clay gets a semicolon tattoo in honor of Hannah but faints in the process, so it’s only a comma) and try to have sex for the first time. While they are hanging out Clay reassures Skye that he isn’t thinking about Hannah anymore. (Hmm… could this be a source of relationship conflict down the road? I’m thinking absolutely, yes). When they get undressed, Clay notices she has fresh self-harm injuries. He immediately starts questioning her — why she didn’t call him? Did she try meditating? He also offers to text her every hour if that keeps her from self-harming. While Clay’s intentions are sweet, it’s worth noting that oftentimes when loved ones try to intervene too much in recovery, it can make the person struggling feel pressured to recover right away or experience shame when they do struggle. This can ultimately cause them to pull away from their loved one altogether. It’s clear that Clay is trying to support Skye in ways that he couldn’t or didn’t know how to with Hannah. An important lesson we will probably see Clay learn this season is that he can’t “save” Skye — only she can. The theme of Clay trying to “fix” what went wrong with Hannah in his new relationship with Skye continues in his experience of hallucinations of Hannah. Clay is unable to be intimate with Skye because he keeps imagining Hannah in her place, reinforcing the idea that Clay isn’t past the trauma of losing Hannah. He can’t just “replace” her with a new relationship.

In addition to learning Alex’s hair has transitioned from platinum blonde to brown, we also learn he has survived his suicide attempt from last season. Though he uses a cane, we don’t see too many other indications of head trauma. In this episode, Alex asks his mom if he wrote a suicide note before his attempt and she reluctantly gives it to him. He fixates on what he meant by, “I could have stopped it” in his suicide note. We find out he doesn’t remember anything from a month before his suicide attempt. He doesn’t even remember listening to the tapes.

After Alex’s suicide attempt, the school banned students from discussing suicide at all. This is an important plot point because it highlights the theme last season of the school and adults in the “13 Reasons Why” world not knowing how to address suicide. A common myth about suicide is that by talking about it, we think we are “putting the idea in someone’s head.” This couldn’t be more false. If you suspect someone is thinking about suicide, you should ask them directly and compassionately. By asking a direct question like, “Are you thinking about suicide?” you aren’t putting the idea in someone’s head, you are bringing it out into the open and refusing to let the topic go unnamed. In doing so, you can lessen the shame around the topic of suicide and suicidal thoughts. It’s unfortunate that all the adults in the show don’t know how to address suicide well, but it’s important to know that if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, there is someone out there who will know how to help.

Mr. Porter is back to his usual horrible, unprofessional self. He corners Bryce in the bathroom and threatens him by saying, “I’ve got my eye on you.” He then slams him against the wall and put his hands around his neck. It wasn’t bad enough that he responded horribly to Hannah’s confession of being raped last season, now in the very first episode of this new season he is assaulting a student. I don’t care how horrible Bryce is, as an adult in a position of power, you can’t assault the students you have been hired to serve. Seriously, how is this man a high school guidance counselor?

As we saw in the season two trailer, this season’s focus is polaroids. Tyler goes into the school’s photography dark room and finds four photos of himself that say, “You ain’t seen shit.” Then a polaroid falls out of Clay’s locker. The Polaroid is a picture of a boy and a girl holding a red cup. On the back, it says, “Hannah wasn’t the only one,” implying that other girls at Liberty High have been raped.

The theme of slut-shaming comes up again in season two. During the trial, the school’s litigator tries to cast doubt on Hannah’s image by highlighting a time when she may or may not have been “sexting.” The lawyer essentially made the argument that her actions could have contributed to her “wanting” or “asking for” things that happened to her later. Outside of the trial, Jessica experiences slut shaming from her peers. She finds graffiti on the bathroom wall about her and when she returns home, someone hangs a blowup doll by the neck labeled “slut” on her porch. I believe the show is aligning Hannah and Jessica’s characters to illustrate that suicide doesn’t have to be the end of something. I anticipate Jessica will go through similar things to Hannah but be a representation of recovery and hope, where Hannah’s story ended tragically.

Our rating: 

I’m glad the show is starting to address a lot of the problems with last season — like having a content warning video before the episode and tackling tough issues beyond the hopeless tone of season one. I gave this episode three out of four stars because while it did a lot of things well, it was pretty heavy-handed with aligning people as “bad” or “good.” It’s pretty disheartening to see that five months after Hannah’s death, the adults at the school who are meant to protect the students still have no clue how to address suicide. I worry what kind of message this sends to teens — that no one will understand or be able to help them if they are struggling with their mental health. I understand it’s a teen show and they have to be fairly black and white with messaging so it doesn’t get misinterpreted, but I also think rapists aren’t always so obviously “evil” like Bryce is. Rapists can be trusted friends or family members — and I think having such an obvious “bad guy” character takes away the opportunity to have a more nuanced discussion of what constitutes rape and how rape culture permeates our culture.

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. 

Stray Observations and Future Questions

  • The semicolon tattoo Clay tries to get at the beginning of the episode is a suicide prevention symbol created by Amy Bleuel, founder of the Semicolon Project. She told The Mighty in 2015, “In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”
  • We find out Clay’s mom takes herself off the Baker vs. Liberty High case. I’m glad they did this because as we discussed in our recap of season one, we thought this was a blatant conflict of interest.
  • Where is Mr. Baker and who is Mrs. Baker’s new friend? Seems like Jackie may be a fellow suicide loss survivor.
  • We see Bryce injecting Montgomery with steroids in the bathroom, and most of the members of the baseball team (a.k.a. Bryce’s posse) conform to rape culture thinking. These examples are a pretty obvious way of telling teen viewers “these are the bad guys.”
  • In this episode, we see that Bryce has a new girlfriend — a “mean girl” named Chloe who seems to have it out for Jessica. Does Chloe know about Bryce being a rapist? I imagine we will find out in future episodes.
  • What’s in that letter that Tony burns?
  • Is Bryce’s teammate Scott Reid the one who planted the Polaroid in Clay’s locker?
  • It’s interesting that the tapes aren’t being included as evidence, even if legally it’s murky.

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. What role do you think schools should play in student mental health? Should we hold schools responsible for student suicides?
  2. What is the best way to respond to or support a person struggling with self-harm? If you have struggled with your mental health, what do you most need from your loved ones?

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

Header image via Netflix.

Originally published: May 18, 2018
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