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'13 Reasons Why' Season 2 Review: An Enticing But Flawed Follow-Up

Updated: Jun 5, 2018

A screenshot from Season 2 of '13 Reasons Why' Season 2, Episode 13 featuring Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker and Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen.
[Credit: Netflix]

13 Reasons Why returns with another compelling storyline. But given the ending of the first season, does the second season do enough to justify its own existence?

When 13 Reasons Why hit Netflix last year, it divided a lot of people. Receiving both critical acclaim and severe backlash, the show was put under extreme scrutiny due to its subject matter: teen suicide. But it also became one of the streaming service's biggest hits, which meant that a second season was inevitable — even if unnecessary.

A second outing was always going to be an uphill battle for the showrunners. The show's first season was based on the novel by Jay Asher and told a self-contained story — Hannah's story. It wrapped up almost all of the major plot points (with the exception of one or two that could have been forgiven for being stylistically left open). But upon the show's renewal, the writers were thrown into uncharted territory and had to craft a new, original story. The only problem was that their protagonist's story was over.

So, the real question here is: Does Season 2 make a strong enough case for its own existence? Let's find out.

Like its predecessor, Season 2 of 13 Reasons utilises each episode carefully in order to keep us guessing throughout. But without the structural device of the 13 tapes, the season ends up feeling a lot more dragged out than the first. Instead, it focuses on Hannah's trial and Olivia Baker's quest for justice. While, as a backdrop, the trial is serviceable, it doesn't quite reach the thrilling, dramatic heights that the ambiguity surrounding Hannah's tapes provided. We know these characters by now, so some of their testimonies are predictable.

Moreover, much like with the tapes, the trial is used as a plot device to tell us more of Hannah's (apparently untold) story. But the biggest problem here is that the newly recalled moments take place in time periods that were conveniently never mentioned before, and entail events that Hannah never once referred to on her tapes. In short, they fill in gaps that we didn't know were there. Some are cleverly done, but others just don't seem plausible. Thus, while the flashback content is really engaging, it ends up making us feel like the writers never planned a second season.

Season 2 has a more mature tone to it, focusing on how Clay, Jessica, Zach and the rest have adapted to a life without Hannah. But this is television, and as much as the characters tried to move on from her, the show itself could not. And I can't blame it — Katherine Langford is phenomenal and quite frankly, there shouldn't be a 13 Reasons Why without Hannah Baker. The show does come up with some pretty creative ways to let the actress shine, although some of their techniques are rather problematic.

But in spite of the flaws, there is a lot to love about Season 2. While at times, it does feel like the show has too much going on, there are moments of sheer brilliance. The majority of these moments rely on Hannah's presence, reminding us of how truly moving this show can be when it's at its best. And although it may not be quite as strong as Season 1, the new mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat right until the very end. On that note, Dylan Minnette turns in some of his best work yet as Clay reluctantly works to solve this new mystery (as he struggles to move on from Hannah).

There is no doubt about it: Season 2's greatest strength lies in the show's outstanding cast. While each cast member once again delivers a stellar performance, it is Miles Heizer who steals the show this year with a nuanced, layered and powerful performance as the troubled Alex Standall.

Overall, 13 Reasons Why just about manages to justify the existence of its second season. But a series of frustrating creative decisions may have you coming away with more questions than answers — and considering the fact that this is a show that didn't really need another season, that's not a good thing.

Did you enjoy Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why? Let us know in the comments section below!

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