13 Reasons Why's second season didn't leave viewers on the edge of their seats so much as they were left wondering, "What the hell?"
The sophomore season of the Netflix drama covered the Baker family's lawsuit against the school system which they felt led their daughter Hannah (Katherine Langford) to commit suicide through the school's negligence depicted in Season 1. The trial gave the people from Hannah's tapes the opportunity to reveal their sides of the stories on the stand, revealing new perspectives on Hannah's life and relationships. Through this framework, and a new mystery involving a mysterious trail of polaroids, 13 Reasons Why's second season also took a closer look at the rape culture at Liberty High School, how survivors cope in the wake of sexual assault as well as set up a long-hinted at mass shooting storyline that never actually came to be.
The latter is the primary point of discussion among fans as more and more viewers make it through the harrowing Season 2 binge. The first season ended by revealing that Tyler (Devin Druid), the photographer peeping tom that inspired Hannah's eighth tape, had amassed an arsenal of weapons and was seemingly plotting to kill all of the bullies that had made him feel like an outsider. A large portion of the second season was dedicated to exploring how someone like Tyler could go from a misunderstood loner to a potential mass murderer, as the new episodes showed Tyler struggling to find his place in the school.
It was a slow burn throughout the season, which showed how most everyone (Bryce [Justin Prentice] and Marcus [Steven Silver] excluded), banded together to try and learn from their mistakes, yet still alienated Tyler. Even when Alex (Miles Heizer) tried to include Tyler in his birthday party, the perennially misguided Zach (Ross Butler) publicly shamed him in an incredibly heartbreaking scene.
This alienation lead to anger, which helped Tyler bond with the school punk Cyrus (Bryce Cass), with whom Tyler began playing cruel on the jocks that they decided needed to be taken down. Together, they paint bombed Marcus, blackmailed him into turning against Bryce and burned the word "RAPIST" onto the baseball field. But after an embarrassed Tyler yelled at Cyrus' sister after he prematurely ejaculated during their first date and following comments Tyler made about escalating their revenge, Cyrus turned Tyler into the school as a potential threat.
After a month away at a diversion program, Tyler returned to school hopeful, but any ideas he had about what his future would be like were quickly shattered. His attempts to reconnect with Cyrus and his sister both failed, but Tyler was brought to his breaking point in the season finale in a graphic scene that has already stirred up controversy. In the wake of the baseball season being canceled, former team members jumped Tyler in the bathroom as revenge. They beat him, nearly drowned him in the toilet, violently sodomized him with a broom stick and left him crying in a pool of his own blood.
In many ways, Tyler's storyline this season parallels Hannah's from Season 1, as tiny incidents that seemed inconsequential on their own built a path of tragedy until one particularly traumatic event pushed them over the edge. For Hannah, it was Bryce raping her in the hot tub; for Tyler, it was this. Tyler kept what happened to him a secret, but he decided to do something about the assault, choosing to dig up his weapons stash and bring an assault rifle to the school dance in the final scenes of the season.
But there was no shooting in Season 2. Instead, Tyler was talked down by Clay (Dylan Minnette) outside the school and was helped to escape before the cops could come to arrest him. The final shot of the season left Clay standing with the assault rifle in his hands as police cars neared closer while Tyler sped away in Tony's (Christian Navarro) car. After everything this group of kids had been through, their decision was to help an extremely troubled person on the verge of a horrific crime get away. Their excuse was that they didn't want to see Tyler's life end, either in bloodshed or behind bars. But what kind of message does this send viewers?
13 Reasons Why faced a lot of backlash in Season 1 over accusations that Hannah's story glorified suicide rather than encouraging teens to seek help. The argument against these criticisms was that by showing Hannah's full journey, including a graphic scene of her slitting her wrists in the bathtub, the series showed how painful her decision to end her life actually was. By providing an unflinching look at Hannah's life, her decision to end it and how this impacted the people she left behind, the show aimed to open a dialogue that would hopefully point teens in the direction of trusted adults to help them deal with their own grief, depression and trauma. Season 1 had its issues, but even those problematic aspects led to productive discussion, which is the greatest possible power of television. The end of Season 2 didn't deliver the same effect.
The biggest question looming at the end of the new episodes isn't what happens to Tyler now, but what is the conversation viewers are supposed to be having? It's clear the show isn't advocating for mass shootings or for troubled kids to resort to violence to deal with their problems, but Season 2 fails to show the consequences of Tyler's choices or provide a safe alternative for dealing with potential shooters, and therefore leaves one to wonder what the lesson is. While the first season showed that if you are careless with others' feelings and don't take the needs and issues of teenagers seriously, it has the potential to lead to tragedy. Season 2 seems to say that repeating those mistakes doesn't matter because your friends will bail you out regardless of the consequences. With Tyler on the run, who will make sure he gets the counseling that he needs to ensure the safety of people who wrong him in the future? Who will make sure the bullies who helped push him to such a dark place will be held accountable for their actions and not find new victims? Where do you go from here if there are no real consequences for Tyler's very real actions and intentions?
It's hard to say in 2018, when more American school students have been killed in gunfire than military service members, that 13 Reasons Why should have chosen to follow through with Tyler's planned school shooting. Maybe Tyler didn't have to make it inside that dance to see his plan to fruition, but he shouldn't have gotten away either. Choosing that as even the temporary conclusion to his story is irresponsible and lets not only Tyler, but the show off the hook of telling the difficult story of what happens after someone reaches that violent turning point. We've had enough case studies in the news to realize what leads kids to pick up a gun, but what happens after they do it and what are safe ways to prevent future tragedies?
13 Reasons Why set itself up to be a catalyst for tough conversation. It did the hard work of showing how Tyler became the person wielding that gun but it bailed at the last moment. At the time of this post, there have been 22 school shootings in the United States since the beginning of 2018. Just as Season 2 continued the conversation of what happens after a sexual assault in the era of #MeToo, the inevitable third season could tackle how America, specifically its youth, moves forward in an age of gun terrorism. That's a more poignant, important and relevant path to follow than whether Clay and his friends will face repercussions for aiding and abetting Tyler rather than taking him to the authorities. That's the conversation the show's young audience deserves. That's the conversation to this post should be having. By letting Tyler get away, especially with the help of the people who let Hannah down, the show has let the audience down.
Where do we go from here? That's a question the 13 Reasons Why writers should be asking themselves very seriously because right now, like Tony's car, the show is heading in the wrong direction.
13 Reasons Why is now streaming on Netflix.