This show can be fun and surprisingly thoughtful. But like Loki himself, its story and themes shouldn’t go unchallenged.
It’s been months since Hannah Baker killed herself. But the pretty high school student’s tragic tale continues to haunt the halls of Liberty High … in more ways than one.
Many at Liberty, particularly the folks who run the school, would rather forget all about Hannah. But that’s pretty much impossible, now that Hannah’s mother, Olivia, is suing the school for not doing enough to save her daughter. Every day, another student is dragged to the court’s witness stand, unveiling the raw, sometimes bitter truth of Hannah’s descent into despair … and revealing uncomfortable truths about themselves in the process.
If the first season was all about Hannah speaking from beyond the grave via old-school cassette tapes, this season it’s the students’ turn, with each one divulging their guilt, lies, hurt and recriminations under oath, so help them God.
And while the school has banned all talk of suicide on school grounds, what happened to Hannah can’t be forgotten or—in some cases—forgiven. Hannah may be gone. She may have been bullied and marginalized when she was alive. But now, in death, she’s somehow more influential—more alive, perhaps—than ever.
That’s all too true in Clay’s case. Once one of Hannah’s best so-so friends and would-be beau, Clay claims not even to think about the dead girl anymore. But that, we know, is a bold-faced lie: Hannah literally haunts him—even striking up conversations when the moment seems right.
“You don’t care about me anymore?” she asks Clay. “If that’s true, why am I here?”
Last year, the first season of 13 Reasons Why exploded into a bona fide cultural phenomenon for Netflix, launching a thousand think pieces and becoming one of the streaming service’s most-binged shows. Based on Jay Asher’s book Thirteen Reasons Why, the season dealt with timely, terrible teen issues, ranging from bullying and cutting to sexual assault and, of course, suicide.
But along with the buzz came controversy—a lot of it. Mental health professionals took issue with how these grave problems were addressed on screen: Even as the show’s creators (including executive producer Selena Gomez) argued it was designed to create conversation and, thus, prevent suicide, some accused it of feeding suicidal tendencies—from Hannah’s accusatory tapes to the graphic depiction of the suicide itself. Some parents accused 13 Reasons of actually inspiring their own children to kill or attempt to kill themselves.
For its second season, Netflix has tried to address some of those concerns, posting trigger warnings at the beginning of some episodes and offering a bevy of services, from discussion guides to crisis hotline numbers and addresses.
But while all those may be welcome additions, they hardly ameliorate concerns with the show itself.
Trigger warnings or not, the second season of 13 Reasons Why deals with some incredibly difficult issues. And while the show might indeed inspire some teens to talk about their own problems with parents, professionals or others, it could very well influence others to explore dark pathways they hadn’t traveled before.
But even if we were able to set aside the show’s sometimes despairing tone and grave philosophical issues, we’d still be sounding plenty of alarms here.
Sex is at the center of this show as much as suicide is. No episode is complete without several allusions to sexual assault. When we get into consensual relationships, a curious number of them are of the same-sex variety. And when high schoolers engage (or try to engage) in “old-fashioned” heterosexual sex, parents seem often to be unconcerned or even downright supportive.
And while parents are largely supportive figures here, they still do little to stem the tide of disrespect and outright lies that come from their children. Language can be truly abysmal, too: Each episode would be, unquestionably, rated R if it made its way to movie houses. (They’re all rated TV-MA, it should be noted.)
That’s more than a little troubling, given that 13 Reasons Why is unquestionably targeted toward teens.
13 Reasons Why may indeed open some doors to conversation. But frankly, those important conversations don’t need a trigger like this—particularly since the show may trigger a whole bunch of other risky behaviors along the way.
Ryan, a gay student at Liberty and one of Hannah’s friends, reads some of Hannah’s poems aloud in court. One reads like a suicidal cry for help. But others were apparently about her ex-boyfriend, Justin, even after they broke up and he allegedly ruined her reputation. Meanwhile, Clay searches for the location where the Polaroid pictures were taken. And Tyler grows more and more consumed with anger.
Alex reveals that since his own suicide attempt, he’s unable to become sexually aroused. But it’s not for lack of trying. He mentions that his kiss with Jessica in last episode didn’t do anything “down there.” And when Zach, a jock helping him with physical therapy, asks him if he’s tried porn, Alex says “of course I’ve tried porn.” He tries it again, too: We see him go to an erotic video chat site online. A woman’s breasts are visible onscreen; masturbation is implied. When she asks him how old he is, Alex lies, saying he’s 25.
Ryan also seeks companionship: We see him go to some kind of male-focused dating or hookup app on his phone (a muscled man graces the screen). He sets up a meeting time, but he’s stood up. He instead meets with his old beau, Tony, and Tony’s new beau, Caleb.
Justin, a drug addict trying to get clean at Clay’s house, says that he was originally just taking OxyContin, but “those pills are so pricey, and heroin’s cheap.” He throws up in some bushes. In flashback, we see Ryan and Hannah talk about Justin, pondering how he can be simultaneously so attractive and such a jerk. Tyler and Caleb create T-shirts with profanities on them and wear them to school as provocation. Tyler lies to his mother about shooting guns. The high school baseball coach warns players of an upcoming drug screening, offering “synthetic pee” to players who are taking steroids. Bryce’s girlfriend sports bruises from their latest physically intense sexual rendezvous, which she deceptively passes off to Bryce’s mother as cheerleading injuries. Mr. Porter, the guidance counselor, gets into a fight with a drug dealer, which lands him into the back of a patrol car.
Characters say the f-word more than 30 times and the s-word at least 15 times. We also hear “a–,” “d–n”, “p-ss” and “d–k.” God’s name is misused four times, once with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
The trial is winding down, but there’s one last big witness to be called: Justin, Bryce’s longtime best friend. But his allegiance has switched. He takes the gun away from Clay (a holdover from the last episode) and, when Bryce suggests that Justin be careful with what he says, Justin responds, “Bryce, I’ve got nothing left to lose. That makes me the dangerous one.”
Justin testifies, but given that he’s a recovering drug addict, his testimony is considered less than reliable. So Clay and his friends try to track down the mysterious box of Polaroid pictures that would seem to clinch the case.
We hear, again, graphic depictions of rape by victims and bystanders, using explicit terms. In flashback, we see Justin and Hannah kiss. Justin shows his cronies a picture of Hannah that reveals a sliver of her underwear under her skirt. (Bryce immediately forwards it to others.) On the witness stand, we hear about Justin’s drinking and drug use. Tyler and Cyrus have a serious falling out and get in trouble for their acts of vandalism.
Characters say the f-word about 25 times and the s-word about 15. We also hear “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused five times, twice with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused four times.
In this episode, Courtney, who shared a lesbian kiss with Hannah last season, takes the stand to tell her story. Clay’s girlfriend, Skye, invites herself over to Clay’s parents’ house for dinner, after which she and Clay again try to have sex. Several students receive threats, warning them to keep their mouths shut at trial. Rapist Bryce receives a subpoena to testify.
In flashback, we see Courtney and Hannah kiss a few times; back in the present, Courtney’s forced to reveal on the witness stand that she’s a lesbian, and that she initiated kissing with Hannah. Her two fathers try to support her by bringing home a bevy of homosexually themed movies, including the NC-17 French film Blue is the Warmest Color.
Skye gropes and stimulates Clay’s crotch during dinner with his parents, as Clay’s mother (unaware of Skye’s aggressive advances under the table) tells them that if they’re having sex, she hopes they’re being “careful.” Skye and Clay later head up to Clay’s room, where the two strip down and hop in bed. (We see them in their underwear.) Clay is unable to perform, still haunted by Hannah. That scene visually suggests masturbation. Some side breast is visible too.
We hear a great deal about rape. A scene in the girls’ locker room shows several of them in their underwear or wearing towels. Hannah’s old friend Tony talks to Hannah’s mother, Olivia, about his ex-boyfriend, Brad, whom Olivia describes as “very pretty.” Zach and Alex joke about having homosexual sex. Tyler, the photographer, meets a new friend, Cyrus. When a class exercise involves a blindfold, Cyrus calls it “kinky.”
Olivia rediscovers the bloody dress she was wearing when she found Hannah’s body. Jackie, a well-meaning friend who also lost a daughter to suicide, has it washed, and Olivia is furious.
Adults drink wine. Skye’s taken away in an ambulance for cutting. We hear 20 f-words, nearly a dozen s-words, and “a–,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused five times, and Jesus’ name is abused three times.
Zach, a Liberty baseball player and one of Bryce’s best friends, reveals on the witness stand that he and Hannah had a summer-long sexual relationship that they kept secret from everybody. The revelation hits Clay like a punch to the gut, as he prepares for his own important court date the following day. Meanwhile, Jessica talks to a support group about her sexual assault. And an unknown crook breaks into Clay’s house while Justin, his secret houseguest, lurks in a closet.
In flashback, we see Zach and Hannah’s relationship blossom. It begins as simple friendship. But when Zach confesses to Hannah that he’s a virgin (as is she, despite the rumors to the contrary), she announces that she wants to lose her virginity with someone she “likes” and asks if he’d be interested. He is, and we see their encounter in some detail. Though they’re covered by sheets, that encounter involves a condom and doesn’t last long. We see them in bed together several other times as well.
When Zach’s secret spills on the stand, news of the illicit relationship triggers a new round of gossip at Liberty. Girls giggle about the “frequent sexual intercourse” mentioned in the news reports. Cruelly, Bryce plants a pair of panties with a fake bloodstain and the name “Hannah” emblazoned on them in Zach’s locker—precipitating a shoving match between Bryce and Zach. Later, Zach pummels a locker with a baseball bat.
Zach also gets into a brief fight with Alex—the guy who unsuccessfully tried to kill himself and thought that his sex organs were damaged in the attempt. During the fracas, Alex develops a visible erection underneath his swim trunks, which Zach tries to explain as probably just the result of the friction. (Alex is just excited his biology is working again.)
A short video clip on Zach’s phone shows a guy getting a topless lap dance from an exotic dancer. (We see her from the back.) There’s a reference to Hannah’s rumored underwear preferences. Jessica’s description of her rape is pretty graphic. Guys go shirtless. Cyrus torments a substitute teacher by gluing a DVD player tray shut; he also mentions the graphic film The Human Centipede. He and Tyler drink a “special recipe” drink concocted by Cyrus, which causes Tyler to vomit (off camera) all over Cyrus’ favorite boots. We see couples kiss.
The f-word is used nearly 40 times, and the s-word 10 times. We also hear “a–,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused four times, half of those with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused once.
After discovering the location of “The Clubhouse,” from which three incriminating Polaroids in Clay’s possession were taken, Clay, Justin and Sheri plot to break in and see if they can find evidence that could finally make Bryce pay for his sexual assaults. Meanwhile in court, two critical witnesses take the stand: Tony discusses his complicated relationship with Hannah. He talks about why she gave him the tapes to distribute and his propensity for violence. And a girl from Hannah’s past reveals that Hannah wasn’t always a bully victim: In her previous high school, she was one of the bullies.
In flashback, Tony and fellow high schooler Ryan begin dating. Though we don’t see the homosexual couple kiss, Tony does kiss Ryan’s hand. Ryan suggests that because of their zodiac signs, the sex they’ll eventually have will be amazing. But when a passerby unleashes a string of homophobic slurs at the couple, Tony flies into a rage and severely beats the man. (We see a great deal of blood as fists fly.) Because he’s already been arrested on two assault charges (one of them on a would-be car jacker and the other on a drug dealer selling drugs to his sister, Tony says), Tony flees the scene, dashes into the movie theater where Hannah works and begs her to hide him. She does, lying to police as well.
Tyler goes to a punk concert with Cyrus and is injured in the mosh pit, with blood streaming down his chin. He also insults Cyrus’ sister, and Cyrus tells the photographer to get lost. When he gets home, he discovers his parents know that he’s been blackmailing a fellow student.
A store is vandalized. Sheri offers a gift of marijuana to gain access to the Clubhouse: Bryce and a couple of others insist she smoke quite a bit of it before leaving. They take a picture, too—adding it to a box filled with Polaroids, many of them documenting lots of skin and sexual activity. Two of the pictures show Bryce sexually assaulting an unconscious Chloe, who later became his girlfriend. (Bryce’s rear is exposed in both pictures.) Clay reminisces with Hannah’s ghost about how wonderful it was to kiss her.
We hear about the vile names that Hannah and her friends called someone in Hannah’s previous high school. We also hear the f-word about 25 times, the s-word more than 30, “f-ggot” three times and various uses of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused three times, and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
While we haven’t talked much about counselor Kevin Porter in these episode recaps, the second season is as much about him as Hannah or Clay or Olivia.
Last season, he was Hannah’s last hope before she decided to take the ultimate, tragic step of suicide. This season, the counselor has been on a mission of redemption as he tries to make up for what he sees as a tragic mistake. And when he takes the stand in the trial, he can honestly say he followed school protocol … but he still failed in his ultimate mission to save Hannah.
“Protocol probably needs to change,” he tells the court, weeping. “But more importantly, Kevin Porter needs to change.” He turns to Olivia and apologizes for failing her daughter.
There’s a great deal of talk about Hannah’s rape, and Porter names Bryce as the man he believes to be the rapist. Tyler, Cyrus and Clay all spray-paint the baseball field with “rapist” accusations. Tyler and Cyrus go so far as to burn the word into the field itself. When Bryce’s girlfriend asks him about his recorded statement that “every girl at this school wants to be raped,” Bryce tries to attribute it to the fact he was a little drunk and pretty mad at Clay (who recorded the statement last season). He insists that Hannah accused him of rape only because she was obsessed with him; Chloe, for the moment, seems to believe him. “He has a good heart,” she tells Bryce’s friend Zach.
Justin goes back to his mother and her drug-dealing boyfriend (whom he calls “Meth Seth”), but he’s only there to rob Seth of his cash and take off again. When Justin’s mother says Seth will kill her once he finds the money gone, Justin gives her a couple hundred dollars from Seth’s stash and says, “Not if he can’t find you.”
Tyler and Mackenzie (Cyrus’ sister) go to a movie. They make out. And it’s implied that other sexual activity between the two involves bodily fluids. Tony and his boyfriend, Caleb, get into a fistfight (leaving Tony’s face bloodied), but they make up with passionate kissing. Clay’s beaten badly by unknown assailants. Alex plays a first-person shooter that his dad has forbidden him from playing; but Alex believes it might be a catalyst to recall some of the memories he lost before he shot himself in the head.
Characters drink wine. They say the f-word about 25 times, the s-word more than 20, “a–,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss.” We also see a middle finger. God’s name is misused about seven times, twice with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is uttered three times inappropriately.
Hannah’s trial begins with testimony from Tyler, Liberty’s resident shutterbug, who testifies about the pervasive bullying at the school and the vile way that Hannah was treated. But he also reveals that Hannah was apparently sexting with someone: He saw her unbutton her top through a window (and took a picture or two of Hannah himself while he was at it). We also see another photo of Hannah that reveals her panties.
Meanwhile, Clay receives a Polaroid of what appears to be a wild party with the words “Hannah wasn’t the only one” taped to the back of the photo—likely referring to Bryce’s rape of Hannah. Clay also tries unsuccessfully to consummate his relationship with troubled, tattooed girlfriend Skye.
Elsewhere, Alex returns to school after his own suicide attempt, and Bryce—who raped Hannah in the previous season—is threatened by Kevin Porter, the high school guidance counselor who feels he didn’t do enough to save Hannah.
“You got more to lose than I do,” Bryce says as the teacher holds him by the throat.
“Do I?” Porter says.
Clay and Skye strip down to their underwear twice. The first sexual encounter between them seems to suggest that Skye has been cutting her genitals. During the second, Clay hallucinates that Skye is actually Hannah. Tony, one of Hannah’s close friends who helped circulate her accusatory tapes, talks with his ex-boyfriend, who gives him incriminating information that he later burns.
Bryce seems to flirt with Jessica, whom he also raped. Jessica sees references to being a “slut” in the school bathroom and later discovers a sex doll hanging on her porch, mouth taped shut, with the word “slut” again scrawled across its naked plastic body. In another scene, the baseball coach tells his players what constitutes consent for sexual intercourse: One player jokes, “Does a scream count?”
Alex shows Tyler where he tried to kill himself, reporting that the bullet went in and out of his skull and into the bathroom wall. Clay procures a fake ID to get a tattoo. Skye steals paint. High schoolers talk back to and disobey their parents. Someone uses a urinal. One baseball player injects another in the rear with apparent steroids.
Characters drink wine, and Bryce suggests to Jessica that perhaps they can “grab a drink sometime.” We hear the f-word 25 times, the s-word nearly a dozen and also hear “a–,” “b–ch” and “h—.” God’s name is misused four times, once with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused thrice.
The finale of Season 2 begins with a #MeToo moment of sorts. With Bryce convicted of sexual assault, Jessica—who decided to testify against him—gives a closing statement. Other women in 13 Reasons Why (perhaps reflecting real life stories of the members of the cast) talk about their own experiences with sexual assault, harassment and rape. One talks about how she, as a 12-year-old, fought against an 18-year-old assailant. Others say their attackers were youth pastors or second cousins or guards.
We also see Hannah’s belated memorial service, in a church. “I am distrustful of religion,” mother Olivia admits to the pastor in planning for the service, believing that the passive acceptance of God’s fate that she was taught as a girl wasn’t the right way to go. She and ex-husband Andy also say that some churches also rejected hosting a memorial service, either because of Hannah’s suicide or the circumstances that led to it.
Why choose a church at all? The pastor asks. “If there is a God, I want Him to see that our little girl deserves His care,” Olivia responds.
We see a cross on the church and hear the bells ringing. Clay asks the pastor if he believes Hannah’s soul is going to hell. The pastor says no. “The God I believe in, a just God, would have mercy on a soul like hers.” He also believes that the people who let Hannah down could be forgiven, too.
With Justin’s mom missing, Clay’s family elects to take Justin in and adopt him. Olivia discovers a list of Hannah’s titled “Reasons Why Not” on an old computer and gives it to Clay. “She came up just short,” she tells him. But Olivia reminds Clay that “There are always more reasons why not.”
Tyler returns to school after attending a special program and is attacked, beaten and sodomized with a mop handle by members of the baseball team. He’s left in a toilet stall, buttocks exposed and weeping. Later, he puts his hand to his rear and pulls it back, covered with blood. (He lies to his mother, saying his day was great.) He goes to a school dance later that evening with a cache of weapons, preparing to shoot up the school. “You don’t get out of this alive, and I don’t want you to die,” Clay says, confronting him outside the school. Clay and Tony help him escape before he does anything terrible and the police come.
Alex brags to Zach about masturbating (proof his body’s getting back to normal) and asks Jessica to a school dance. Tony and Caleb go to a high school dance together, as do Courtney and her new girlfriend. Bryce shows up to the dance with a flask of liquor. Justin returns to his drug habit, encourages Clay to have sex, then has sex with Jessica (despite Alex being her date) in a back room. Chloe announces to Jessica that she’s pregnant.
We hear the f-word more than 25 times and the s-word about 15. Also on the docket: “a–,” “b–ch” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused half a dozen times, about half of those with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused twice.
At the tail end of the previous episode, Clay released Hannah’s infamous cassette tapes online. Now the fallout truly begins, with many of Clay’s friends rocked by the fact that their secrets—and the roles Hannah thought they all played in her death— are now out in the open.
Perhaps most at risk is Bryce Walker, whom Hannah pointedly accuses of rape, and whose taped confession (from last season) is broadcast over the school’s intercom system. And during a baseball field dedication, student body president Marcus—being blackmailed by Tyler—announces during the ceremony that he’s stepping down from a key school group designed to protect women and girls. “How can I say that I care about protecting girls when I’ve been protecting a rapist like Bryce Walker?” he says.
Hannah’s mother and father take the stand. Andy Baker confesses that he had an affair shortly before Hannah’s suicide, and admits as well that Hannah witnessed him kissing his mistress. Clay visits his old girlfriend, Skye, who’s still in a mental health institution. Skye tells him that she’ll be leaving for another state soon after she’s well enough to do so. She says goodbye to him: “I can let you go and still love you.”
We again see an incriminating video involving Marcus and a topless exotic dancer (her back to the camera) performing a lap dance. In flashback, newly clean drug addict Justin recalls a conversation he had with Jessica—one in which both of them either unknowingly or willfully ignored the fact that Bryce had raped Jessica. In remorse and agony, Justin buys $20 worth of heroin: Alex finds him nearly comatose, a syringe still sticking from his arm and choking on his own vomit. Alex manages to turn him over, and Justin throws up all over the floor.
Elsewhere, Tyler and Cyrus shoot bottles with their guns. But when a crow alights on their makeshift range, Tyler blasts it, too. (We glimpse the bird’s bloody corpse.) Zach threatens Tyler when he suspects the photographer is following around his little sister and taking pictures of her. Tyler and Cyrus brag about being the school’s puppet masters. “We can get anyone to do anything,” Tyler says.
We hear a conversation about manual stimulation. The f-word is used more than 50 times, the s-word more than 15 times, and we hear other profanities such as “d–n,” “h—” and “f-g.” God’s name is misused four times (twice with “d–n”), and Jesus’ name is abused thrice.
Jessica, Hannah’s one-time best friend, takes the witness stand. But though we see brief, blurry flashbacks of Bryce’s sexual assault on her, she does not reveal the assault on the stand. Skye, meanwhile, breaks up with Clay and vanishes to a special center where she can (presumably) deal with her serious cutting issue. Riding his bike home from the hospital where Skye was staying, Clay is nearly run off the road by a mysterious car. (His face gets pretty scuffed up.) When he gets home, he confesses almost all of his secrets to his parents and ends his monologue by telling them, “I need a f—ing car.” By the end of the episode, they give it to him.
Clay’s far from the only teen cursing in the presence of his parents, and sometimes parents swear right along with their teens. Indeed, this episode includes about 35 f-words, more than 25 s-words and lots of other profanity, including “a–,” “b–ch,” “h—” and “p-ss,” as well as the slur “f-ggot.” God’s name is misused seven times, three times with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused eight times. A posse of students simultaneously flips off another high schooler.
Courtney, who came out as a lesbian in the previous episode, imagines the school laughing at her and calling her gay slurs. In reality, they’re doing no such thing. But openly gay Ryan does welcome her to the “club” and says, “If you start driving a Subaru and wearing flannel, I will hold an intervention.” We see flashbacks of Alex, Hannah and Jessica all kissing each other. Pictures of Jessica find their way on a board with the words “drunk” and “slut” scrawled across them. There’s talk about various forms of sex, and someone jokes about homosexual oral sex. Tony comes out to his boxing coach.
Tony and Clay track down Justin, Jessica’s old boyfriend, who’s doing drugs and living on the streets. Despite the fact that Clay promised his parents he’d never keep anything from them again, he smuggles Justin up to his room, where Justin does heroin while Clay sleeps.
The infamous Bryce Walker takes the stand and lies through his teeth about his relationship with Hannah, alleging that they had a casual, sexual relationship but that she wasn’t really “girlfriend material.” Chloe, after seeing pictures of Bryce having sex with her unconscious body in the Clubhouse, takes the stand to testify against her boyfriend. But when she looks into his eyes, she changes her mind and tells the court that the sex, despite her unconscious state, was consensual.
We don’t see Chloe’s experience in the Clubhouse, but audiences are exposed to Hannah’s brutal rape scene, replayed from Season 1, along with Hannah’s own graphic, explicit narration of exactly what he did to her and how it felt. “In that moment,” she concludes, “I felt like I was already dead.” Bryce, in an effort to hurt his mother, also tells Mom the truth of that evening, using extremely vulgar, explicit terms to narrate his rape of Hannah.
Bryce’s mother slaps him. “You’re a stranger in this house,” she says.
“Always have been, Mom,” he answers.
Guns fall into the hands of two critical characters. An unknown person sends Alex a gun, along with a note saying, “How can you live with yourself?” That, along with a violent video game Alex has been playing, triggers Alex’s memory of the night that Hannah was raped—and how he did nothing to stop it. (The gun’s sender obviously wants Alex, who tried to commit suicide once before, to finish the job.) The other gun goes to Clay who, believing that Bryce will go untouched by the law, drives to Bryce’s house apparently to “hurt” him. When Justin shows up to try to prevent this drastic action, Clay presses the barrel to his own head. The episode concludes before the scene is resolved.
Bryce drinks whiskey openly at home, and his family understands that he’s sexually active—something his mother knew when he walked in on him and another girl and saw a “whole lotta naked.” Other high schoolers talk about getting drunk and stoned. Again, we see pictures of Bryce, his rear exposed, having sex in the Clubhouse. The other Polaroids in the box are referred to as “child pornography.” We see Bryce’s lies played out for the screen, featuring stripping and fairly explicit make-out sessions with Hannah. There’s also a huge fight in a school hallway involving dozens of guys.
Characters use the f-word about 30 times, the s-word another dozen and “a–,” “h—”, “p-ss” and “f-g.” God’s name is misused half a dozen times (twice with “d–n”), and Jesus’ name is abused eight times.
Clay takes the stand in an effort to tell the court what a wonderful person Hannah was. But he also describes a critical night when he, Hannah and several of their friends got together and did MDMA (more commonly known as Ecstasy).
“Do you ever think you don’t want to do it anymore?” Hannah asks as they come down from the high in a flashback scene. “Like I wanna die? Like everything’s black?” Clay, however, did nothing after hearing this cry for help that night, and he spends much of the episode vacillating between self-flagellation and trying to justify his inaction.
Despite his bad day in court, though, Clay’s father expresses his love for his son. “You know there’s nothing you could do, nothing that would stop your mother and I from loving you,” he tells Clay. He also wonders aloud why “kids never tell their parents anything. Ever.”
Clay also receives another Polaroid picture, this one labeled “The Clubhouse,” depicting another high school student (perhaps Justin) having sex with a woman. (Neither has pants on, and it’s clear that they’re engaged in some kind of intercourse.)
Tony and his boyfriend, Caleb, kiss. In court, we hear about how Clay was caught with marijuana and accused of vandalism. While trying on clothes at the mall, Jessica has a flashback to her rape. (We see her in her underwear at the mall; in flashback, we see Bryce try to remove her undergarments and begin to assault her.) Bryce pressures his girlfriend, Chloe, into having sex with him; she gives him permission, but she clearly would rather not. He gropes her and roughly removes some of her clothes. Elsewhere, two high schoolers at a party sneak away to have sex.
Hannah’s parents talk about finalizing their divorce. Alex—who tried to kill himself with a gun—plays a violent video game at his birthday party, much to everyone’s alarm, and he has a bit of a breakdown. Tyler, the photographer, is turned away from the party by some of Alex’s friends, even though Alex invited him. Tyler, slipping ever deeper into anger, leaves the party ready for revenge. Characters say the f-word more than 30 times and the s-word nearly 15. We also hear “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” Jesus’ name is abused twice.
It’s Marcus’ turn on the stand. But the Harvard-bound, seemingly pious student body president is more interested in saving his own skin than telling the truth. He tells the court that he and Hannah went on a date, which is true. However, when he gets to the part where he should confess that Hannah got mad and pushed him away because Marcus was trying to forcibly grope her (the basis of a bet he made with Bryce), he says that Hannah was just using him to set up a date with one of his friends: Bryce Walker. Marcus plants the idea that Hannah was into the school’s pre-eminent jock all along. (We see that scene, and how it really played out, in flashback).
Meanwhile, Clay gets further evidence that Bryce is actually a serial rapist: Someone leaves a Polaroid picture in his locker of a smiling Bryce apparently having sex with an unconscious woman. (We don’t see the girl’s face, but do see Bryce’s bare rear.) Bryce also has sex with his girlfriend, Chloe, in his house, unconcerned about whether his mother’s home or not. They disrobe quickly. Bryce’s girlfriend mildly resists his advances. But sexual movements are shown.
Clay and a girl named Sheri work on getting the heroin-addicted Justin clean for trial. Justin vomits twice. Geeky photographer Tyler and Cyrus play a prank on Marcus, sending paint spraying all over his face. Later, Tyler takes Cyrus out into the woods to shoot guns. Jock Zach finds blood in his gym bag. There’s talk of “blue balls” and “boy parts.” Marcus’ friends rib him about saving himself for marriage and tell him that Jesus is his “one true love.” Marcus’ father quotes Scripture to Marcus, telling him the “truth will set you free” (even though he encourages Marcus to lie on the stand to protect himself). Hannah grabs Marcus by the crotch to show him how terrible and demeaning it feels.
Characters skip class. Alex has a flashback filled with blood. Couples kiss frantically. We hear the f-word used nearly 35 times, the s-word about a dozen times and also hear “a–,” “b–ch” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—.” God’s name is misused three times, and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
This show can be fun and surprisingly thoughtful. But like Loki himself, its story and themes shouldn’t go unchallenged.
Nonstop vulgar content dilutes a relevant message about the façade of celebrity culture.
You’d think that Swellview would be … swell. And it can be. But this Nick show threatens both hero and viewer.
Netflix’s new YA fantasy series isn’t as explicit as Game of Thrones. But the show still earns its TV-MA rating.