'13 Reasons Why' Season 2 bites off way more than it can chew

13 Reasons Why is not a show that shies away from controversial subjects. Even the mixed responses to Season 1 – from television critics to mental health experts to scientific research – undeniably created conversation. Season 2 is so chock-full of sensitive, buzzy subjects that it seems the showrunners took it upon themselves to address every social issue possible – and in the process, missed the mark on most of them.

SEE ALSO: Hannah and Clay in '13 Reasons Why' will break your heart

Season 2 finds Hannah's (Katherine Langford) peers at Liberty High School trying to move past her death by suicide, and the tapes she left behind addressing a dozen of them and one teacher. The problem is that the tapes are apparently only the tip of the iceberg, and Season 2 reveals huge chapters of Hannah's life – all involving the people on the tapes – that were never even hinted at previously. Meanwhile, the Bakers (Kate Walsh and Brian D'arcy James) are embroiled in a nasty law suit against the school district that calls many of the students to testify; Season 1 was tapes, and Season 2 is testimony.

Season 2 tells us that Hannah was an unreliable narrator, but potentially introduces a dozen more.

13 Reasons Why Season 2's main narrative tool, new flashbacks to Hannah's life, is difficult to digest. The problem is that they don't just add to her story; they alter it. The puzzle pieces now add up to a different big picture, which means Hannah was in a very different place when she chose to take her own life.

This is addressed, lazily, more than once. Clay (Dylan Minnette) confronts Zach (Ross Butler), asking why none of his revelations from the witness stand came up in Hannah's tape. "Did she say everything on your tape?" Zach retorts. 

But in Season 1, we were told that we did have the whole story. Hannah may have been selective and emotionally distressed, but the chapters she apparently left out range from puzzling to pivotal (Zach's in particular). 

In Season 2 of '13 Reasons Why,' Clay (Dylan Minnette) has hallucinations of the deceased Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), amidst numerous other problems.

Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix

Additionally – mild spoiler – it seems that adding to Hannah's story effectively means adding more drinking, drugs, and sex. This is meant to shock and titillate; to make viewers gasp and go back to Season 1, rewatching it with new perspective, even when the writing and performances bear no hint of Season 2 (because it hadn't been planned). But rather than adding more meaning to Season 1, this season – if viewers choose to accept the narrative – has the opposite effect.

It feels like we are being told that Season 1 was meaningless, that it only skimmed the surface and isn't the real story. But Season 1, crucially, was Hannah's perspective, and try as Season 2 might to include her, she no longer owns her story. Season 2 tells us that Hannah was an unreliable narrator, but potentially introduces a dozen more. To wait on Season 3 and then yank some of these testimonies out from under us would be cruel, and yet no longer out of the realm of possibility.

Kate Walsh as Olivia Baker in '13 Reasons Why' Season 2.

Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix

The season is often heavy-handed when it could be subtle, yet also inexplicably nuanced when it should be more cut-and-dry. Too much time is spent adding dimension to Hannah's rapist Bryce (Justin Prentice) and leading to a predictable payoff. Meanwhile, there are lengthy monologues in court about how reputation manifests differently for boys and girls in society, an important message that works far better when illustrated rather than lectured.

In addition to those moments, Season 2 attempts to tackle self-mutilation, the relationship between sex and grief, denial, addiction, guns, deception, infidelity, homelessness, consent, bullying, catfishing, homophobia, and the legal system. It is exhausting, and the generic content warnings and resource links don't necessarily take into account the litany of disturbing topics swirling around in this cocktail.

Perhaps the only sensitive subject handled somewhat appropriately is the conflict of Jessica (Alisha Boe) coming to terms with her rape and recovery. Though some of her peers push her to come forward and accuse Bryce, they mostly back off with respect to her feelings, as does her family.

Alisha Boe as Jessica Davis, testifying in court in '13 Reasons Why.'

Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix

Boe's performance is heartbreaking and sincere, emblematic of a young cast that is, for the most part, far better than the material with which they've been supplied. Beyond Boe and Minnette, Miles Heizer and Brandon Flynn also go the extra mile in selling subpar and often expository dialogue and growing amounts of melodrama. Walsh does the heavy lifting among the adults as Hannah's broken mother, and Derek Luke also manages to squeeze in a gut-wrenching turn as Hannah's guilt-ridden guidance counselor.

We don't even have time to get into the deus ex machina that is Clay's hallucinated version of Hannah, who conveniently answers his burning questions about who she was and why she kept secrets. It turns Hannah discomfortingly into an untouchable mystery, and the implications of these visions on Clay's own deteriorating mental health are never addressed.

In Season 1, 13 Reasons Why supplied us with select chapters of Hannah Baker's life as she retold them. Her death was sudden and tragic, lacking closure for everyone it affected. The show spoke to the idea that you can never truly know a person, least of all one now crystallized in a particular era or sanctified by sentiment. You get limited information, like the tapes, and that's all. 

Season 2 luxuriates in painting a bigger picture most people will never have – and which may not even exist – and in taking upon itself to force social commentary in too many other areas. 

In the first episode, one character muses to another: "Which one of us is more tragic?" and then spends 12 more episodes playing this unspoken game among its characters. Ironically, they seem to miss the point that the show is inherently making: No one wins this game.

13 Reasons Why Season 2 premieres Friday on Netflix.

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