Netflix’s Teenage Soap Opera Tries To Be Too Woke And May Cause Too Much Frustration
Even though the likely target audience for Netflix’s gigantic hit 13 Reasons Why is teenagers – the company’s LGBTQ themes have garnered a lot of attention from a gay audience. It’s doubtful anyone thought the fictionalized tragic suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) would become a global phenomenon. The series captivated audiences from its beginning in 2016 as it dealt with believable, unfortunate circumstances that seemingly every person who was once a teenager experienced or has been familiar with. The first and second seasons were hypnotizing as it surrounded a ragtag, extremely diverse group of teenagers in a California suburb as they learned how to handle their many issues, reminiscent of other high school soap operas like Degrassi. Audiences saw themselves in the incredibly talented ensemble cast and grieved with the characters over Hannah’s death and her mother’s court battle.
Despite the show being very progressive in front of the camera and behind the scenes, the third season was lackluster and confusing. Suddenly, the teens became murderers or accomplices to a murder, an addition of an immigrant newcomer to the fictional town, and Ani Achola (Grace Saif), as the new narrator of seems forced rather than balanced. The final season’s main plot revolves around the season three murder of a teenage rapist, Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) and the aftermath of the teens putting the blame on Monty De La Cruz (Timothy Granaderos), who in turn gets murdered in a prison shower after his arrest (yes, there’s a lot to uncover). In a shocking third season plot twist, Monty was in fact a closeted, violent jock who was so obviously not the true murderer as he was having a budding romance in his bedroom with Winston Williams (Deaken Bluman). Winston, knowing his quasi-boyfriend Monty didn’t murder the Bryce, plans to expose whoever did in a very investigative journalistic type of way to clear his beau’s name. On paper, this is a solid plot… and IT’S SO GAY! The actors are all eye candy and the drama is oozing with many possibilities. The plot works for many of the ten final episodes. However, this progressive storyline and the underlying gay themes seems like a slap in the face to every gay fan of the series.
One would need hours to breakdown and summarize everything that happens in the final season of 13 Reasons Why. For the gays, let’s focus on the gay storylines. Openly gay actor Miles Heizer plays the monotone Alex Standall. His story in the final season revolves around discovering his sexuality. He previously was heterosexual, but then eventually comes out with some difficulty, but lands a kiss on probably the most attractive actor from this series, Ross Butler’s beefy Zach Dempsey [Pictured Below]. He then starts loosely dating Monty’s quasi-ex-boyfriend as he tries to infiltrate the friend group for answers. In the end, he winds up with bisexual Charlie St. George (Tyler Banhardt) who has a coming out scene with his father. Christian Navarro’s rough-side-of-the-tracks character, Tony, becomes a boxer and mechanic while continuing being the only rootable character in the series. Throughout the show he reconnects with his ex-boyfriend and they have a seemingly happy ending. But, let’s not forget the season’s main plot of Winston playing detective to clear Monty’s name.
Throughout the season, Winston and his flamboyancy grows the thrilling aspect of the story. You find yourself rooting for him so much as he plays Nancy Drew and with each cliffhanger, you’re screaming at your screen for him to pull out a win as he inches closer to finding Bryce’s true killers. Finally, his hard work pays off and comes to the conclusion that Zach, Alex, and Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) all had a helping hand in killing Bryce. The rest of the main cast, seriously almost all of them, knew about the murder and covered it up by blaming Monty, who would go to jail and become murdered in a prison shower. They spend the final season trying not to get caught by causing distractions such as rioting against police brutality, minor criminal offenses, telling their parents half-truths, and also creating new drama as they deal with anxiety and panic attacks. It’s extremely strange to watch. Technically, all of these teens we are asked to sympathize with are murderers and it could make you like them less after spending the last three years watching them… especially as they are fighting for causes relevant to literally current events – but you know, these are little teenage killers.
During prom, just as Winston has finally unraveled the mystery and has proof on these slimy little teens, he envisions dancing with Monty in probably the series’ second most emotional scene after Hannah filling up her bathtub with a razor blade in her hand. Seriously, the proverbial “you” will probably be crying your eyes out watching the boys dance – as we get to see Monty’s “ghost” be openly gay for the first time. It’s heart breaking! Even more so when Monty tells Winston – this is where the series loses it entirely – that he never would’ve came out of the closet so Winston shouldn’t continue to clear his name and instead, befriend the teenage killers who have defamed him and murdered another teen. For some reason, Winston decides this is a good idea. After confronting the teens with the proof of their dirty little lies and murder, Winston then gives them the proof he has on them and tells them he is going to move on with his life. This scene comes almost right after you’ve been bawling your eyes out at prom, so chances are you’ll go from crying to whipping your remote at a wall. It’s frustrating, it’s insulting, and literally this is the final episode of the series so you just wasted the last nine hours of your life before a thirty minute wrap of “where they’ll go now” begins. It’s appalling.
Monty’s unjust storyline isn’t the only part of the final season that fails. What was once a boasted cast of diverse characters seemingly only focuses on it’s male counterparts. Yes, everyone’s pretty much gay, but the female talent was swiped under the rug. Alisha Boe’s ridiculous talent will catapult her into superstardom after this. Seriously, there’s an Academy Award in her future, but she basically is the only female representation in the final season. We get little spouts of Chloe Rice (Anne Winters) and Michele Selene Ang’s character of Courtney Crimsen, an Asian-lesbian teen raised by two gay dads, and a final non-verbal goodbye appearance from Hannah Baker, but it’s next to none. Shockingly, a huge major character Sheri Holland (Ajiona Alexus) [not surprisingly, she also killed someone, though indirectly], is completely absent as if she didn’t exist. Sosie Bacon, Kate Walsh, and Bex Taylor-Klaus also don’t return. The progressive series decided to put almost all of their female characters on the back burner which seemed really odd. So, yes, this show virtually becomes a teenage Queer as Folk, but don’t expect to see many females in the run time.
Possibly the most offensive story line is the series attempt at an HIV/AIDS let’s all have safe sex arc involving Justin Foley, played by Sam Smith’s ex-boyfriend (in real life), Brandon Flynn. Flynn chews scenery – he’s fantastic, but not noticed enough by the Academy (although none of these young actors seem to be). Justin is a drug addict who has many ups and downs, primarily with his heterosexual relationships and being a fallen hometown hero type of guy. However, as former addict who keeps trying to repair his life – Justin meets his end after suffering a supposed seizure during prom that sends him to the hospital. After a gleeful redemption story line and sudden relapse, we learn Justin has been prostituting off-screen and not only contracted HIV, but now full-blown AIDS. In his final scenes, days after being diagnosed, Justin’s body breaks down and leaving him looking like our beloved Angel in RENT. He dies – and the entire school is horrified. His ex-girlfriend Jessica and her new boyfriend get tested and then there’s a little blip basically telling kids “everyone should be on PrEP and have safe sex.” This plot twist comes out of absolutely nowhere and actually feels like an afterthought and an extreme slap in the face to everyone gay man watching this. Yes, the globe knows it’s important for one’s body and mind to get tested regularly, but to say that you can die and decay days after being diagnosed with HIV is terrifying, and it to use the recovering addict and supposed prostitute to get your message across, wow.
13 Reasons Why is basically an extensive, personal “very special episode” of sitcoms in the past. The talent in front of the camera and behind the scenes are smart, however, the final season and its junior year completely miss the mark and it appears as if you’re watching fictionalized activism rather than a television series to escape from. The series definitely relays its message to the actual teenagers watching this, who have been accused of “glamorizing” suicide in the past. However, if you’re an adult viewing this you may be raising an eyebrow. In high school you think your problems are so big and so major, but when you’re an adult you realize those issues were stepping-stones. You should absolutely check out the final season of 13 Reasons Why, but understand you will absolutely be frustrated after you gave all your time to it. Hmm, maybe it’s not so far fetched from real life after all?
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.