Suicide is not something that’s easy to talk about, it’s not easy to think about let alone have a whole show dedicated to it. It’s uncomfortable and ugly and that’s the point of 13 Reasons Why; in no way is it glamorizing suicide. Instead, it’s showing how our actions can have consequences—no matter how small the action, no matter how small the reaction, what you do can affect someone. The Netflix original show is not preachy or overdramatic or too light, it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, painful.
For those of you who don’t know the book—or aren’t going to watch the show, but want the general summary of it, 13 Reasons Why is about a young girl, Hannah Baker, who kills herself, only leaving behind thirteen cassette tapes for thirteen different people. The kicker is, these thirteen people are all reasons why she killed herself. What they did or didn’t do created a ripple effect, one that affected Hannah and sent her into a place that she felt the only way out was by killing herself.
It’s some pretty heavy stuff, but it’s important. And in thirteen hours of television, Netflix manages to capture the essence of the book and even extend it to make the show a better version of the book.
So, with that in mind, let’s talk about episode one. Or tape one, side A.
Over the course of the hour long episode, we’re introduced to some of the main characters, specifically Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker. Clay is your average, nothing to write home about, junior. He’s socially awkward and doesn’t really fit into any specific clique, so he just knows everyone and everyone knows him. He’s our main protagonist in this series, guided by our narrator, Hannah Baker.
As said above, Hannah Baker committed suicide about a week prior to the show’s beginning. She talks us through the show and her life in such a way that it’s clear she’s wise beyond her years.
The show starts seemingly somber; it’s been a week since Hannah Baker killed herself and it’s clear that the school is still going through the steps of working with the students about how to deal. It’s basically what you’d expect, right down to Hannah’s parents going to Hannah’s locker to collect her things.
We see Clay Jensen, having flashbacks to seeing Hannah in the hallway, to him and Hannah conversing in class. You can already tell that these two were friendly. Throughout the day, Clay is approached by two people, Justin Foley and Courtney Crimson, both who he seems to know, but isn’t friendly with. And the two people are strikingly different—Justin’s a jock while Courtney is your Type A, student council peer. Curiosity has struck me and Clay; why would either of them talk to Clay?
Moving forward, during a ride home with Clay’s friend, Tony (I guess BFF, seriously tho IDK how these two became friends but like okay) we see through a flashback that Hannah and Clay actually worked together at their local movie theater called the Crestmont. Clay even had to wear a paper sign that said “Trainee” on it and basically, that’s when my love for him began—not to mention my love for Hannah and her teasing Clay about his nerdom.
Arriving home, Clay finds that there’s a package waiting for him on the porch. Inside, are seven cassette tapes, and since this is the twenty-first century, Clay goes to his dad asking for his “radio thing” aka a boom box. Honestly, it’s kinda funny that a show set in this day and age is relying on cassette tapes to tell the story. I high key love it.
Anyway, Clay puts the first tape in and is super surprised and very freaked out when Hannah’s voice comes over the speakers. Okay, but who wouldn’t?? If my dead friend started talking to me, I’d be freaked out.
But before Clay can get any further in the tape, his mom scares the shit out of him—and me tbh. While we’re on the subject of Clay’s parents, it seems like the mom is very protective while the dad is more relaxed. I don’t know how I feel about them quite yet—but they’re probably trying their best.
Of course, Clay lies about what’s on the tape and escapes to his room, only forgetting to unplug the boom box, which sends it clattering to the ground. Some of the buttons pop out and make the boombox useless so Clay goes in search for another alternative.
Okay so this is the first time Clay does something stupid, like really acts like a dumb teenager—I mean not socially awkward, just like ??? really Clay?? He goes to Tony’s and just steals his friend’s Walkman! Like!!!! Clay!!! I don’t understand why you couldn’t have asked for it, made up some lie about needing it for a cassette tape your dad gave you and went on your way. Ugh, teenage boys.
Dumb mistakes aside, Clay gets the Walkman and starts to listen to Hannah’s first tape. It seems that before Hannah can get into the reasons behind her decision, she has come with a set of rules that every person listening to the tapes has to follow. There’s only two simple rules: Listen to all of the tapes and then pass on the tapes to the next person. If they fail to follow rule two, Hannah reveals that she’s made another copy of the tapes, given to someone she trusts, who will release them—thus exposing everyone on the tapes. Dun, dun DUN. That’s a threat if I ever heard them, but it seems to be working since Clay got the tapes; whomever had them before him obviously didn’t want their secret getting out…
Hannah also included a map in which those listening to the tapes must use and go to the places she marked to get the full story. It seems as if Hannah had been planning this whole thing for a while. :(
After getting into a bike accident, Clay’s mother insists that he wears his helmet while biking. This takes us back in time to when Hannah teased Clay about his helmet—if I were to guess, maybe Clay stopped wearing his helmet after Hannah died because it reminded him of her and her little nickname for him: Helmet.
Something that the show does almost flawlessly is intertwine the past with the present as Clay listens to the tapes. Whether it be Clay seeing Hannah in the school hallway, to seeing her in his classes and then at the movies, the show easily flashes between the past and the present. Where the past is in warm, yellowy tones, the present is colder and has a blue tint to it–almost like when Hannah died, a light in Clay’s world went out along with her.
Back in the present, Clay’s following the map that Hannah included, only to realize he’s being followed by someone. Obviously, Clay is a little freaked out, especially considering Hannah just said they were being watched, so he tries to lose his tail, taking an off road route. He shakes the person following him and ends up at the first location on the map: Hannah’s first house.
This was where Hannah threw her first (and last) party and as she says “I didn’t know it was beginning of the end.” Heavy, stuff there, Hannah. The party is your typical high school party, kegs and alcohol and Kat, Hannah’s BFF who throws the party so Hannah can meet people before she moves away, immediately notices that Clay has a ~thing~ for Hannah. But before we can get to into that, we realize that this is also where the story of the subject of tape one side A begins. And who is this person, none other than the jock we saw earlier in the episode, Justin Foley.
Turns out, Justin Foley had a crush on Hannah’s bff, Kat and we’re treated to another introduction to him, but this time he’s rough-housing with his friend Zach, in the sprinklers instead of threatening Clay in the school hallway.
Hannah continues to tell her story in an eloquent and somewhat poetic manner, citing how Kat was the type of friend you couldn’t replace, even with the boy she left behind. But Hannah tried, as we see, and it’s kinda comical how she interacts with Justin. She obviously has a crush on him, see: her printing out his schedule so she could “accidentally” run into him, but tries to hide it by doing things like ditching him on a school bus. It’s cute and you can’t help but be amused and think they’re kind of cute together.
But all of that changes once Justin and Hannah actually go out. It’s a sweet and innocent date—Justin taking pictures of Hannah going down the slide, both of them laughing and exchanging sweet kisses. Yet the story gets twisted into a terrible rumor, that Hannah and Justin had done much more than kiss at the park. All because Justin showed a rather revealing picture of Hannah to his friends to impress them. Then one of his friends, Bryce, sends the picture around, starting the rumor mill and ultimately labeling Hannah as a slut.
All while Hannah is telling this story, Clay is at the park–following the map that Hannah had included , picturing it happen. He’s interrupted when the car that had been following him before pulls up. Out gets Tony, confronting him about stealing the Walkman. But it’s no biggie to Tony, who brushes it off. Instead, he gives Clay some advice about listening while riding his bike. Then Tony drops a truth bomb: he knows about the tapes.
This begs the question: how? Are we to assume that Tony is on the tapes? If so, what did he do to get on the tapes? HOW DOES EVERYTHING CONNECT?!
The next day, Clay gets to school with a mission to find Tony. He passes Justin in the hallway, who is talking to Zach about how the Bakers filed a lawsuit against the school. Finding Tony, Clay demands answers, but Tony simply says that Clay must listen to the tapes.
The first episode does a pretty good job at setting up the main themes of the story: suicide, bullying, mysterious messages from the dead. There’s still a lot of mystery going on. We have the mystery of Tony’s involvement, the mystery of who the other kids are, and the mystery to what it was that drove Hannah to this point. I know that I’m curious to see why Clay is on these tapes; it seems that from his flashbacks, he hasn’t done anything. But maybe that’s why he’s on the tapes—because he didn’t do anything.
What were your thoughts on the first episode of 13 Reasons Why?