(Trigger warning: Violence, sexual abuse, mental health)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
In the series' final season, Liberty High School's senior class prepares for graduation. But before they say goodbye, they'll have to keep a dangerous secret buried and face heartbreaking choices that might alter their lives forever.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Will the kids at Liberty High survive high school? Will the truth come out? And is someone finally going to save Clay Jensen?
These were the thoughts plaguing me for four, long, emotionally draining seasons of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why and having the final season open with a funeral service did not put my mind at ease.
Season Four follows much of the same premise as seasons one, two and three, with a group of unlikely friends coming together after having their lives intertwined by lie after lie, secret after secret, as they cover up a murder. All while dealing with themes of violence, substance abuse, sexual assault and more.
This season focuses specifically on mental illness and trauma as Clay, Jessica and the rest of the crew try to move on and finally graduate from the nightmarish Liberty High, where it seems every possible topical drama happens to tear the lives of these students apart. And it is exhausting.
Let me start by saying my stance on this show being an important one hasn't changed. I've watched all four seasons, and it still addresses many themes that very few teen dramas do. My issue, however, is that it rarely explores themes fully and gets to the crux of it. Other times it completely misses the mark, and partly because the show tries so very hard to be, as I've said, topical and often, shocking and sad.
Yes, school shootings happen all too often in the US, we need to see more LGBTQ relationships on screen, and we must shine a light on racial injustice, especially amid protests around the world after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Collins Khosa. But the show failed to do many of these important themes justice in incorporating everything but the kitchen sink in the final season of the show.
Diego, a new character in the show, was pushed up against a locker by a cop for being a "Mexican kid starting a fight" (he's Dominican, by the way). In contrast, Justin, who was also in the fight – and started it, actually – was ordered to return to class. But that's it. In four seasons, that's it. Let's not forget straight, white Bryce Walker got an entire season to redeem himself and make amends after raping Hannah and getting six months of probation for it, while Clay with his white saviour complex has been battling anxiety and depression, somehow making it okay that he set a car on fire?
After seasons of toying with the idea, an entire episode – and they're a full, exhausting hour long, by the way – was dedicated to inciting fear in students with a school shooting that turned out to be just a drill. This was used as a plot point to reveal Clay's descent into darkness. I want to say, if the show's not going to dig any deeper, it was almost unnecessary. The show also seemed to really focus on Clay's mental state this season, but in focusing on it so much, they ran out of episodes to show him getting better.
Although it was good to see Alex exploring his sexuality and having his character have a more positive coming out story as opposed to last season's Monty, I wish we could've seen more of it. Here I felt, and with many other themes too, exploring it more could have been a saving grace for the doom and gloom of the show, and a light for so many teens. After all, the prom episode was the one truly enjoyable hour I spent watching the show this season. Seeing Alex dance with the prom king, Tony, being a kid for the first time in four seasons and Clay smiling, was gratifying after everything we've been through.
And yet, as much as I, and I'm sure many fans of the show really just wanted everyone at Liberty High to survive high school, the show had to knock us down one more time.
With a series such as this that can have so much power and influence, I wish they'd done more, given us more to be hopeful about and if I had to sit through an hour and a half – that's a whole movie – finale, I wish I could've cried more happy tears. I mean, we get it: the kids are not alright, but I can't imagine sitting through another series like this and feeling relieved when it's all over. But maybe, that was the point all along...
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) can be reached at: 0800 21 22 23 or 0800 456 789 (24 hours, 7 days a week).