Last summer when 13 Reasons Why was on Netflix, I couldn’t help but binge watch. The show, in many ways, belonged to Hannah Baker, yet I was quite taken with the character Jessica Davis, whose rape by the well known jock at school, Bryce Walker, was something everyone, except Jessica, seemed to know was true, and not a rumor Hannah started on the tapes she left behind before her suicide.
For the majority of the episodes, Jessica was in denial. She said things such as, “Hannah’s a liar, and you can’t believe anything she says. I mean, not a thing.” And in reference to her classmate, Clay Jensen, listening to Hannah’s tapes, she insisted, “he won’t know Hannah was lying.” Her friends looked away uncomfortably or kept silent about the rape until much later in the show when her boyfriend, Justin Foley, finally snapped and said, about Bryce, “he fucking raped you.” The look of angst and horror on Jessica’s face before she slapped Justin for lying to her about his friend was more than painful to watch. It was also the beginning of a larger journey for her.
Everything about the rape that took place was disturbing, from the scene itself to watching Jessica fumble later with flashbacks she couldn’t fully remember because as she described, she was “pretty drunk.” One of the major sources of discontent for me, as a viewer, was watching how Bryce rose to acclaim as he walked the halls with zero remorse and was described in an earlier episode as he won a Liberty High Captain’s Award as being a “true born leader.” It very much appeared that way when he called people, “brother,” “buddy,” and said things like, “I got your back, always.” Where he really showed himself, was in comments to Justin such as, “Keep me clean,” and, “What the fuck did you just do?” when Justin told Jessica the truth.
Jessica’s well being did not matter to Bryce, and Bryce targeted people who had a disadvantage in the sense that speaking up would have consequences, or simply was not an option.
As a friend to Bryce, Justin often needed him for a place to live, or items such as sneakers when his had holes in them. As Jessica’s rapist, and later, Hannah’s, Bryce said, “Who’s gonna believe a dead girl?’ about Hannah’s tapes.
Naturally, everyone was supposed to look the other way when Bryce’s way of dealing with women was to rape them or say things such as, “She was practically begging me to fuck her.” Character, to him mattered little, but the imbalance of power that protected him was everything. His friends didn’t want to challenge him, and none of Liberty High’s administrators would have believed that their golden boy had a dark side, particularly because he made their school look good on the surface.
In addition, it seemed as if Jessica befriending Bryce in the episodes after her rape was a result of her attempting to deny what had happened to her, especially since before going somewhere with him, she had a subtle flashback from the night of the rape. I found watching her do so extremely disconcerting as well as her excessive drinking to cope with the creeping suspicion that despite Justin’s denial, that she had, in fact been raped. Her ability to distance herself from her trauma was the key to her survival.
And it wasn’t until the moment by the pool where she learned her truth that the wound she’d been concealing was ripped open. She could finally stop questioning if she was mentally sound. Not only had she been raped by Bryce, but even the people she trusted the most had lied to her.
At home, afterwards, Jessica was in bed, clearly shaken, when she received a text from Bryce that said, “Hey, you ok?” It was obvious how he could care less about Jessica’s mental health, and was more concerned about what she might do with the new information she had gained. She remained in bed, and began crying.
In another episode of Thirteen Reasons Why, Jessica lifted her bedspread, revealing the bottles of liquor she had been storing underneath the bed. To Fantine Moon’s version of “Killing Moon,” she was shown emptying the bottles down the drain, and later washing the body Bryce had abused in the shower.
Her father entered her room on the day she spoke at a hearing about Hannah and school. He told her she did Hannah proud and, crying, she said, “Dad, I have to tell you. Something happened, to me,” during the Angel Olsen song, “Windows.” By letting him know, she began to seek the help she hadn’t known that she truly needed.
Bryce’s tagline throughout the show had been, “I’m just having some fun,” another indication that he could easily check his conscience at the door.
Will there be a resolve for Jessica in Season Two?
I hope so.
Kathryn Buckley holds an MFA from The New School, and her work has been published in Ravishly, XoJane, The Rumpus, CLASH Media and 34th Parallel.