The Disturbing but True Message Season 2 Sends to Women
Nearing the conclusion of Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why, one of the main characters, Clay Jensen, said, “I think it’s time that we stop thinking about what Hannah wanted, and start thinking about what she needs. And Jessica. And every other girl who practically begged Bryce to fuck her.” He was talking about how Hannah Baker’s recorded tapes featuring the events leading to her suicide could make a difference in proving Bryce Walker, Liberty High’s sports hero, was guilty of raping both her and Jessica Davis, the anonymous intoxicated, and passed out woman Hannah spoke about on Tape #9 whom Bryce had sex with against her will.
Many articles teased about the 13 Reasons Why Season 2 release date, introduced new characters, and offered hints that some viewers might be deeply discontented with elements of Hannah’s past that were absent in the tapes that told Hannah’s story. It was especially highlighted that Jessica would receive the attention she deserved.
In the Season 2 trailer, Jessica is shown in the school cafeteria, saying, “The truth doesn’t always make things right.”
Still, as a viewer, I highly doubt that I was alone in hoping that Bryce would be incarcerated for raping Jessica, and Hannah, despite Jessica’s realistic, and utmost fear that being honest would have negative repercussions. His punishment would have been a win, not just for Hannah’s family and friends, and Jessica, but all female viewers who are, or have been, physically and emotionally abused by men.
In Season 1, Jessica’s trauma was visible to viewers, but not fully addressed by her in words. It was shown through behaviors such as excessive drinking and emotional outbursts. Only at the end of the season, when she was about to confide in her father, did it seem as though she would come to terms with having been raped by Bryce, and possibly fight back.
Season 2, with various narrators, Jessica being one of them, highlights the idea that women should tell their stories in hopes of seeking justice for themselves, and future victims. I watched it on its release date from start to finish, and came away devastated by the unjust outcome of Bryce’s trial, which my friend from Summer Literary Seminars said, “was ripped from the headlines.”
It was difficult to watch the justice system fail Jessica, and how Tyler Downs, another Season 2 narrator, was accurate in his statement, “People tell lies about you, and other people believe them.” Much like Harvey Weinstein claiming innocence in the wake of the MeToo movement, Bryce altered the story that he raped Jessica by spreading rumors around Liberty High that Jessica had cheated on her boyfriend, Justin Foley, who was Bryce’s best friend at the time, with him, and that it was consensual sex, not rape. Bryce had what Hannah’s mother, Olivia Baker, calls, “protectors and enablers,” in his coach, friends, and girlfriend, Chloe Rice.
Chloe carelessly tells Jessica what Bryce said about her, making it known that men like Bryce use their privilege and power to destroy women, quickly moving on to the next victim who buys into his speeches about loyalty, and faux earnest smiles that gain women’s trust, particularly those starting out at Liberty High with no true understanding of his sociopathic intentions. It is frightening how accurate Jessica is when she later snaps at Chloe, “You’re just as clueless as I fucking thought.”
If Hollywood actresses initially knew that Harvey Weinstein violated women he promised, or gave acting jobs to, none of them would have gone to his hotel room to meet with him about work. Had Bill Cosby’s behavior been on the table too, women would not have put themselves in vulnerable situations, such as drinking, with him. If Chloe had known Bryce, a man she said to his mother was “so sweet,” had raped her while she was stoned and allowed his friends to photograph it at a jock hideaway called “The Clubhouse,” she wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss the idea that her boyfriend was a rapist.
Another issue that Season 2 tackles is how women respond to their abusers, and sometimes, fail to sever ties with them, or become confrontational, even when it is well deserved. At school, Bryce greets Jessica warmly, even having the nerve to touch her arm and say they should get a drink sometime, a disgusting irony that causes her to respond with, “A drink?” and an obviously painful “whatever.”
It is easy for him to pass her off as a troubled liar when he has not been held accountable for raping her, or Hannah, even though Hannah’s tapes include him saying, “Every girl at this school wants to be raped.” Victim blaming seems to be how things work at Liberty High, and in the real world, too. If a woman went to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room, she was said to be at fault for what came afterwards.
Where 13 Reasons Why is also truthful, is that it addresses how healing from trauma is a process, not an immediate response to unforgiving circumstances. Jessica goes from freezing up in the hallway when her friend, Alex Standall, screams after Bryce, “Fuck you, you fucking rapist,” to facing him in court, addressing him directly with a speech about him raping her, and a request to the judge that can easily bring women to tears.
But a lot had to happen in between for her to arrive there; denial, believing her story was hers, and that it was important, and addressing how, in the wake of being raped, her physical self-perception had changed.
“I just feel like I have this body, and every day it gets up, and puts on clothes, and gets me from point A to point B, but it’s like it’s not mine anymore,” she tells Alex on a walk by the water.
When Bryce is arrested once Jessica finally reports him to the police, he promptly abandons his nice guy act and says to her on the courthouse steps after Hannah’s trial, “You’re making a big fucking mistake.” Thankfully, it doesn’t intimidate Jessica into dropping the rape allegations.
During the court scene, I was very angry about how unaffected the judge is when Bryce’s lawyer compares Bryce’s lost scholarships to Jessica’s lost dignity. I’d wanted so much for Bryce to be convicted, and for the smug smile he constantly wore to be permanently distinguished as he faced the judge wearing the glasses his lawyer said made him “look more empathetic.”
A few days later, when I expressed this sentiment in a text message to my Summer Literary Seminars friend who had just finished watching Season 2, was when she said the outcome had been “ripped from the headlines,” reminding me about the Brock Turner case, where a young woman was assaulted by him in the bushes while intoxicated.
I defended the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and despite the additional backlash that Season 2 has received from critics and viewers, I do think it makes valid points and details how women need to be aware of the kind of men they might encounter in life; the Bryce Walkers, Harvey Weinsteins, Bill Cosbys, and Brock Turners of the world.
I have also come to (sadly) realize that Bryce being punished on a full scale would have made the story wrap up too neatly, and not in a way that represents reality. There are women who have to face their abusers daily at home, school or work, or watch them on television winning awards and acclaim from people who don’t know who they really are beyond their professional accomplishments.
And even though the 13 Reasons Why creators made Jessica face the same fate, there was something beautiful about her transformation that I hope other viewers picked up on as well; the way she’d said to Clay in Season 1, “You want me to tell the whole goddamn world what happened to me?” about Bryce raping her, as if that was a ludicrous idea because she felt so ashamed. And then, in Season 2, she did.
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.