Even though it wasn’t perfect, Season 2 offered a number of good moments that helped correct the first season's imperfections, with an approach that was more self-aware following the tough conversations it sparked.
Through the vehicle of the Bakers’s trial alleging the school’s negligence was to blame for Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) death, we saw what life was like for Clay (Dylan Minnette) and the rest of the students at Liberty High five months after the tragic event.
Here's what we liked and what we didn't:
LIKED: The fallout after Hannah’s suicideBeth Dubber/Netflix
One of the biggest critiques of Season 1 was that it romanticized suicide and painted the fatal act as a revenge fantasy. Season 2 sought to correct that by showing the harsh reality Hannah left behind. Her grand gesture didn’t have any positive impact in the way that people behave. What’s worse, she didn’t at all affect those she wanted to condemn, and has negatively affected the people who wanted to help her.
Through the fallout, we see the different ways grief can manifest. Her mom, Olivia (Kate Walsh), became obsessed with the trial, poring over every clue Hannah left behind, often with a glass of red wine nearby. Clay vacillated between extreme anger, defeat, and conspiring with “Ghost Hannah,” who was more an hallucination of grief than a helpful poltergeist. Her guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, became completely guilt-ridden, but too caught up in bureaucracy to be productive. It’s yet another reminder that we do not all deal with the same situation in the same way.
LIKED: The other sides of Hannah's storyBeth Dubber/Netflix
Almost every student accused of wronging Hannah on her tapes accused her of not telling the truth, while Hannah's supporters insisted that the tapes were her truth. Never having the chance to hear the mirrored truths of the accused, the first season sparked concern that viewers would be left with the grim impression that suicide was the logical choice for Hannah.
Through Hannah’s trial, the accused are given the chance to tell their sides of the story, and the result is a refreshing look at how the choice Hannah made wasn't her only option. This particularly shows itself through her hidden relationship with high school jock Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler).
Over the course of the season, we see Zach not as a note-stealing jerk, but as a sensitive guy caught up in a culture that thrives on toxic masculinity. Hearing Zach's side of things — which dives deep into the beautiful, virginity-losing, full-blown fling he and Hannah had over a lonely summer, when their laughter by the docks could drown out their combined sadness — and seeing him care for his other friends — namely, helping Alex (Miles Heizer) rehabilitate after his suicide attempt — underscores that there was good orbiting Hannah's world. She just needed some help to see it.
LIKED: Jessica’s post-assault progressBeth Dubber/Netflix
Jessica's (Alisha Boe) post-assault journey showed the experience of life after rape, in stark contrast to Hannah’s story, which fell apart at the hands of the same rapist.
Things were not easy for Jessica this season. She couldn't sleep in her own bed, she was publicly shamed, and she lost ownership over her body as she pushed to take control of her narrative. But she persisted — and that was the biggest point Jessica's story reiterated, at one point even saying she wanted to keep fighting to get better because there are so many, like Hannah, who couldn't. And ultimately, Jessica found ways to cope with her trauma.
LIKED: Focus on new charactersBeth Dubber/Netflix
This season broadened the focus to students who weren’t on the tapes, and some of these new storylines were a breath of fresh air, particularly Skye (Sosie Bacon) and Cyrus (Bryce Cast).
Battling with self-harm, Skye decided to prioritize her mental health after spending time at an in-patient program. Her conversations with Clay touched upon the often scary topics of accepting her diagnosis (which was bipolar disorder), that both environmental and chemical change can be good, and that her condition is no one's fault; it just is. Like Jessica, Skye showed a hopeful alternative to Hannah's path, in which talking to adults and willingness to change literally turned her life around.
Cyrus, on the other hand, served as an alternative to every other kid on the show. Even though he was characterized as the outcast, he ended up being impressively mature. He was able to see that life extends beyond high school, and even if things are awful in the moment, that's not all there is. Sure, he was mischievous and always down for a prank, but he was mostly harmless, never trying to cause physical damage to his classmates, and was always open to new friends. Most importantly, Cyrus talked to his dad when things got serious, opening up about potential red flags with Tyler (Devin Druid), who, it turned out, really did need help.
LIKED: The verdicts grounded in realityBeth Dubber/Netflix
Even though the outcomes of both the Bakers' trial and Jessica's trial were not the ones we were rooting for, they were the verdicts that served the most blunt realities.
The Bakers' trial against the school district, alleging that the school knew how at-risk Hannah was and did nothing, exposed some of the red tape that may block school officials from being able to offer more support when it's needed, be that lack of resources or usage of a highly specific vocabulary. It also served as yet another reminder of how crucial it is to talk to an adult clearly and bravely when something is really wrong.
Jessica's trial against Bryce highlights the dark reality surrounding the way the criminal justice system handles sexual violence. According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 instances of rape, only 310 are reported to police. Of those 310, only 57 reports lead to an arrest, and only 11 of those will be referred to prosecutors. Of those 11, only 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction, and only 6 will lead to incarceration. Jessica's case fell victim to one of the criminal justice system’s biggest shortcomings.
DIDN'T LIKE: Competing storylinesBeth Dubber/Netflix
Unlike Season 1, which focused solely on Hannah's depression, Season 2 broadened the scope by devoting screen time to multiple characters and their individual issues, like bullying, gun violence, drug abuse, grief, and sexual assault.
This breadth of very serious issues meant that the level of care and awareness that was previously praised just wasn't there — a disappointment, considering each of those experiences were worthy of more nuanced exploration.
This was especially noticeable in Tyler's story line, in which he faced both severe bullying (which culminated in a brutal sexual assault) and plotted a school shooting. Both are important topics to explore independently, but portrayed side-by-side, the show inadvertently and carelessly conflates these two issues.
DIDN'T LIKE: The use of adults
Even with the added resources made available to viewers, this season took a “do as I say, not as I do” approach by showing a lack of communication between kids and adults — even when an adult could have helped a situation. Sure, we had glimpses of positive interactions between Jessica and her dad and Cyrus and his, but overwhelmingly, these kids were hiding some pretty huge things. (Literally — Clay hid a person in his bedroom for days!)
It takes courage, for sure, but if any of these characters had shown a willingness to talk to an adult on their own or their friend’s behalf, they could have alleviated some of the pain and stress they were experiencing. Instead, this season served as a cautionary tale with sometimes dangerous advice.