Current Events/Movies/My Culture/Teen Culture/TV

13 Reasons Why is Just a Symptom

Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why is out and I am here for it. I watched season 1 in a matter of 2 nights, thanks partially to far too much free time, but mostly to the incredibly gripping story that unfolds, as Hannah unveils why she felt she had no other option than to take her own life. It was hard to watch, incredibly unsettling to see such hopelessness depicted on the screen, and emotionally exhausting to consider even just some of the dark realities that are presented.

Season 2, however, has been a different story. It depicts far more darkness, tragedy, and nuanced experiences, but also illustrates the characters’ humanity and the need for vulnerability and honesty in suffering. Although this season does have a more balanced approach than season 1, season 2 comes with a cocktail of darkness that brings a lot more to the surface than audiences anticipated.

Season 2 recap

In the first episode alone, we’re not only revisiting Hannah’s tragic suicide, but we’re also reacquainting ourselves with the others at Liberty High: Clay, the one we believed loved Hannah, but seems to be suppressing any memory of her, while diving into a new relationship with Skye (who we later find out suffers from bipolar disorder); Tyler, the photographer who will be the first to testify in the trial between Hannah’s mom and the school; Bryce, the sickeningly entitled jock, who seemed to get away with the worst in season 1; Jessica, who is returning to school after getting some help after telling her parents that she’d been raped; and Alex, who had failed an attempt at suicide and, after some time in recovery, is heading back to the place that the narrative would suggest drove him to make such a dark decision… just to name a few.

And as each of these characters enter back into life at Liberty, trying so desperately to find some sense of normal after all that’s happened, we watch the season unfold as each of them carry the heaviest burdens, feeling entirely alone in their struggle. The school has said students can’t speak openly about suicide, the trial has everyone on edge in terms of what the truth actually is (hint: it’s not limited to what Hannah said in the tapes), and the only points of connection, support, and love are when people bond over shared struggles.

In this season, we see all kinds of struggles that exist in today’s high schools: mental illness, divorce, grieving the loss of a parent, adult self-centeredness, bullying, the consequences of rape, coerced sex, the devastating results of harmful rumors and gossip, teen pregnancy, self-harm, sexual identity questions, athletic favoritism, all leading up to the final episode where we see what we’ve seen far too many times this year alone — an attempted school shooting, following a brutal (and incredibly graphic) act of violence inflicted on the would-be shooter, which drives him to the point of bringing a weapon to Liberty High.

The only thing that can heal

As I watch this season, at so many points, I find myself wishing these students had hope, wishing they believed they had something more to live for, wishing they believed that their burdens weren’t meant to be carried alone, wishing that they trusted the imperfect adults in their lives to journey through the darkness with them. Ultimately, I found myself desperate for Jesus to be real in these characters’ lives.

Yet, even as I write that, I have the temptation to think “that’s far too trite. That’s just a sentimental thought, not something that could make a difference in the lives of people dealing with such profound struggles.” What small faith I have.

Do we believe He’s powerful enough?

I claim to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of an eternal Kingdom, where death, evil, hatred, and division have been defeated once and for all on the cross. Yet, when I watch 13 Reasons Why, I feel like my response is too small by wanting the world depicted on the screen to know Him. Yet, isn’t that the only thing that will lead the world depicted on the screen to the freedom they’re all so desperate for? That’s what my faith tells me. That’s what my Church tells me. And that’s what Jesus tells me (John 10:10).

13 Reasons Why, season 2 in particular, shows us a world devoid of Jesus — where people are ceaselessly made victim to their circumstances and their particular challenges. And the world watches and questions “how can these circumstances be enough to drive a person to bring a gun to school with the intent of taking other human beings’ lives?” And initially, that might be my question too, but if I think about it for a moment, I remember that a world devoid of Jesus is a world devoid of authentic love; a world devoid of Jesus is a world where suffering makes no sense.

And then I find myself landing on the conclusion that the realities depicted in the show aren’t the foundational issues. Rather, they’re mere symptoms of the great deficit our world is experiencing: we don’t know Jesus, making it very difficult to know authentic love, and making it very difficult for our suffering to ever take on any meaning.

The healing begins with Him [in us]

What, then, can be done to change that? I believe that the most effective way we can treat the source of all the problems we’re seeing in our world isn’t by just agreeing to the world’s means of progress, but by sharing Jesus and His authentic love with the world. Certainly, we can and should be doing more to address mental illness, bullying, gun control, etc. but we can’t put our hope for change in those things, apart from Jesus.

If we truly believe in our faith, our Church, and in Jesus, we have to move beyond simply treating the symptoms of these problems and start to treat them at the source — by allowing Jesus to transform our hearts into His love, so that His love can transform those around us.

Whether you’ve seen 13 Reasons Why or not, you know the darkness our world is facing. You’ve seen the evil realities so many of today’s high schoolers have been ushered into. These moments of darkness aren’t simply a time for legislative change, but the very moments that Jesus came to redeem and renew. It’s up to us to invite Him into our very hearts, and invite His presence within us to work that redemption and renewal. We can’t treat the symptoms forever. Jesus offers the healing that brings new life.

About the Author

Leah Murphy

As a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University, with a background in video and a passion for that wild place where faith and culture meet, she lives to tell God's love story to the world, in the digital space. Dwelling in California, she spends all her free time doing all the things with her friends, enjoying the best music out there, and going on every adventure that comes her way.

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.