Could I ask that before you read this review, you go and have a look at my review of season 1? I normally try to make reviews of individual seasons stand alone, but there’s a lot of things from the first season review that I’d like to build on.
Some of the more problematic elements of the first season are not only still present in season two, but are even more problematic. I use the word ‘problematic’ quite pointedly, because this isn’t a show that can be taken lightly and evaluated just as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s talking about incredibly serious and delicate issues – harassment, assault, sexual violence, and suicide and it has to take responsibility for that. It can’t just be discussed as a ‘teen show’, that can sweep bad writing and story choices under the rug and shrug nonchalantly that it’s ‘only’ a silly high school drama. Glee just about got away with its wild lurches between cheesy insanity and punchy drama. A show who’s very title is referencing reasons why a teenage girl killed herself cannot get away with it.
The characters in the second season are asking who is responsible for Hannah’s suicide, and if anyone could have stopped it. Hannah’s mother is taking the school to court because they did not act to stop the bullying. The responses to that action are the fundamental flaw of the series which made me furious. After a student commits suicide and a second attempts it (and a host of other serious incidents such as a fatal car crash) how did anyone think it was appropriate to have all of these children testifying in open court with minimal support? I’m sorry, but how is it possibly acceptable for adults to be putting children on the stand when they know they will be talking about physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in front of their accusers? Then sending them back to the very place and people who are accused of failing to respond appropriately.
The issues of the first season come back again. None of the characters act or look like they’re high school students (16-18?). They’re all covered in tattoos, they drink and swear like proverbial sailors and seem to have complete freedom with hardly a glance or a word from their parents. Every now and then an adult makes a sudden declaration of responsibility, but it’s so little, so late that it’s just insulting. There is an interesting discussion to be had around who is responsible for a teenage suicide, but that’s not what happens. Everyone is covering up and playing stupid and unnecessary games, and the worst offenders are the adults who utterly utterly fail to even try to learn any lessons, instead compounding them further. Maybe this is a true reflection of the insanity that goes on in schools (in America), but if it is, then reality is unbelievable and this needs to be a documentary series not a drama. I spent the whole season in a complete sense of disbelief, angry at characters and writers alike.
Quite beyond all the above problems, the second season is considerably weaker because it lacks the structure of the first season. Each episode focusses on one person’s testimony, with their voice acting as a narrator. It’s good to hear their points of view (unreliable narrators that they of course are), but it feels fake. The narration does not actually sound like it’s their testimony, it jumps around in time and is just not believable. At first it looks like the polaroid’s will form a set of things, but that structure is even weaker and quickly falls aside. We find out there was a huge amount of additional relationships and stuff going on during the timeframes in season 1 that we’d never seen any indication of, and I really don’t think that it would hang together if you actually check people’s actions. Oh, and there’s a ghost, that’s never a good sign.
I’m being very critical of the series, but I can’t deny that I watched the whole thing the weekend it came out. The actors may not be teenagers and the material may not make any sense, but they deliver it incredibly powerfully. If the setting had been a small university, making the characters just that little bit older and more reasonably independent from their parents and teachers, that would have made it all a bit more believable. Instead there is a lot of talent going into something that’s fundamentally flawed, and more importantly the incredibly important stories of what teens are going through is undermined and left untold.