Warning: This article contains spoilers.
A person who committed suicide returning as a ghost. A student arriving at school armed with a rifle. A brutal rape in a school bathroom.
These are just three reasons Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” has reignited concerns about its content and what effect it could have on its impressionable teenage audience.
Chock-full of new trigger warnings, including a custom video featuring the show’s leads, the series’s highly anticipated second season debuted Friday, bringing excited fans back to the fictional town of Crestmont and Liberty High School. The newest 13-episode installment revolves around the aftermath of 17-year-old Hannah Baker’s suicide, the main plot line of Season 1.
Although prolonged and gory scenes of suicide are absent from Season 2, the upgraded trigger warnings aren’t just for show. The new season, much like the first, continues to address sensitive topics including suicide, rape, substance abuse and gun violence. It also features graphic, sometimes disturbing, scenes.
However, while the first season was a hit, becoming 2017’s most tweeted-about show and currently maintaining an 80 percent critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, the second season has not been as well received. It has a 28 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been described by multiple critics as “unnecessary.” The Parents Television Council, a media watchdog group, is also calling on Netflix to pull both seasons, describing the show as a “ticking time bomb to teens and children.”
“If you come into the series with feelings of hopelessness or depression,” PTC program director Melissa Henson wrote, “you’ll never walk away from the series feeling any better. And if you’re not feeling that way, the series will make you feel hopeless and depressed.”
Echoing concerns from Season 1 about romanticizing suicide, mental health experts are worried that showing Hannah’s ghost following one of the main characters, Clay Jensen, could present the false idea that after committing suicide, teens would be able to see how their friends and family react, NBC reported.
Another subject the show’s second season tackles is gun violence in schools, which has been at the forefront of people’s minds since the February mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. On Friday, hours before the show’s premiere party for its second season, a gunman opened fire at a high school in Santa Fe, Tex., killing 10 people. Netflix canceled its party in the wake of the shooting, according to the Associated Press.
In the final minutes of the season’s finale, one of the main characters, a bullied teen named Tyler Down, arrives at a school dance dressed in black and armed with what appears to be an assault rifle. Instead of calling the police, the other characters, all students, confront Tyler themselves, and talk him into lowering his gun.
This is not the right message to be sending to students faced with a shooter, Phyllis Alongi, clinical director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, told NBC. Alongi said that when someone has a gun, people need to call the authorities.
“We have to teach our kids these are confidentialities they can’t keep,” she said. “When something concerns you, even when it’s just intuition, you need to seek out help.”
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Brian Yorkey, the show’s creator, said he was interested in “trying to understand what goes into the experience of a young man who goes that route.”
“We’re much more interested in understanding that character’s journey than we are in seeing it end in the worst way possible,” Yorkey said.
But the thwarted school shooting isn’t the only part of the season’s 13th episode people took issue with.
One scene in particular left both mental-health experts and fans concerned that the show has taken things too far.
Before he attempts to shoot his classmates, Tyler is savagely attacked and sodomized by members of the school’s baseball team in a bathroom. The horrifying two-minute scene is shown with full sound and begins with Montgomery de la Cruz, one of the athletes, slamming Tyler’s head into a mirror before repeatedly bashing his head against a sink. He then drags Tyler to a stall and starts drowning him in a toilet bowl. Ignoring his pleas for mercy, two other members of the team hold Tyler down, and Montgomery grabs a mop. What happens next was too much for many to watch.
Alongi said she had to look away.
“I do understand producers want to bring issues like this to the forefront, but it was not necessary to be so graphic,” she said.
One user wrote that it was the “MOST disturbing and heart breaking thing” she ever watched.
But other fans of the show were quick to come to its defense.
“The point of 13 reasons why is to promote awareness it’s supposed to be uncomfortable to watch,” a user tweeted. “Don’t skip the last episode of season 2 because it’s graphic it needs to be seen.”
The same user added that sexual assault and rape happen in real life and that people can’t “skip over” them.
“We need to continue to bring awareness to the difficult or uncomfortable things no one wants to talk about because those things do happen in reality,” she wrote.
Another user called the season “eye-opening” but advised people to “take those pre-episode warnings seriously.”
Even with the warnings, many said they weren’t prepared for what they saw.
“I know there’s a content warning or whatever on episode 13 of 13 Reasons Why 2, but nothing, absolutely nothing could’ve prepared me for the scene with Tyler and Montgomery in the bathroom,” a person tweeted.
She added that she was “just about ready to throw up.”
In a new after-show called “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons,” people involved with the show, including Yorkey and members of the cast, discussed the new season and addressed concerns. When asked why Tyler’s sexual assault was shown in such a graphic way, Yorkey referenced the idea of attempting to empathize with someone who is completely different from you.
“It was important for us to try and bring the audience over to Tyler’s side a little bit,” Yorkey said. “As brutal as that scene is to watch, I defy anybody to watch it and not feel pain for Tyler.”
Yorkey told the Hollywood Reporter that he hopes the second season will get people talking about the issues presented in the show in “the context of the real world.”
“Our North Star is always to try to tell these stories of these characters in the most truthful way we can, and to follow them in directions that are taking us to issues and themes that are in the lives of kids today,” he said. “[Season 2’s] stories are in the show because that’s where our characters led us, and they’re stories and themes that we felt were really vital to the experience of young people today.”