So, let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why, shall we? Especially now that I’ve discovered the amazing treasure Netflix had waiting for me that is the Spanish show Elite. (There will be much, more more on its magnificence to come, rest assured.)
If you’ve not watched the show–its final season or any of its previous, or still might want to read the book–you should move away at this instant because there are spoilers a-plenty a-coming. You’ve been warned.
I got sucked into this show in its initial season, and even then, it was problematic to me on several levels. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching–even as I rolled my eyes from time to time and hated myself for not switching it off (Really? A box of cassette tapes the kids passed around between each other without anyone outside the group finding out? I also read the book after I watched the first season–and the cassettes were archaic and a jarring note in it, and it was old by the time the show aired). But the young actors were all appealing, it was pretty well written if a bit contrived at times (see box of cassette tapes–oh, and a thirty year old Walkman that still works. Please. I was lucky if one of mine lasted a year), and there were some surprises that caught me off guard, and its sentimentality was actually earned. The show began going off the rails in the second season, sort of redeemed itself (while still off the rails) in its third, and in its fourth–well, let’s just say it was time for the show, its cast, and its viewers to be put out of our collective misery.
Ani, the annoying and insufferable new character they inexplicably wove into the third season to humanize their monstrous rapist/serial assaulter, Bryce, for some unknowable reason, was left out of a lot of the fourth season, and wasn’t a major player at all; so what was the whole point of her character in the first place? Oh, yes, she served as a plot device; the incredibly smart stranger who came into this messy high school, got to know everyone, and somehow got all of them–keeping deep, dark, criminal secrets–to not only confide in her but allowed her to use her intelligence to help them cover up everything and frame a dead kid. To add insult to injury, they bring in yet another almost complete stranger in the fourth season to essentially to play the same role of plot device. This is Winston, the pretty, artistic, dreamy-looking gay boy from Hillcrest–the school Bryce transferred to after his rape trial. If you will recall, Winston hooked up with one of Bryce’s asshole football buddies at a Hillcrest party–this would be Monty, who came to the party looking for Bryce–and then, after the hook-up, beat the shit out of Winston in front of the entire party. Winston and Monty somehow after that became a thing–because yes, I agree; the closet is a terrible place but to self-loathingly beat the shit out of a kid you just hooked up with–and then the kid doesn’t hate and loathe his basher but sleeps with you again?
How is this different from the romance novels where a rape victim falls in love with her rapist?
And falls in love with him, to the point that he decides to give up his education at elite Hillcrest and transfer to Liberty-a much shittier school–to find out who actually did kill Bryce–the murder pinned on Monty, WHO WAS JAILED FOR SEXUALLY ASSAULTING ANOTHER MALE STUDENT WITH A BROOM–since he knows Monty’s innocent. Because he was with Monty when Bryce was murdered.
Sorry, I get that Monty’s situation was terrible. But apparently, in season 4, no one at Liberty has an issue with gay students anymore.
Charlie, Bryce’s nice football player friend, who eventually sees and understand what monsters Bryce and Monty are, is apparently bisexual–although we never saw this before, but apparently everyone knows. Alex, whose story arc of being so in love with Jessica that the thought of everything that happened to her in Season One drove him to try to take his own life? Also is now apparently bisexual–kissing first Zack (but Zack is so gay-friendly it doesn’t affect their friendship at all), then getting involved with Winston, and finally, Charlie woos him against his will and they become a couple–and not only that, they are elected Prom Royalty because nobody at Liberty is a nasty homophobe.
So why the fuck was Monty so deep in the closet and hate himself, and his own desires, so much that he would sexually assault one boy and then physically assault another? IT MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE. Yes, his dad is an abusive asshole and probably homophobic, but truly if no one at Liberty has a problem with it…even Diego, the new football star who came out of nowhere but was also supposedly so close to Monty that he’s willing to try to “date” Jessica to get her to tell him the truth, IS FINE WITH IT WHEN WINSTON EXPLAINS HOW HE KNOWS MONTY DID’T KILL BRYCE. He just shrugs it off as nothing.
And remember–the peeping tom photo of Hannah kissing another girl which was one of the reasons why in season one? If it was not a big deal to anyone, why was Hannah so humiliated? She was mocked; it was yet another major “Hannah is a slut” moment. I guess we’re all supposed to believe that after Hannah killed herself, all these kids at Liberty grew? The ones who never heard the tapes and didn’t know any of the truth about what was happening, or what had happened?
Contrived, contrived, contrived.
Even writing out these brief sketches of things that have happened over the years on this show makes me realize just how ridiculous any of this. But that was part of the problem. The show was this insane, improbable storyline that just kept getting more and more melodramatic and tragic, trying to outdo previous seasons, but with a slightly moralistic tone to it; always pulling back, become a “very special show” like when sitcoms in the 1980’s would try to tackle a current issue and teach a valuable lesson, that inevitably included some inane guest star in an insane attempt to boost ratings and win Emmy nominations. (They rarely, if ever, did.)
And Winston falling in love with his gay-basher wasn’t even the craziest, most contrived part of season four (nor was Alex’s out of nowhere bisexuality; and let me be clear here: I don’t have a problem with bisexuality. But bisexual representation deserves better than what they got here). That would be the sudden discovery that Justin–poor old hard luck, heroin addicted Justin, who had finally gotten his shit together, gotten adopted into a family that loves and accepts him (the Jensen), and even got accepted into Berkeley–has HIV/AIDS after he collapses at the prom, and is dead within a few days.
Yes, as a sex worker and drug addict he was at high risk. Yes, drug abuse can weaken the immune system and the disease can progress even faster as a result. He could have gotten infected from one of his sex-work clients, or from sharing a needle–although it seemed whenever he was using he did it by himself–but even so, in this day and age, a young white teenager with access to health care, even if he was undiagnosed and his HIV had progressed to an AIDS diagnosis, will most likely not die, nor would the hospital and the doctors just shrugged and given him up for dead so quickly. (And don’t think I didn’t notice the lesions that started showing up on his neck and hands and so forth several episodes before; living through the 1980s’s fucking trained me to notice that shit, so I kept thinking, as we went through the last few episodes they better not be giving him AIDS, they better not be giving him AIDS…and guess what? They not only gave him AIDS, but they let him die from it.
And that kind of pissed me off.
Rather than go with a good message for the mostly young audience of the show (get tested! It’s important! Use condoms!) they chose to use this storyline as a scare tactic instead, and further stigmatize HIV/AIDS and those who live with it. They didn’t even emphasize the need for testing to catch it early. Nope, just “you can’t get tested without giving consent” (it’s true still in most of the country),and nothing else.
It just felt…contrived. Let’s kill off one of the main cast as a tearjerker to close out the show and somehow let everyone heal! Bitch, please.
And of course, when Jessica–who may have been exposed–and Diego–whom she slept with and might have put at risk, get tested…they talk about how she and Justin “always used protection.” WHY is so fucking hard to say condoms? It is fucking 2020, call it what it is. CONDOMS. It sounds so forced, so unrealistic, so jarringly wrong to hear a teenager–anyone, really–say “we used protection” when they would say “We used condoms.”
And for the record, condoms aren’t 100% at blocking HIV infection, either.
We deserved better than what we got with this show, and yes, I should have stopped watching. But come on.
Watch Elite instead.