There comes a time when you know you should probably quit a TV show when the quitting is good. But for some inexplicable reason, or maybe not too inexplicable if you’re willing to admit the more shallow reasons for still sticking with a show (i.e. attractive actors), you continue watching even as you witness a show that once had a solid beginning eventually go down a ditch and burst into flames. If 13 Reasons Why Season 3 could be described as a person it’d be a stumbling hot mess who you want to look away from but can’t, watching with morbid curiosity to see how far they’ll make a wreck of things until there’s nothing left to destroy. Spoiler Alert: It’s that and then some.
After Season 2 of Netflix’s controversial teenage drama, adapted from Jay Asher’s novel, exhausted every angle of the Hannah Baker story, Season 3 moves away from Hannah to focus on something else entirely—the murder of school bully and serial rapist Bryce Walker. Season 3 leans heavily on uncovering who Bryce’s murderer is, while also attempting to humanize a largely one-dimensional villain whose purpose up until this point is to be a sadistic and twisted dick of a person to a number of the principal cast of characters at Liberty High.
The 13-episode season is structured like a teenage version of an Agatha Christie murder mystery plot, only very poorly done. Everyone and I do mean everyone is a suspect in Bryce’s (Justin Prentice) murder with each person keeping a secret or two about their last interactions or personal history with Bryce before his untimely end the night of homecoming. Season 3 also introduces a new character named Ani (Grace Saif), a transfer student from the UK, who is also the main narrator to explain the sequence of events that lead to Bryce’s demise.
What can I say about this current season other than it’s a frustrating, melodramatic mess with plot and character developments that are often difficult to believe and swallow? Not much, I’m afraid. This season doesn’t leave many good moments to really comment on. I have a number of grievances regarding Season 3, but the ones I’ll focus on are new character Ani and Bryce’s road to reform.
Being the new girl at Liberty High Ani seems to be integrated into the core group rather quickly. She is somehow very chummy with Clay, Tony, Jessica, Justin and the rest of the gang without any effort. I don’t know about you, but whenever I was the new person in any situation, whether it was a class or work environment, it wasn’t that quick or easy to be friendly and cool with everyone. It usually takes me much longer to get to that point. Even then, I certainly wouldn’t be friends with everyone. Or be sticking my nose in everyone’s business as if it’s my right to know where you were the night of homecoming. In an attempt to make it perfectly plausible that Ani would have a history with everyone, as if she goes way back with them, she is also deeply entangled with Bryce Walker.
Because Ani’s mother works as a live in nurse who is taking care of Bryce’s ailing and bedridden grandfather, this also means Ani is living with the most dangerous predator to have ever walked Liberty High’s hallways. Despite having been warned by Clay and Jessica on separate occasions of Bryce’s true nature, Ani largely dismisses it all in favor of getting to know the poor rich white kid who finds himself isolated, hated, and alone in the world.
The relationship that develops between Ani and Bryce only serves the purpose of trying to show another side to Bryce, one who is filled with regret for the monstrous things he has done and wants to change into a better man. This leads to my other issue with the show.
Season 3 spends too much time trying to present Bryce as a teenage boy who has a lot of good in him, but it’s the circumstances around his upbringing and the toxic masculinity he has been exposed to growing up that made him who he is. Whether we like it or not, even murderers and rapists are human beings but that doesn’t mean I need to start feeling sorry for them either. The moments of vulnerability and pain you see in Bryce is meant to elicit some kind of emotional response, some kind of empathy for the misunderstood rich kid, and yet I felt absolutely nothing watching any of it unfold.
Usually I enjoy watching shows that have a really layered and complex villain. I find those kind of bad guys more fascinating to understand and learn about. Somehow, when 13 Reasons Why attempts to do that there’s something extremely hallow and fake about it. Probably because this sudden display of a softer and gentler Bryce doesn’t line up with how he has been written in prior seasons. The shift is a little too jarring and disjointed for me to find anything credible about Bryce’s redemption journey, especially when it’s quickly undone in the show’s single and most pivotal episode. Why spend 13 episodes trying to present a case for Bryce getting another shot at being someone different than who he was before and then swiftly decide that he’s irredeemable at the end of it? Plenty of the reviews I’ve read on the new season agree with this assessment. If you want to read more reasons why this new season is worse than the last, this article really sums up everything that’s wrong with Season 3 quite succinctly.
13 Reason’s Why has become a painful slog of a show that used to have something to say with the goal of having kids be more comfortable having honest conversations with trusted adults and their peers. Maybe that was the intention in its first season, but then abandoned all of that in favor of being the most shocking and overly dramatic TV show for teens. Basically, it’s like every other show about teenagers I’ve already seen. While the young actors on the show still give strong performances, it’ll never make up for the awful plot and character developments. It’s a shame, too, when 13 Reasons Why used to be one of the more surprising and compelling shows about teenagers.
Reviewer Rating: 5.0/10