Season two picks up five months after the events of season one. ‘The First Polaroid’ shows the start of The Trial of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and Tyler (Devin Druid) is first to testify. Clay (Dylan Minnette) is starting to hallucinate about Hannah and this whole season is about the fallout of the tapes but also how characters are truly starting to unravel, psychologically, including Mr Porter (Derek Luke) confronting Bryce (Justin Prentice) in the boys’ bathroom about raping Hannah. Clay finds a Polaroid picture in his locker saying Hannah wasn’t the only one which sets the precedent for the season, as Clay and company aim to see Bryce convicted for what he did.
No single adjective can describe how I felt watching season two. After the negativity from viewers surrounding it, I did my utmost to have an open mind and it was something to look forward to after the first season. Whilst ‘The First Polaroid’, ‘Two Girls Kissing’, ‘The Drunk Slut’ and ‘The Second Polaroid’ are slow, they seamlessly placed me back into this world, a world of bullies, secrets and judgement. A world where talking about your trauma and mental health is seen as weakness. This is very much a place where anyone who has been to secondary school / high school will find some frame of reference, as many of us will have come face to face with our very own Bryce Walker.
There’s no denying that Netflix’s series, based on the Jay Asher novel, is divisive. More so this season, which is a continuation of the novel. Creator Brian Yorkey, much akin to what Bruce Miller did with The Handmaid’s Tale, has extended it past the book. We have gone beyond the story of Hannah Baker, as we are now in the aftermath of the tapes and her death by suicide. We see how her death is impacting her friends, family and local community. From the mid-season to the finale, season two is relentless and like season one it doesn’t spare our emotions in how it shows that bad things happen to good people, and even the best of them have their limits and breaking points.
Season two is raw, placing past traumas and tragedies under the microscope, at the scrutiny of lawyers who didn’t even know Hannah or the school community. They’re very much outsiders in this but they have to make a case for or against the school being complicit in Hannah’s suicide. And like lots of cases, people like Jessica and Tyler have to relive what had happened to them, putting their dirty laundry on display. “Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it not” says Zach (Ross Butler). “Sometimes a kid gets roughed up” and that’s just the norm for children and young adults today when it shouldn’t be. Our schooldays should be some of the best of our lives.
Jessica (Alisha Boe) and her arc with coping after her rape is harrowing, but is my favourite in the show. She is one of the major acting linchpins of both seasons along with Justin Prentice’s performance as Bryce Walker. Season two is her journey, it’s one recovery and peace of mind within herself. A story arc that I believe the writers did with sensitivity. Seeing her attempt to move on was one of the most emotionally stimulating arcs in not just any Netflix series but on television today, period. It’s a story arc that very much deserved appraisal and acclaim, truly showing that recovery from any past trauma, be it rape, a car accident or domestic abuse, takes time.
The story of Clay and Justin (Brandon Flynn) is another great aspect of the season, showing that that it’s okay for guys to care for one another. Their story didn’t begin well but that growth was a joy to see, as Clay with the assistance of Tony and Sheri helped Justin get clean. Additionally, Tyler is an example of what can happen when bad things happen to people with issues. He was systematically bullied and asked too many questions, then was sexually assaulted with a broomstick handle in the boys’ bathroom, ending his arc with Clay talking him out of committing a school shooting. Both Justin and Tyler had a thread of “Bad Days” sending them over the edge.
It’s hard to watch this show and not look at how they treat race; one of the few problems I had with season one was how they treated race like a dirty object. They simply avoided talking about it but racism and race is still a problem today, very much in secondary school. Nobody dared to critique how race plays into the rape of dual-heritage Jessica (Boe). Also, Sheri (Ajiona Alexus), an isolationist teenager who is Black and woman, constantly being looked at through the Male Gaze. Then there’s Marcus Cole (Steve Silver). Him being a Black man in a majority white high school is explored, especially when he’s told to forget about Bryce; after all Bryce’s privilege will protect him.
Watching Bryce in both season one and season two and then the eventual season-two finale, is so synonymous with what today we call ‘White Privilege’, and he knows he’s got it so he flaunts it and squeezes until there’s nothing left. Bryce Walker simply reminds me of Brock Turner. When Bryce is called to stand and he’s confident he’ll get away with it. “Boys like Bryce have protectors and enablers to help them get through life” says Olivia Baker (Kate Walsh) and this also speaks to the privilege that comes with a certain colour bar but moreover, the class privilege of being rich and white at the same time, as was the case with the notorious Brock Turner 2016 case.