13 Reasons Why Season 2 is tone-deaf to school shootings

Hanna Flint
13 Reasons Why depicts an inflammatory school shooting narrative
13 Reasons Why depicts an inflammatory school shooting narrative

WARNING: This article contains spoilers from 13 Reasons Why season two

13 Reasons Why was meant to have a premiere on Friday, as the series went live on Netflix, but it was cancelled at the last minute because of the Santa Fe shooting.

I was a bit confused as to why it was cancelled because the two incidents seemingly had nothing to do with each other; 13 Reasons Why season one centered on a teen girl’s suicide while the second season was supposed to focus on sexual assault too. However, after watching the latest episodes of the high school drama it became clear that a thwarted school shooting was an addition to the storyline.

Kudos to the premiere organisers for making the good call to cancel it, but bad call on the writers who thought this was the right way to handle such a narrative, which revolved around student Tyler Downs.

In season one, Downs – played by Devin Druid – was outed as stalking Hannah Baker and sharing photos of her kissing classmate Courtney around the school. In season two, by the final episode “Bye,” Tyler has strapped himself up with three handguns and an assault rifle ready to shoot up the prom.

Guns are glorified in season two of 13 Reasons Why
Guns are glorified in season two of 13 Reasons Why

Now I’m not opposed to using current affairs as plotlines in TV shows; The Good Fight doesn’t go an episode without mentioning Trump and Grey’s Anatomy just did their own Weinstein storyline but with Harper Avery instead. What am I opposed to is a show trying to make you sympathise with a school shooter, and 13 Reason Why’s creator Brian Yorkey, with his writers, has provided several reasons why you might.

Tyler gets shunned by several of his classmates, turned away from Alex’s party by Zach, mocked for ejaculating while on a movie date with Mackenzie, and his best friend Cyrus ditches him because of both the treatment of his sister and getting them into trouble over vandalising the baseball field. Then to top it all off, the writers added a scene depicting Tyler’s disturbing sexual assault as the final catalyst for his attempted mass shooting plan.

By giving the viewers these reasons to sympathise with Tyler the writers are inadvertently suggesting we should sympathise with mass shooters too. The Santa Fe shooter, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, is said to have gone on a killing spree after he was rebuffed by classmate Shana Fisher. Should we feel sorry for him? No. Nikolas Jacob Cruz, the Parkland shooter, was described by one outlet as “lost and lonely.” Should we sympathise with him? NO!

Many viewers have taken to Twitter to share their disappointment at the shooting storyline:

And this one person made an excellent point about how the attempted school shooting was handled.

Is this show really suggesting that a teenager, who has just told his friends not to call the police, could talk down a school shooter without injury? That’s a ridiculous message to send out into the world.

What many organisations have suggested is that the media should stop sharing details about a mass shooter, their manifestos and social media posts that create a profile of them, like the way this show creates a profile for Tyler. This is so that their actions aren’t normalised or inspire like-minded individuals to follow suit. Both Don’t Name Them, a joint effort by Texas State University and the F.B.I., and No Notoriety, (founded by an Aurora shooting victim’s parents) think this is one way to stop the Contagion Effect of mass shootings. This 13 Reasons Why season does nothing to help that.

The sympathetic breadcrumbs in this season’s narrative arc, the final image of Tyler dressed in all black pointing an assault rifle at Clay, and being stopped by him, are completely tone-deaf to the culture of mass violence that is endemic in the US. It’s also a giant leap from the original intention of both the show and Jay Asher’s novel it is based on: to provide a comment on bullying, sexual assault, and suicide in high schools. By shoehorning in this inflammatory school shooting plotline the narrative serves nothing more than as an exploitative use of traumatic current affairs which triggers more viewers than it raises any sort of meaningful awareness.

It seems pretty clear that Netflix will be renewing 13 Reasons Why for a third season, and it will likely follow the aftermath of Clay stopping Tyler from his killing spree. Hopefully, the writers will take more care in telling that season three story than it did in season two.

’13 Reasons Why’ viewers disturbed by sexual assault scene
‘Lost in Space’ renewed for season two
’13 Reasons Why’ cast feel responsible after backlash