Clay Jensen and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I’ve just finished the second season of 13 Reasons Why, and overall I am happy with how the writers and producers handled the issues season one created. Regardless if you watched the Netflix show or not, it started a conversation about mental health and toxic environments that did not exist in popular culture before. That does not mean that we should watch this show without criticism. If anything, it invites more of a critical lens so we can continue the conversation.

Season two follows the trial between Hannah’s parents and the high school, which they believe is responsible for not aiding Hannah when she asked for help. One overarching plot point bothered me, and I wish they had addressed it more: Clay’s visions of Hannah. I think the writers left this unresolved because they want to handle it in season three, but that worries me because how long can a show like this go on without abusing the spotlight?

Hannah was the center of season one, and the aftermath of her suicide is the focus of season two, so it only makes sense that the writers would incorporate flashbacks and other devices to include Hannah. However, one of those is through Clay’s eyes. Throughout the season Clay’s version of Hannah is shattered each time another classmate testifies in court.

Clay is obsessed with Hannah, and he’s ready to blame everyone for her death, including himself. His obsession continues in season two, interfering with his relationship with Skye, and the other people around him. Season two intentionally shows us who Hannah was when she wasn’t around Clay, who was  the through line for most of season one. I think this element was well done. Clay stands in for the audience to a certain extent, and the writers need the viewers to understand that Hannah was not perfect, but she did not deserve to die because of those imperfections.

Breaking down the idea of manic pixie dream girls has been a theme in several young adult novels, movies, and TV shows. The idea of the manic pixie dream girl establishes that the girl is there simply to be unique and save the boy of his boring life or whatever ails him. Clay wants to save Hannah and Skye, but only receives full closure with Skye, and even that scene left me wondering if he truly understood her wishes.

I hated that every time Hannah spoke to Clay I had to remember he was just talking to himself, just jumping to a conclusion. Clay doesn’t know what Hannah would think, he is fabricating scenarios based on the little he knew about her. He builds different versions of her after each testimony, too, and it’s strange. She behaves in extremes, taunting him in some circumstances.

Clay talks to the Hannah he sees, but we have to conclude that it’s more than a metaphor. Clay is actually seeing Hannah and believing she’s there. I only saw one or two situations where people caught Clay talking to Hannah, and it wasn’t really addressed.

I have issues with this presentation because while I might understand it’s a metaphor, the general public might not. If there is a season three, and they do not address that Clay is having visions of someone who is not there, I will be livid. 13 Reasons Why balances on the conversation about mental health, and to pretend that Clay’s struggle with a serious problem was solved with the end of the trial is ridiculous, and harmful to real people watching this show.

13 Reasons Why is not a perfect show, and season two introduced a few problems that need to be addressed. The real shame will be if Netflix uses each season of this show as a cliffhanger for another mental illness. Please, show more young adults reaching out for help and receiving it. I want to see Clay go to therapy for what he’s been through, and stop self medicating.

Netflix has chosen to take on a responsibility when they produced 13 Reasons Why, and I hope they can do the  right thing with resolving these stories before extending it just to make money.

[Photo courtesy of IMDB]

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