The 2017 Netflix teen drama 13 Reasons Why has one of the most disturbing energies I’ve ever picked up from a TV series.
With the recent “shock” trailer for Season 3 just dropped–and a fourth and final season announced–I thought I’d revisit some of the strange resonances of the original…
Quick recap of what Season One was about. Hannah Baker has been bullied and raped and decides to kill herself, but before she does she leaves behind a set of audiotapes describing everything that happened. When the show opens, protagonist Clay Jensen has the tapes and is just starting to listen to them. There’s also a conspiracy of students in the school trying to stop the information from getting out.
I. The Craft, Donnie Darko, and Kurt Cobain Resonances
Right off the bat, you need to know that the the three main characters in 13 Reasons resonate—I believe intentionally—important figures in creepy/”dark” pop-culture:
Hannah Baker strongly resonates Sarah Bailey from The Craft—she looks like her, they both encounter bullying in school, and both characters slit their wrists. In fact there are a number of scenes in 13 Reasons which even shot-for-shot could have been lifted/homaged from The Craft.
Hannah/Sarah both are starting a new school when the story opens, fleeing a troubled past at their previous school. Both are initially the victims of vicious rumors started by a jock they briefly dated, humiliating them at the school. Both make friends with other “outcast” types—but these new friends end up betraying them. Hannah then gets raped by a classmate, and Sarah is the victim of an attempted rape. And then there are the wrist-slitting scenes, which are very similar.
Of course, in The Craft, Sarah gets revenge by using magic; as we will see later on in this post, Hannah also uses a kind of magic to inflict revenge…
Then there is Clay, who looks like Donnie Darko. He dresses like Donnie Darko, he is disillusioned like Donnie Darko, he starts to act erratically like Donnie Darko, he even has a scene about his medication like Donnie Darko. He has numerous scenes in a movie theater, which is reminiscent of that famous scene of Donnie in the movie theater with bunny Frank.
And there’s even an important iconic bunny in the show itself:
But the fact that Clay=Donnie Darko is driven home by the filmmakers by prominently using a version of “The Killing Moon” which of course is from the movie Donnie Darko.
So in 13 Reasons, the dead Hannah acts like Frank, being Clay’s “hallucination” that literally dictates to him to do things. (Essentially: Hannah is Clay’s “Pooka”)
Lastly, the character of Alex Standall is CLEARLY based on Kurt Cobain. He’s a blond musician with suicidal tendencies of his own & easy access to guns; he even has recurring severe stomach pains, which is exactly what Cobain had. Lastly, it’s reported at the end of the series that he has what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. (The anniversary of Cobain’s suicide was also around several days after the premiere of 13 Reasons)
Why is pointing out these resonances important? I’ll discuss later.
II. Audio Tapes As An Occult Device
Hannah’s use of “old school” audio tape technology is very interesting in light of the “cutup” magic author William S. Burroughs (who once worked with Kurt Cobain) used to use. The story goes, that once somebody at a London coffee house—so he did this magic ritual with an audio tape to get revenge. From an Open Culture article on the incident:
“…on several occasions a snarling counterman had treated him with outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy, and served him poisonous cheesecake that made him sick.” Burroughs “decided to retaliate by putting a curse on the place.” He chose a means of attack that he’d earlier employed against the Church of Scientology, “turning up… every day,” writes Watts, “taking photographs and making sound recordings.” Then he would play them back a day or so later on the street outside the Moka. “The idea,” writes Morgan, “was to place the Moka Bar out of time. You played back a tape that had taken place two days ago and you superimposed it on what was happening now, which pulled them out of their time position.”
Is this not what happens to Clay in 13 Reasons? He listens to the tapes, and literally—as a narrative device through the entire show—is “pulled out” of his “time position,” bouncing back-and-forth between the present and the past.
Hannah’s tapes—utilizing the powerful number “13”—are essentially a revenge ritual in the manner of Burroughs. They are like a “contagion” of a type, that throws the lives of the people who listen to it into chaos. It is a chaos magick device. Hannah sort of acknowledges this concept when she speaks of the “Butterfly Effect” in the context of her and her classmates’ misfortunes.
III. 13 Reasons Why/Bruno Borges Syncs
I might be stretching here, but I do think it’s interesting that several days after Brazilian psychology student and apparent occultist Bruno Borges disappears—leaving behind 14 cryptic books—13 Reasons premieres on TV.
Let’s very briefly recap the Borges story: He completely drops off the face of the Earth, leaving behind tearful worried parents, setting up an elaborate altar in his room along with these books. Those books? Those books are his “14 Reasons.” And note that by the end of 13 Reasons, a 14th reason (Bryce’s confession) is added.
It’s just a bizarre sync to me. This guy, in a sense, might have pulled off in reality what Hannah did only in fiction—and in the process, having everybody obsessed with his story.
Plus, the date of both the premiere and the discovery of Borges’ disappearance are close to the anniversary of a very significant suicide case in the public imagination: Heaven’s Gate. (And then there’s the whole larger “New Fatalism” phenomenon around that time period…culminating with both Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington committing suicide just a handful of months after the premiere of 13 Reasons Why. Which–when you consider the Cobain resonances in the series–is about as creepy as it gets!)
IV. 13 Reasons Why/Happy Days Resonances
Here’s another weird sync I encountered after binge-watching 13 Reasons until 4 in the morning in 2017—I woke up to the news that Happy Days star Erin Moran was just found dead at the age of 56.
I definitely picked up upon the initially improbable resonances between the 70s/80s teen sitcom Happy Days and 13 Reasons—focusing a lot on the character of Tony, who is literally the “Fonzie” character of that show. He has a leather jacket like Fonzie, his hair looks like Fonzie, he acts like Fonzie, and the relationship between himself and “clean cut” Clay is very much like the famous Fonzie/Richie Cunningham friendship.
This all leads back to the tragic story of Erin Moran, who had multiple misfortunes since the end of of Happy Days, including drug addiction, poverty, and a particularly painful breakup between her and co-star Scott Baio.
Like Hannah, she was abandoned/shunned by many of her former cast members. Like Hannah, the only person who tries to stick by her at the very end of her life is the “Fonzie” character—literally Fonzie actor Henry Winkler (who tried to get her to guest-star on Arrested Development)
Certainly, a “13 Reasons” could be done of her life? Is she not the Hannah Baker of the Happy Days mythos?
V. In Conclusion
When 13 Reasons Why first came out, there were a LOT of concerns that it would spark “copycat suicides.” According to Google queries 19 days after the show launched, there were between 900,000 and 1.5 million more searches than usual regarding the topic of suicide. In addition, a couple of families did claim their children were “triggered off” by the show to commit suicide.
It should also be noted that there was another last-minute sub-plot at the end of Season One that touched upon mass school shootings—that of Tyler, the outcast who apparently had a Columbine-level arsenal in his room.
There were rumors that season two of 13 Reasons Why would center around Tyler picking off his fellow classmates one-by-one, and/or him having some sort of Columbine-type meltdown. Instead, the second season focused more on the issue of sexual assault—even Tyler himself getting raped at one point—and ends with him considering a school massacre but getting talked out of it. Certainly, the recent school shooting tragedies, as well as the rise of #MeToo, lent some influence here.
Do I think very specific people get “triggered” and set off by this type of content? Yes. I absolutely do. And I think it’s not merely a psychological issue, but also a sort of spiritual one.
Because keep in mind the metatextual aspect of this show that blurs the line between fantasy and reality: the idea that Clay must listen to each tape, with each side of the tape=one episode of the series. Tony keeps repeating this to Clay, that he must get through all the tapes (episodes).
Also, we go back to the resonances and homages to other pop-culture figures within the show. Every resonance carries with it a “built in” set of “links” and associations—and this, at least according to metaphysical thought, is powerful stuff.
Lastly: because of the way Netflix releases its new TV shows, all the episodes get “dumped” online all at once. So in theory, you could have binge-watched 13 Reasons (as I did in 3 separate parts). Watching 6 or 10 or 13 episodes of something in a row? That’s powerful stuff—that’s ritual-level stuff.
Being immersed in a fantasy universe for 13 hours—possibly in a row—cannot help but lend you, at least temporarily, some level of altered-consciousness.
As for Season 3…per its trailer, the main theme will the murder of rapist/bully Bryce Walker (already fans of the show are cheering his demise).
Now, we’ve seen that Season 1 encapsulated/resonated the “zeitgeist” of that year–suicide. Season 2 focused on sexual assault, the same time #MeToo revelations were constantly in the news.
So the question is…what zeitgeist will Season 3 resonate?
13 Reasons Why season 3 debuts August 23rd of this year.