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The Final Season of '13 Reasons Why' and the Sad Ballad of Clay Jensen

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 9, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 9, 2020 |


The final season of 13 Reasons Why unintentionally offers maybe one of the best examples ever of white privilege in action in the form of its lead character, Clay Jensen. Minor spoilers here, but over the course of the final season, Clay flips a car after speeding and walks away from the wreckage, no questions asked; he pulls a gun out of a police officer’s holster and waves it around in front of other police officers; he calls his principal a “f**king motherf**ker” while in the vicinity of a number of police officers, many of whom he screams at and pushes; he lights his principal’s car on fire on camera; and he pretends to violently wave a pistol around in a police station. For all of those offenses — and probably several more I’m forgetting — Clay Jensen serves no jail time; he is never arrested; and the worst consequence he faces, basically, is that his sessions with his therapist (Gary Sinise) are upped from once a week to twice a week.

In fact, that about sums up Clay Jensen’s “hero’s journey” in the final season of 13 Reasons Why, which doesn’t so much resolve the series’ outstanding issues as it farts its way through ten episodes and limps toward a sad conclusion like a deflated Michael Cera balloon. The first half of those episodes feel more like a bad PG-13 horror movie, as the series tediously tracks Clay while he struggles with “frightening” visions of Monty and Bryce’s ghosts taunting him.

See: No one — and I mean no one — has suffered from other people’s trauma more than Clay Jensen. WHO WILL THINK OF CLAY?! Granted, he didn’t commit any murders; he didn’t suffer from drug addiction; he was never raped (as several other characters have been over the course of the series); he never almost shot up his school because he was bullied and sexually abused by another classmate; nor was he even particularly responsible for Hannah’s death, but the real victim here is Clay Jensen, the suburban white kid with the great family and 412 second chances.

There’s not a lot of narrative thrust in the final season. There are no tapes or journal entries to be used as a framing device, although there is a funeral for one of the major characters that frames the entire season (I won’t spoil it, but woo boy).

In the final season, new kid Winston — who we discovered last season was the boyfriend of the violently homophobic Monty — moves into town and makes an effort to discover who framed Monty for Bryce’s murder. Likewise, the new captain of the football team, Diego, endeavors to find out the same, although it is unclear why anyone is that interested in clearing Monty of the murder of a serial rapist when Monty himself was killed by an anonymous attacker while in prison for the rape of Tyler with a broomstick (this show is a lot). But nearly everyone on this show — even the some of the victims of both Monty and Bryce — insists that they were good people when they weren’t monsters and that they didn’t deserve to die.

Agree to disagree.

Justin, meanwhile, breaks up with Jessica for no real reason other than Justin thinks it’ll help him stay sober (it doesn’t) and so that Jessica can date Diego. She sleeps with Deigo to ensure that he doesn’t figure out it’s Alex who killed Bryce. Tony’s storyline this season mostly amounts to keeping an eye on Tyler — who may or may not be contemplating shooting up the school again — and maybe going to college on a boxing scholarship. Justin is also trying to get into college while maintaining his sobriety; Zach is completely adrift and spends most of his time getting wasted and sleeping with randos (including a prostitute he brings to prom). Meanwhile, Ani — who was basically last season’s co-lead — is reduced to a mostly minor character this season (likewise, two earlier season characters who I’d completely forgotten about, Ryan Shaver and Courtney Crimson, return only briefly for the finale).

Finally, there is a timely storyline this season concerning efforts to rid the school of its school resource officers, who spy on and endanger the students all in the name of “safety.” It’s the kind of storyline that, if school were in session now, and given the current climate, it might have actually done some good in spurring other schools to demand the removal of SROs, a movement that had started to gain some steam before the pandemic. As it is, however, it mostly acts in the series as an impediment to prom, because despite all the very dark, violent, and abusive problems in 13 Reasons Why, it is still a show about teenagers, believe it or not.

It’s not a very good one, though, and its fourth season is the weakest of a series that’s been fading since the outset. There’s no revenge story here; no real mystery; and no one gets their comeuppance. It drifts until the shocking death, which erases most of the storyline that came before it, or at least reduces it to an afterthought. The important thing here, however — and spoilers — is that Clay is going to be OK, y’all. He’s going to be just fine.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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