The first season is based on the novel, and like its title suggests it revolves around the 13 tapes (ie “reasons”) that Hannah made before she committed suicide. In the first episode Clay Jensen receives the tapes and begins listening to them; he is not the first to listen to them, nor will be the last. As he listens to each tape, Clay learns more about Hannah’s thoughts and feelings concerning the students they both supposedly knew.
As the episodes and tapes go by, we learn more about the other students, as much as if not more than Clay and Hannah. But, the focus tightens back onto the two of them as we get near the season finale, ending with a brutal and emotional final episode.
For those who watched it when it was first released, it shows on-screen the horrific way Hannah decided to end her life. More recently, the episode has been edited, removing the actual act and cutting (the editing term, also an unfortunate pun) to when Hannah’s mom discovers her in the tub. It’s hard for me to judge if that was the right decision or not (that’s up to mental health professionals to debate); I do know the original scene was emotional, raw, and unlike anything I’d ever seen, including any horror movies. I do believe the scene needed editing, but I think only the actual shots of the suicide act should have been removed; we should still see the pain and perhaps regret in Hannah’s face as it happens.
Jumping off from the events of the first season and the book, the second season is all about the trial of the Bakers versus the school district. Justin has left the school and picked up (or resumed?) a heroin habit, and everyone else is judged not just in court but at school (as usual) and even at home.
Clay is rightfully unable to deal with Hannah’s death, and in his own coping mechanism begins to imagine she’s still around and even talks to him. While some people pick up on it, they don’t really say anything to him about it (at least in this season). It does obviously interfere with his potential relationship with Skye, which ends as abruptly as it began.
Building up to the climax and end of the season, we see a character become more interested in guns, and apparently enough money and ways around the law to start hoarding all kinds of weapons. In the final episode, this character arrives at the school dance, ready to open fire on everyone. Only Clay stands in their way, begging them not to do it and taking the rifle. As everyone else including the potential mass-murderer flees at the sound of sirens, Clay loses any sense of common sense and remains still, the rifle in his hands.
Depending on who you talk to, the third is when the show jumped the shark. After my second viewing, for me it’s a mix of that along with simply getting tired of and burning out on the characters, the excess drama, and other little things I notice more and more of. It also marked the debut of the Ani character, and pretty much anyone you ask will remark on the absolute xxxx of her (including comments such as “Who the hell is this girl and why is she butting herself into everyone’s problems” and “I’m sorry, is she and her mom actually living with a known rapist?”).
Tagging along with Ani, Clay goes around and accuses literally every main character of killing Bryce. Apparently evidence isn’t a thing for him. Later on Clay suddenly becomes a friend to Tyler, who confides in him about what Monty did to him.
There is one remarkable thing about this season, however, that I must mention: it did somehow make me have just the tiniest sliver of sorrow for Bryce. Seeing his interaction with his mom, and going into more depth of that family’s problems, is certainly the highlight of the season. I did like learning more about that, and would get frustrated when it would cut back to more Ani-Clay melodrama.
The season ends with a dramatic reveal of who actually killed Bryce. Showing the actual events, it’s hard to empathize with Bryce; no-one deserves to die, but the fact that even at the end of his life he continued to say such hateful things.
The fourth and final season… Woo boy, how to summarize it… Clay is officially off his rocker, and apparently nothing of consequence happens to anyone. Oh, and Alex is gay (nothing wrong with that, but with zero clue of this in the first three seasons it feels like a cheap attempt to try to further develop his character).
To be truthful that’s all I can recall about this season, and I have no intention or desire to re-watch it. After the first two seasons, this show was starting to over-reach and over-dramatize, and by the end of this season it was just too much to try to comprehend. The first season alone still stands as an example of a near-perfect adaptation, and it alone can be watched and enjoyed. The rest can simply be ignored.
Compared to the Netflix adaptation, the original book is far less dramatic, especially when it comes to Clay. Roughly following the same sequence of events and timeline as the first season of the show, the book focuses on Clay and his reaction to hearing Hannah’s tapes.
The biggest difference in the book is that Clay doesn’t take his sweet-ass-time listening to all 13 tapes; rather, he does it all in one day! Clay will often think back on his fellow students, but there’s never any actual scenes or chapters with them. The only direct interaction he has is with Tony, and even then it doesn’t seem like they’re very good friends, rather just long-term acquaintances. There’s also a brief interaction with his parents, but most of the book is Clay alone with Hannah’s tapes.
Overall I vastly prefer the book to the show, as under-developed as it seems in comparison. More is left to the reader’s imagination, and to make up their own mind of each character mentioned in each tape. I’ve read the book several times thanks to my library’s OverDrive page, and I will likely purchase my own copy (either on Kindle or paperback).