“I’m about to tell you the story of my life – more specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to this tape, you’re one of the reasons why,” explains teenager Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) in the first episode of Netflix's newest original drama.
Thirteen Reasons Why – based on the novel of the same name by Jay Asher – tells the tale of a young girl who was there and then suddenly gone, through the eyes and ears of her classmate Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette). He’s just one of the many people dealing with the consequences of Hannah's death, and trying to figure out why a vibrant young woman would take her own life.
This sudden and unexpected loss is depicted in powerfully simple sequences: flashbacks feature her standing in the midst of the action, before we return to the same surroundings in the cold Hannah Baker-less light of the present day.
All we’re left with is an empty chair, a black shoebox of confessional cassette tapes on Clay's doorstep, and an endless list of questions Hannah promises to slowly answer from beyond the grave.
13 Reasons Why recaps
There’s nothing we nor the recipient of this potentially explosive package can do but sit back, listen, and wait for a truth that “deserves to be heard and remembered.”
Why did Hannah Baker take her own life?
Obituaries often refer to bright and beautiful young men and women who were suddenly and unexpectedly taken from us, and that’s certainly the line Hannah Baker’s nearest and dearest seem to be following.
Her school is in shock. Her friends are in shock. Even the average viewer would probably struggle to understand where it all went wrong for the smart, funny and beautiful young woman we meet in the first 35 to 40 minutes of episode one.
But her suicide was not, as she tells us, “a spur of the moment decision”. Hannah Baker is dead because people took her “for granted”, and she wants them to realise that.
It all starts with a party that is, in Hannah’s own words, “just a party. I didn’t know it was the beginning of the end.” It’s where Hannah meets Justin, the boy she falls head over heels for and ends up having a fateful rocket slide rendezvous with.
From the moment the flash on Justin’s camera phone, well, flashes, it’s clear Hannah’s dream first kiss is about to become a nightmare. A dodgy picture makes its way to all of her classmates, and while the incident alone isn’t enough to drive her over the edge, it clearly sets the ball rolling.
By the end Hannah didn't even have stickers in her locker, a fact her grieving mother notes with incredulous concern.
What else happened to push Hannah to the point of no return?
Why did Hannah record her tale on cassette tapes?
Clay’s father is one of the first to crack a joke about the “obsolete” nature of the “boombox” in his garage.
Clearly Hannah doesn't see it that way, though, because the cassette tape is her weapon of choice. She believes the task ahead needs to be sufficiently tough for those who must listen. “It’s not supposed to be easy,” she explains. “If it was I’d have emailed an mp3 to you.”
A paper map and a taped confession means there’s “no chance for the interwebs to make everything worse, like it does.” Considering how far it allows one picture of her to travel, we can hardly blame her.
And we'll also welcome any excuse to weave some Joy Division into the mix.
Why is Clay on the tapes?
Hannah and Clay’s relationship is a complicated one, but his actions – at least at first – hardly merit inclusion on the cassette roll of dishonour, do they?
He’s clearly got a crush on his co-worker and classmate, who only has eyes for other guys like Bryce and Justin, and seems to get on with her rather well.
The only hint of discord between the two comes toward the end of episode one, when Clay jumps to conclusions about the picture Bryce sends around the school.
“Sometimes it's better to wait,” he cryptically shoots at her during lunch. An already shaken Hannah doesn’t hold back when letting him know he’s hurt her feelings, before leaving him alone at the table.
Is that how Clay ended up on the tapes? Or could the answer lie in Justin’s first words to our leading man? “You’re not that innocent Jensen,” he spits. “I don’t give a shit what she says.”
Who else has a major role to play in Hannah’s story?
Justin is the subject of the first tape and Clay definitely features at some point, meaning that there are 11 spaces left to fill. Hannah’s former classmates are all understandably on edge, but are some of them hiding dark secrets? And how many of them have already had the chance to listen to her tale?
"We all need to be there for each other at a time like this,” Courtney tells Clay, who seems utterly flabbergasted that she’s even speaking to him. “Some things, y’know, just don’t have simple explanations, right?” Her concern reads as desperation in our eyes. We’re pegging her as one to watch.
And then there's Bryce, the guy who sent the photo using Justin's phone in the first place. Surely he's not out of the frame just yet either?
What’s Tony got to do with the tapes?
Tony seems to know a LOT about Clay and Hannah, but he’s not exactly forthcoming with the answers our boy is seeking.
He says he definitely did not help Hannah take her own life, but he seems to have the inside track on the tape situation.
“Listen to the tapes, Clay,” is his constant refrain. But if, as he claims, he’s not on them, how did Tony end up in possession of the cassettes in the first place?
If you’re asking that question it must mean, in Tony’s own words, that you’re about ready for side two.
Why does Clay and Hannah's teacher Mrs Bradley look so familiar?
Because she's Lane Kim from Gilmore Girls, aka Keiko Agena.