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'13 Reasons Why' review: Early episodes feature more talking than action, but content issues remain

The second season of "13 Reasons Why" is

The second season of "13 Reasons Why" is streaming on Netflx Photo Credit: Netflix/Beth Dubber

THE SHOW "13 Reasons Why"

WHEN|WHERE Season 2 now streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Five months after the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), Liberty High can't stop talking about the tragedy -- even if the school administration has forbade any talk because the trial is now going forward. Hannah's parents want to prove the school was complicit in her death, although Hannah's mother, Olivia (Kate Walsh) would prefer to cut to the chase, and charge football captain Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) with her rape. At the beginning of the second season, Clay (Dylan Minnette) is still hurting, but also dating Skye Miller (Sosie Bacon). Meanwhile, Alex (Miles Heizer) is back at school after his own suicide attempt, and so is his close friend Jess (Alisha Boe). They have tough memories of their own to work through. Would-be photographer Tyler (Devin Druid) is called first to testify.

MY SAY The second season of "13 Reasons" had a bear to wrestle with long before Friday's launch. Of course, that was the first season. A chorus of criticism, worldwide in scope, hit this series almost immediately -- that it triggered suicidal thoughts and glamorized suicide. Advisories and warnings were appended. A half-hour special was produced ("13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons") Netflix clearly heeded the backlash. Would the second?  

The answer a qualified "yes." Based on the first two episodes and the final 13th episode, it's clear that content issues remain, and those likely will be disturbing to many viewers. One male character is sexually assaulted in the finale, which sets up the penultimate scene of the season -- one involving a potential school shooting -- and a likely third season. Because the second launched on the morning of another horrific school shooting, this one in Texas, "13 Reasons" could conceivably, if unwittingly, have just unleashed a whole new chorus of criticism. (Netflix canceled Friday night's Los Angeles premiere of Season 2 following the Santa Fe High School shooting that left at least 10 dead.)

But at least over the first two episodes, "13 Reasons" clearly wants address, and redress, the issues raised in the first. If the second doesn't quite walk back the first, it certainly talks some of it back - relentlessly, obsessively, at times regressively.  Talk this season is both a therapeutic prescriptive and plot device. It's a means of addressing the hurt that keeps on hurting, but also a means of pushing the story forward. Who knew what and when did they know it (and if they did know something, whey didn't they say something, or did they have something to hide?)  

Even Hannah talks now. She's no longer the silent stalker, and the pang that insistently jabs at Clay's guilty conscience, standing out there beneath his window. No: She's right there, by his side, or sitting at the edge of his bed. She's not a ghost, exactly, but she's not quite a hallucination either. She's a not-quite-living, not-quite-breathing presence, but nevertheless a comforting presence because -- in a superficial sense --  the horror of her own backstory has been expunged. It's clear that by bringing her back this way, both characters and fans can work their way through the grief denied them last season.  

Hannah's back, so to speak, so everyone can make their proper goodbyes. That seems both necessary and appropriate.   

Moreover, Hannah is no longer the omniscient narrator she was in the first. There's a larger mystery here, beyond Bryce or Porter (Derek Luke) or any of the other culprits named on the thirteen tapes. She committed suicide, but perhaps she was forced to commit suicide, which -- if true -- suddenly makes "13 Reasons" a murder/mystery or thriller. There's almost a "I Know WhatYou Did Last Summer" vibe too -- the mutilated pictures in Tyler's dark room, or the dummy hanging outside Jess's front door with the crude message that warns her not to testify.

But at least based on this sampling, the second also feels suspiciously like a show that has 13 episodes to fill and doesn't quite have the story to fill them. "13 Reasons" had to build a brand new series this season without the simple, and ingenious, architecture that went into building the first.  (Those thirteen tapes, remember?) The result imay be watchable, but also padded, talky, intricate and unnecessarily shocking in at least one regrettable instance. Don't be surprised if there are more.    

BOTTOM LINE "13" takes some of the heat off itself with an over-packed second season that doesn't quite walk back the controversies of the first, but attempts to talk them back. Meanwhile, beware content: There are some shockers here. 

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