The controversial series returns with some creative choices that will divide audiences even further, but ultimately succeeds thanks to strong acting, and more fleshed out characters.
Created by Brian Yorkey
This could have been an absolute disaster, and after seeing all 13 episodes, i can safely say Season 2 will divide and piss off a lot of viewers with certain events that happen near the end. That said, do i think its worth watching? Yes. But only if you are already emotionally invested in the characters. If Season 1 has put you off, stop now and turn back.
First off, Season 2 absolutely retreads certain elements from season 1, as is expected. The tapes are gone, but in its place are trial confessions, that bookend and monologue every episode. We follow all the main characters 5 months after Hannah’s death, and focus mainly on their trauma, anger, and struggle to heal. Clay is as angry as ever, tormented by hallucinations of Hannah. Jessica is still struggling with her PTSD, as are numerous characters who are all placed under the spotlight from the trial.
This is an angry, at times brutal season that plays with tone much more ambitiously than the first. There is much more humor, light, and hope, but also a more nihilistic sense of the world. The bullying is far more graphic than it ever has been, and theres an ongoing sense of dread that a new tragedy might emerge at any point. And heres where the problems start.
While season one was all about grief and Hannah’s cry for help, season 2 can’t decide if it wants to tell a story of recovery or a story of hate and revenge. Which isn’t to say the drama isn’t compelling, because it absolutely is! The acting is better than it ever has been, with the entire cast turning in performances worthy of praise. Devin Druid, Alisha Boe, Dylan Minnette and Miles Heizer are just some of the stand outs, turning in some truly emotionally wrenching moments.
Other side characters also get a chance to shine with this additional season. Kevin Porter is far more interesting and his arc to redemption is equal parts satisfying as it is emotional. In fact, the entire plot here is focused on the unraveling testimonies of the students and faculty, bringing more truths to light, while looking for a way to move on. It is focused, well paced and treated with obvious care. That is, until the set up for season 3 begins.
To be perfectly frank, i was actually quite enjoying this sophomore season. Sure, it went down a straight forward path, but it gave us a ton of fleshed out characters with fantastic performances, and avoided glamorizing suicide or sexual assault. Characters like Tyler and Justin were infinitely more interesting, and while the mystery behind the Polaroids is a let down, it was never played up to be the focus of the story. Season 2 seemed to be the story of healing and closure i hoped it was going to be, until episode 13 that is.
Up until this point, i would not call the show gratuitous, or even graphic, but there is a scene here that is just so vile and unexpected, that i’m not sure if the show earns it. Sure, it does not “cheat” narratively and it makes sense given the story, but its executed in such a graphic manner that it borders on sadism. Even more problematic are the events that follow, which ties directly into a cliffhanger that sets up season 3. Personally, it felt cheap. Yes, the subject matter was intriguing and exciting, but to deal with such a serious issue by using it as a narrative cliffhanger left a bad taste in my mouth.
So does it ruin the entire season? Of course not. If you came for the characters, i dont think you’ll be dissapointed. But in terms of handling serious social issues, the series falters at the finish line, and stumbles right when it had the chance to say goodbye. For better or for worse, Season 3 now needs to be in the cards to complete this story, which is a shame since this will only add more fuel to be controversy.