The final season of the controversial Netflix drama suffers from bad writing and no clear sense of narrative purpose.
13 Reasons Why season 4 review — Grade: F
For all its controversies and irresponsible depictions of mental health, the first season of 13 Reasons Why was excellent television. The show built an entire world out of Jay Asher’s far more limited source material, with a stellar cast, strong pacing and superb production values. While many of the pieces that made the show a success remain, the subsequent three seasons have all struggled with the same murky sense of purpose.
Ostensibly, season 4 is supposed to deal with the fallout of the group’s seemingly successful efforts to frame Montgomery de la Cruz (Timothy Granaderos) for the murder of Bryce Walker (Justice Prentice), but the show has to completely bend over backwards to create conflict.
The presence of Winston (Deaken Bluman) as a recent mid senior-year transfer to Liberty High, who had a brief abusive relationship with Monty in season 3 and is able to provide an alibi, complicates this dynamic. Show newcomer Diego Torres (Jan Luis Castellanos), a football player who apparently also cares about the little-loved dead rapist, essentially splits the role of villain with Winston.
But neither Winston nor Diego make particularly compelling antagonists. Both perform fairly silly perfunctory roles that do little but remind the audience of how much better the show was when its two worst characters were still alive. Season 3 narrator Ani (Grace Saif) fares a bit better without as much narrative obligation, but it’s never quite clear why anyone with a half a brain would want anything to do with this train wreck of a social dynamic, especially in their senior year.
Season 4 also repeats some of season 2’s worst mistakes, particularly with the inclusion of ghost characters. 13 Reasons Why has a sick fascination with rehabilitating Monty and Bryce, two morally bankrupt rapists who continue to occupy space in the narrative for little obvious reason. Without flashbacks to rely on, the show instead puts Clay (Dylan Minette) through the mental health ringer in an inconsistent and highly irresponsible manner.
The beginning of the third season focused on the group’s absurd efforts to stop Tyler (Devin Druid) from conducting a mass shooting. As reckless as this approach was, it did function as a method for keeping the group together after all that had happened. That camaraderie is all gone in season 4, for no apparent reason, until it suddenly returns about midway through for Clay to include some jarring speeches about the power of friendship that exist in stark contrast to the earlier episodes. The writing is absolutely terrible.
The show handles many of its leads in inconsistent fashions, having drastic personality changes to fit each scene. There are multiple versions of Zach (Ross Butler) and Jessica (Alisha Boe) present depending on whom they’re interacting with. Much of the cast deliver wooden performances that make them seem entirely checked out from the process. It doesn’t help that practically none of the core cast look convincing as high school students anymore.
13 Reasons Why is the first not to utilize a plot device such as the tapes or murder suspects to frame each episode. For all the ways those tactics stifled the narrative in the past, season 4’s liberation is not the show’s friend either. An episode that focuses on a senior camping trip wields this freer, long-form storytelling, but falls flat in its efforts to build suspense. The show continues to put its characters in unnecessary bleak situations because it doesn’t appear to know what else to do with its time.
13 Reasons Why built a great sandbox full of compelling characters, but ever since season 1, the show has struggled with what to do with them. Season 3 sought to rectify this by introducing a murder mystery centered around its most detestable character, but the suspense can’t cover up the poorly written narratives that have followed its inaugural effort. Some of the pieces that made the show such an uncomfortable delight remain, but it’s too badly put together to make for compelling television.
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Final seasons function best when they’re able to wrap things up while reminding viewers why they fell in love with the show in the first place. Season 4 basically has no routes to pursue either of these missions. Hannah Baker’s story was neatly wrapped up at the end of season 2 and the show relies on shock value far too often to be able to effectively recapture its past narrative magic.
Season 4 is a disaster that betrays 13 Reasons Why’s characters, its only remaining asset. The show has squandered any goodwill left over by its once-charming cast. There are plenty of legitimate discussions to be had on whether or not the show is dangerous for young people, but far fewer to be had regarding whether anyone should spend their time watching this poorly written mess.
The 13 Reasons Why that meanders through season 4 toward its conclusion bears almost nothing in common with the show that once captivated the television landscape. To some extent, that is a good thing, but creator Brian Yorkey never seemed to understand what should fill the gaps left behind be, perpetually unable to deliver on each season’s succulent cliffhangers. Few shows have experienced such frustratingly terrible implosions.
13 REASONS WHYSeason 4 (All Episodes Screened)
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