Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in ’13 Reasons Why.’
In the Season 1 finale of 13 Reasons Why, the character Hannah Baker dies by suicide. That’s not a shock, given the series’ premise, but Netflix shocked many viewers by explicitly showing Hannah’s death — a decision that has been questioned by many since the show’s release on March 31.
In an op-ed for Vanity Fair, writer Nic Sheff (who penned episode 6) explains why the series chose to depict Hannah taking her own life in front of the camera.
Sheff recalls what drew him to the show, an "opportunity to explore issues of cyberbullying, sexual assault, depression, and what it means to live in a country where women are devalued to the extent that a man who brags about sexually assaulting them can still be elected president." He describes the negative responses and posts by suicide-prevention groups and others who disagree with the inclusion of Hannah’s suicide scene.
From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible. I even argued for it—relating the story of my own suicide attempt to the other writers.
While my reasons for ending my life were far different from the protagonist’s of 13 Reasons Why, there were some similarities. We both experienced a feeling of complete and utter defeat. Circumstances—some extreme and some quotidian—compiled to back us up against a wall with the feeling that nothing we ever did could ever repair the damage done, and that all last traces of hope had been blotted out completely.
Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix
Sheff goes on to describe his own suicide attempt, which he ultimately stops as he remembered a woman from rehab recounting her own painful attempt.
If that woman had not told me her story, I wouldn’t be here now. I would’ve missed out on all the amazing gifts I have in my life today. Because that’s the cool thing about life: if you don’t give up, if you keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, you never know what’s going to happen next…So when it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my own experience. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like—to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.
He goes on to argue that not showing the death would have been "irresponsible," invoking an A.A. practice called "playing the tape" in which alcoholics imagine every step of a relapse in detail.
"I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations, because silence really does equal death," Sheff added. "We need to keep talking, keep sharing, and keep showing the realities of what teens in our society are dealing with every day. To do anything else would be not only irresponsible, but dangerous."
Prior to the publication of this op-ed piece, Mashable’s Rebecca Ruiz wrote a piece explaining why this kind of thinking is problematic.