Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why ended in June 2020 after a four-season run. Here is a ranking of each season following the story of Clay Jensen (Dylan Minette) and his schoolmates at Liberty High School.
Before 13 Reasons Why was a world-famous television series on Netflix, it was a widely acclaimed novel. Author Jay Asher released Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker’s story in 2007. The book and series are very different from one another, for reasons we won’t go into here. Actress and singer Selena Gomez was attached to the television series as an Executive Producer, after previously being in the running to play Hannah Baker for a film adaptation.
On 31 March 2017, a decade after Jay Asher’s novel was published, the show premiered on Netflix. Season 1 starred Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps) as Clay Jensen, Australian newcomer Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker, Christian Navarro (Vinyl) as Tony Padilla and Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy) as Olivia Baker, Hannah’s mother.
As the book’s entire story was told entirely in the first season of 13 Reasons Why, the show began to diverge from its source material in the latter three seasons. Whether or not this was effective is debatable however it is clear that Season 1 and Season 4 are very different, despite being the beginning and end of the same television series.
Listed below is a subjective opinion regarding each of the show’s four seasons. Each individual has different tastes so it is entirely possible that your favourite is hated by everyone else. Or, on the opposite side, your most hated season could be enjoyed by many.
#4: Season 2
The second season of 13 Reasons Why premiered in May 2018, over a year after its predecessor. This was the first season tasked with telling completely original stories now that the show had surpassed the book. All of the regular cast from Season 1 returned, including Katherine Langford, despite Hannah being dead, for reasons that will be addressed later. The primary focus of Season 2 was the court case being contested between Liberty High School and Hannah Baker’s parents, Olivia and Andy.
Unlike last season where Langford portrayed Hannah in flashbacks, she instead plays a hallucination of Clay’s love interest, residing in his mind. A major theme of the season is Clay letting go of his intense grief and moving on, which he accomplished to an extent. However, despite impressive acting from a number of cast members – Minnette, Langford, Walsh and Brandon Flynn (who plays Justin), this season falls short because it had Season 1 to live up to. Had this been a different the show, the story of Season 2 could have been perceived differently. There was also the confusing debate of whether Kate Walsh and Miles Heizer (Alex Standall) shared a wig.
#3: Season 3
Season 3 took 13 Reasons Why into a whole new genre: murder mystery. More so than the previous two seasons, Season 3 could have very easily been switched around with Riverdale and not having many differences. The story focused on the intentional killing of longtime antagonist/proven rapist Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) and determining who did it, as almost every other character had a motive. Two new key characters were introduced as part of the storyline – Bryce’s mother Nora Walker (Brenda Strong) and polarising English-born new narrator Ani Achola (Grace Saif), who had already become acquainted with Clay and his friends during the gap between Seasons 2 and 3.
Overall, the mystery surrounding Bryce’s murder was intriguing and well-executed. There were a few top suspects who definitely could slain the former Liberty High Jock however the culprit chosen by the writers took the show in an interesting direction. Other aspects of the writing were not as strong. As alluded to, Ani was shoehorned into the core friend group without a proper introduction. While this is not the fault of Grace Saif as an actress, she probably could have benefited with more of a set-up for her character.
#2: Season 4
Season 4 is the most recent and final season of 13 Reasons Why. After the intense third season, this was a change of pace from a storytelling perspective. Although not exactly going easy on the characters, one of the reasons why (no pun intended) it’s ranked highly is the storytelling techniques. More so than its two immediate predecessors, Season 4 bears the closest resemblance to Season 1 and how that story was told. Think about: both seasons primarily focus on a specific character and their struggle with mental health. In Season 1, it was Hannah ultimately making the decision to end her life. As for Season 4, Clay is the one struggling. The latter’s therapy sessions with Dr. Ellman (Gary Sinise) are also a major recurring feature of Season 4. Having an actor with the caliber of Gary Sinise onboard is also contributes to this season being viewed favourably.
Although patchy in parts, Season 4 does ultimately do a good job of wrapping up all the major storylines – while also leaving space for more in the future.
#1: Season 1
This placement should come as no surprise, as it has been implied several times throughout this ranking. From a subjective standpoint, 13 Reasons Why was at its best when there was source material to work from. The chemistry between Dylan Minnette (Clay) and Katherine Langford (Hannah) was also very strong and believable, which made what happened all the more tragic. As it was the first season, there were no preconceptions to be had, other than the novel. Each of the actors were starting fresh with their roles, without having to worry about improving or reaching the standard of a previous season.
The story with the tapes was very compelling to watch. Finding out what each character did to earn their place on them added a new piece of intrigue to the story and helped shape the perception to the individual culprits. Referring back to the actors being at the beginning of their journey with the show, the characters were still somewhat empty canvasses that were creatively filled during the following seasons. For this reason, watching Season 1 back can be somewhat jarring, considering how different the atmosphere is.
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