This post is about my theories and musings of the characters and events of the fourth series of 13 Reasons Why. I enjoyed this season very much and of course, many spoilers below.
The title of the series is still relevant as even though the 13 Reasons are not all there, the tapes brought them together and created the group for the season. Many of the incidents of season 4 would not have happened if not for Hannah’s tapes. A great full circle moment: the characters, along with Ryan and Courtney, burying the tapes in the hills overlooking Evergreen.
The catalyst of the season is the graffiti of “Monty was Framed” across the administration’s office. I thought that Clay would have been doing it as his guilt was subconsciously coming out and he wanted all his secrets to be out in the open. I thought sleepwalking but the truth of blacking out is more serious than I predicted. I had thoughts that Clay may submit his guilt essay about covering up a murder by accident, but I’m glad that Ani saved him by changing it.
One of Clay’s traits is that he needs to be needed. He feels pushed out a little at the beginning of the season with his parents and Justin. He needs to feel wanted and when his parents shine a little more light on Justin, he feels a little left out. When Tyler calls Clay, he feels needed again. Ever since the tapes, there have been reasons for Clay to be needed for multiple people but after Monty’s death, there was no new crisis until Clay subconsciously created one. Clay needs all his friends focuses together on one thing in their senior year.
Clay is a truly good person as his interactions with Monty and Bryce’s ghosts show. Some may see this as the show trying to humanise rapists or criminals but I see this as showing that no person is one dimensional. These people are still just kids and there are many layers to their actions/ crimes. Everyone has deep issues within themselves. For example, Bryce felt neglected by his father and sometimes his mother so wanted control over girls. He was in a position of power within the school because of his money and being on the football team so he thought many women genuinely wanted to be with him. Then this turned into sexual abuse which is never okay, no matter your history. Many characters such as Tony, Ani and Justin have suffered similar neglect or distancing from their families but have never turned into the person Bryce becomes.
A big part of the show is how Clay related to all the characters and ties them together. Clay feels immense pressure as he has to keep everyone’s secrets. I wonder how fast they would all fall apart if Clay wasn’t there. Ani was the other glue and after she becomes and absent player in this season, Clay starts to fall apart as well as all of the others. Without the glue of Clay and Ani the whole situation falls apart. Another reason for Ani’s absence this season.
As with Monty, he has such a deep disliking of his sexual preferences that stems from his father’s homophobia and possibly a result of his Latino heritage. Again we can compare this with Tony who has the same heritage but his family is loving and supportive and he has had several gay relationships in the four seasons of the show and even lives with his boyfriend in seasons 3 and 4. Monty has internalised homophobia and violent tendencies as his fight with Alex showed. Even when he met Winston as the Hillcrest party, he was unable to enjoy his first time interacting with a guy in that way and had to become violent.
Clay’s reaction to Diego’s prank of the mannequin on the football field showed how Clay may be losing his mind but still has his humanity. Many people would shun and hate Monty and Bryce for this pain and crimes they inflicted on Clay’s friends but Clay still sees them as humans even though they are dead. He saw Monty bleeding and still tried to help him and cried over him. I don’t think any other character in the show has the strong compassion that Clay has. He is one of the only characters to hallucinate the ghosts of Monty and Bryce, and he feels so much guilt even though he had no direct connections to their deaths or crimes. He was never a victim but he absorbed everyone’s pain and carried around their guilt. I believe that if Clay had been on the docks when Bryce was injured he would have helped him and not behaved as Alex did. Although, who knows?
Clay’s psychological issues are the most prevalent this season with his violent outbursts, black outs and hallucinations. This is partially because the series is from his POV but also because of his mental health conditions of anxiety and depression that he admits to in his graduation speech. Clay’s relationship with Ani is something that helps to show Clay’s destruction. He uses Ani as a shield and I think only really dates her as she knows his secrets and is in their group. Not many of the group date outside it apart from Tyler, Zach and Tony. Ani not being present for Clay’s biggest breakdowns was a good narrative direction as he has no crutch to lean on or to get him of these situations.
At the beginning, Justin tells Jessica that he doesn’t want to date her as he is still recovering from his drug addiction. Jessica is not happy with this and becomes jealous when he flirts with the college tor guide. She just wants to be happy with Justin, she doesn’t see how much he needs to be alone as he has never needed that before in their relationship. A part of Justin’s healing process is going to AA meetings for drug addiction. When he sees his football coach there it gives him a boost of empathy.
His past catches up with him after reuniting with Jess and getting into college. His death is the main revelation of this season: the season 1 is Hannah; season 2 is Monty and Tyler. Season 3 is Monty’s death and season 4 is Justin’s. There are five meaningful deaths across the four seasons: Hannah, from suicide after the 13 reasons that are people; Jeff from a car crash caused by the stop sign hit by Sheri and Hannah; Bryce after being attacked by Zach and then pushed in the water by Alex while Jess watched on; Monty is jail after he is labelled a child rapist and Justin from HIV that turns into AIDs after being left untreated. Justin’s death could have been preventable if the HIV was caught earlier which makes it all the more sad. His history of sharing needles for drug use and having sex with men for money while he was homeless is the reason for the HIV. These things could have been avoided if Justin has received better support from his friends such as Bryce who instead lent him money for drugs. Clay became like a brother for Justin after helping him get off drugs. The end scenes in the hospital between Clay and Justin and when Clay reads Justin’s college essay shows how far they have grown as adopted brothers.
Justin’s funeral was used as a catalyst at the very start of the first episode which leaves you guessing who the funeral is for. I guessed Justin or Alex after Alex and Charlie got together. We see Charlie speaking at the funeral in episode two. I guessed Justin or Alex as the death as Charlie is not very close to many of the characters. He would speak at Justin’s as they are on the football team and he is the only true ally left from the team apart from the coach. Zach is absent from the team this year after his knee injury; Diego is Justin’s nemesis in the hand of Jessica and Bryce/Monty are dead. The other minor characters are not close to Justin. I think this was a very good narrative device to give the audience clues about a potential death.
Alex starts out figuring out his sexuality with Winston as he is a new student and doesn’t know his past with suicide and his other secrets. Alex tells him anyway as he feels the need to be honest with potential romantic partners. That is why he then breaks up with Winston on the senior trip as when he finds out that Winston was with Monty, he could not trust himself to keep his secret from Winston and feels guilty for dating him. He claims that he was hurt that Winston was with Monty, a criminal but ultimately he is trying to protect everyone because he knows the guilt will build and he will spill his secrets Alex pushed Bryce into the water, eventually killing him not because he is a violent person but because he felt the pain of Hannah and Jessica so closely. They used to be a group of three and there is a reason that Alex tried to kill himself at the end of season 1.
Charlie had a smaller role in the previous season but becomes a bigger role in this season after his involvement in the Monty secret. He puts himself in harm’s way to help people he barely knows keep this secret. After knowing how Monty has behaved, he does not hesitate to help the gang to frame Monty. He has become a permanent addition to the group. After Diego tells Jess that Charlie is gay/bi, I was waiting for Charlie to have a love interest. No line is ever said for no reason. Charlie is a better boyfriend for Alex as he googles Alex’s condition to help him, gives him cookies and helps him through his panic attacks in the shooting drill. Charlie is quite a shy character but becomes a pivotal part of the gang after getting together with Alex. I think he has had a crush on Alex for some time but was waiting to see if Alex reciprocated his feelings. Charlie seeks out Alex at the party and at the senior camping trip. I loved that Alex went to prom with Charlie and had Clay as a buffer. Winning Prom King and Queen with Charlie really helped Alex to confirm his sexuality.
Winston is determined to find out who really killed Bryce to prove Monty’s innocence so he leaves Hillcrest on purpose to scope out the Liberty kids. After befriending Tyler and Alex for this purpose, Winston accidentally falls for Alex. Winston then starts scoping out the Liberty gang one by one. During the potential school shooting, Winston and Zach are trapped together. Winston buys Zach’s trust with some drugs and after confessing, gets a truth from Zach about the night of Bryce’s death. He teams up with Diego to scare Clay. He suspects Justin then Jessica.
Winston has a small redemption arc when he apologises to Alex after but do we believe him? At first, I liked Winston and Alex together because of my inclination towards gay relationships. Although after reflection, Winston was very dismissive of Alex’s condition and all he had been through. This is in stark contrast to how his boyfriend, Charlie behaves before they have even got together. Winston also talks himself into thinking he’s in love with Monty even though they only hooked up twice. In the prom scene, Winston gets a good talking down from Monty’s ghost. This is a positive towards the character of Monty but as Monty is dead, this is just Winston’s feelings coming out. After finding out everything about Monty, he knows that he would never be allowed to love Monty as he would want. This is proved by Monty beating up Winston after they hooked up.
Zach becomes very self-destructive this season with drinking and having sex with random girls. He feels guilty about almost killing Bryce and then dating his ex-girlfriend, Chloe. Zach also has extra guilt about Hannah and how he treated her. Zach is someone who Alex tries to kiss when realising his sexuality but gently lets him down. A big emotional moment for Zach is when Justin is dying in the hospital and Zach cannot face him. The hospital is where his father died only a few years before and he has bad memories associated with it. Charlie then talks to Zach as his mother also died in that hospital. This shows another reason for his self-destructive behaviour this season. His scene with Alex on the boat and saving Alex from drowning creates a redemptive story for Zach.
Jessica begins the season by trying to deal with her rejection from Justin by dating Diego his antagonist. She thinks that this will make Justin jealous and want her back. She acts a little childish is this aspect of her. Before Justin’s illness is revealed Jessica is playing games with Justin. She is also haunted by the ghost of Bryce as Clay is too. Attention less focused on her this series but her friendship with Ani goes though some patches. After Ani moves in with her, it creates a new dynamic between them. Jessica’s main focus is her campaign against sexual abuse and towards equality. This is very relevant today.