Thursday, May 24, 2018

Prosecuting and defending the big retcon in season 2 of 13 REASONS WHY


The People vs. The Retcon in "The Smile At the End of the Dock."

For the facts of the case, check out yesterday's post.


Ladies and gentlemen of the Court, it is the position of the Prosecution that the retroactive continuity established in Season 2, Episode 6 of Netflix's 13 REASONS WHY, "The Smile at the End of the Dock," written by Julia Bicknell, i.e., the aforementioned mutual-devirginizing of Hannah and Zach (hereafter referred to as "the Retcon," constitutes an egregious continuity breach that threatens the integrity of the entire series. The grounds for such a finding are:

1. It takes a simple, understandable story pillar and complicates it beyond comprehension. In the 11th episode of season one, discussed in this entry, Hannah and Clay start to hook up, only to have Hannah's PSTD triggered but the sexual activity. On the tape, Hannah narrated her breakdown thusly:

"I wanted you to do everything you were doing, so I don't know why my mind took me everywhere else and I thought of every other guy.... and they all became you."

At this point in the series, every contact of a sexual nature that Hannah experienced was some kind of violation or sexual molestation. To a first time viewer, the build-up to Hannah and Clay's hook-up and the subsequent reversal is brilliant because it utilizes all that history to quickly reverse Hannah's emotions in a fast 180 degree turn. It's instantly understandable and clear because OF COURSE she's been trained to have a negative association with that kind of touch.

The Retcon muddies this beyond belief. What was once a carefully built climax now has to account for an entire summer of Hannah being sexually active and enjoying it. Had the creators left the Retcon at merely an unsatisfying de-virgining, the story might have held, but the PTSD that Hannah invokes in the first season has been rendered confusing.

This confusion is even voiced in the show, when Clay wonders why she freaked out with him and not Zach. It's a question that has no answer and because of that, it compromises what was a carefully built and ingeniously revealed climax to the Clay/Hannah relationship in season one.

2. It undermines Hannah's integrity and calls into question the authenticity of what's on the tapes. Zach and Hannah spend months hooking up, getting close and generally being too adorable for words so long as you forget the events that landed Zach on the tapes in the first place. Then he breaks things off when his friends return to town, ostensibly to protect her from being teased by them. Given the scale of what Hannah's experienced, this should be a heartbreak that that rates higher than almost anything else on the tapes up to that point - she let herself be vulnerable and got hurt for it.

But there's not even so much as an allusion to it on the tapes. Zach's "reason why" on the tapes is a pretty severe one, despite what his defenders might say. He lashed out at her when she rightly asked him to leave her alone. Some side with Zach when he says that Hannah brings a lot of pain on herself, with others going so far to call her a bitch, but from her POV, why WOULD she trust the guy who hangs out with jocks who say shitty things about her and who is friends with the guy who just molested her?

Zach does two shitty things, but only one makes the tapes. Clay ends up on the tapes because her story's not complete without him, but Zach gets a free ride on the worse of his two transgressions? It can't be that Hannah limits herself to one tape per person because Justin gets two tapes covering separate points in the timeline.

What reason does Hannah have for keeping this story secret considering she spilling far more intimate and revealing secrets? If we accept this happened as Zach testifies to it, it calls into question everything on Hannah's tapes. There's telling the truth as she knows it and there's deliberately omitting relevant parts of the narrative.

The Retcon is not only a misstep for season two, but it threatens to ruin season one. The damage to Hannah's arc is that severe.

Thank you. Does the defense wish to make a statement?


The Prosecution throws around outrage quite dramatically, but the Defense is ready to challenge those claims. We contend that:

1. Dramatically speaking, the Retcon makes perfect sense within the narrative context for Season 2. Before Clay can move on from Hannah, he needs to move past the pedestal he's put her on. The entire season puts Hannah's perspective on trial and also reminds us that she was a more complicated person than even her tapes reveal.

2. As this is a show that reaches a lot of teenagers and speaks to the authenticity of teenage life, it's commendable that they showed a sex-positive attitude to contrast the slut-shaming common to the genre. Hannah has agency in her sexual choices and is shown to be proud of them. Exploring this and using a beloved character like Hannah to do so is not outside the realm of 13 REASONS WHY. Another excellent point is made by Justin, "Hannah: she sleeps with one guy. She has a crush on another guy, being me, and she kisses a third, being you. And it's whatever, it's all fine, right? All of a sudden, she's a slut? All of a sudden, you don't know who she is?" He notes that he's a player and celebrated for it, so why is Hannah judged for the same behavior?

3. The fact that the show has Clay voice many of the prosecution's own arguments shows that the creators were aware of the discontinuities and apparently were able to reconcile them in their own minds. Clay's anger at Zach does have a jealous twinge to it - which is not unexpected of a teenage boy - but in time it's clear that his anxiety is driven less by the jealousy that Justin calls out and more because the big question in Clay's mind is this: "She lost her virginity to Zach. I mean, Zach. Then, like, a month later, she hooked up with me, and then she freaked out. But she didn't freak out when she hooked up with Zach?

The show clearly wasn't ignorant of the implications of the continuity change. Thus, we have to assume the ambiguity is a deliberate choice and not a mistake.

4. Season 1 cannot be "ruined" by a subsequent plot twist. I checked my Netflix and the season 1 that was released last year is still there, just as it was. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I, like many of you perhaps, was very much disappointed in the Star Wars prequels, particularly Hayden Christensen's portrayal of the future Darth Vader. In my youth, Vader was one of the great villains, and it's difficult to reconcile him with his younger depiction in the prequels. But as disastrous as it may have been, when I watch Star Wars, I don't think about Hayden Christensen or the prequels - Vader remains to me in my 30s the same person he was when I was 7.

By the same token, what Hannah and Clay experience in season 1 cannot be "ruined" by anything in season two. Season 1 will always be what the viewer experienced it as. The prosecution is being typically hyperbolic with this charge.

In fact, the Zach/Hannah revelation barely has any lasting implications for season 2 once it's out in the open.

The defense rests. Does the Prosecution wish to rebut?


Yes, we do. Just to address the Defense points that the topic of sex-positivity is somehow a mitigating factor in this offensive and avoidable continuity violation - it would have been a simple enough matter to relocate the Zach/Hannah affair to a better point in the timeline.

There are three unaccounted for weeks between the party with the aborted Hannah/Clay hookup and the party where Hannah is raped. That would be more than enough time for Hannah to explore her sexuality with Zach, perhaps even doing that as a way of trying to get past whatever triggered her with Clay. True, that would remove the "summer love" of the romance, but three weeks is a long time in a teenage lifespan, and more than enough time for Hannah to develop feelings for Zach and be hurt when he hides the affair.

There were alternatives to making total hash of continuity, and the mere fact that the show acknowledges the inconsistency via Clay's unanswered question does not excuse it.

The Prosecution rests.

So which do you think is the stronger case? If you've seen the show, where do your opinions lie? What verdict would YOU render?

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