Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s addictive YA novel and executive produced by Selena Gomez, is streaming now, and we’re binge-capping every hour for you. We’re breaking down what happens in all 13 episodes, with one recap per page (so don’t click “Next” until you’re ready for spoilers!), to learn about the events leading up to Hannah Baker’s suicide. The show is dark, but it will hook you. Join us as we listen tape by tape.
EPISODE 1: “Tape 1, Side A”
1. “Hey, it’s Hannah.”
Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) voice opens 13 Reasons Why. She sounds cool, calm, and collected, even though she’s about to take her listener through her painful and heartbreaking journey — a journey that involves 13 recorded tapes, each explaining a reason (read: a person) who had a hand in leading her to commit suicide. She greets her listeners with a set of rules: Everyone must listen to the complete set, then pass it along to the next person addressed on the tapes. If they don’t continue passing the tapes along, a second set of tapes, held by a friend not on the tapes, will be released and all of them will be implicated. Her death is fresh in everyone’s minds at school, to different extents: A pair of students stop for a selfie in front of her locker to post on Instagram, while another, well…
2. Meet Clay.
Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) is a Nice Guy, a floater among high school cliques, more serious in demeanor than the jocks yet cool enough not to be considered a loser. He’s our way in to Hannah’s story, as the latest recipient of the tapes — and he’s a good protagonist to follow as someone who’s better at listening than at chatting. After all, he’s still reeling from what happened to Hannah; we see him flash back when in class (a class being taught by Mrs. Bradley, played by Keiko Agena a.k.a. Gilmore Girls‘ Lane Kim) to an earlier time when he complimented Hannah’s short hair and remarked that change his good. His memory is bathed in warm sunlight; his present is all cool blues. Hannah meant more to Clay than she probably knew: Through his other flashbacks, we learned that the two worked together at the theater, and it’s easy to see how Clay falls for her almost immediately. She’s frank, confident, and candid in their early interactions, teasing him for being a nerd and giving him a nickname.
3. Clay struggles with the tapes.
Clay has some trouble operating his father’s boombox — in his defense, no one uses them anymore — and winds up breaking it when his mother walks in on him listening to Hannah’s first tape. Remembering that his friend Tony (Christian Navarro) has a Walkman, Clay rides his bike to Tony’s house on the other side of town, steals the Walkman, and continues listening. But listening to the tapes will prove harder than it seems. The first one causes him to crash onto a sidewalk, leaving him with a gaping wound on his forehead. “Helmet” could have used a helmet.
4. The first tape is for Justin.
Justin (Brandon Flynn) is a grade-A jock with an irresistible smile, notes Hannah in her first tape. As she puts it, he’s someone who made her happy until he didn’t and became her “kryptonite.” Their story begins at a house party thrown by Hannah’s one friend Kat, who introduces Hannah to the people she’ll need to know at school. Kat’s dating Justin at the time, but that changes soon enough.
5. A party of crushes, connections, and chaos.
Kat’s house party sheds light on several of Hannah’s eventual connections. There’s Bryce (Justin Prentice), head jock and all-around douchebag, who casually hits on her before his attention goes somewhere else. There’s Clay, awkwardly making a rare party appearance and looking far too buttoned-up for the occasion. He’s obviously enamored with Hannah, but Hannah’s attentions have wandered over to Justin and his teammate Zach (Ross Butler), who are wrestling on the ground with the sprinklers turned on just outside the house. Hannah falls hard and fast — but not for Zach, the one Kat recommends.
6. Kat leaves.
Kat moves away before the start of school, leaving Hannah alone to make new friends. Kat’s departure also means that Justin is single, and after receiving Kat’s permission to pursue Justin instead of Zach, Hannah grows closer to her crush. The two are adorable at first: Justin is a stereotypical jock at this point, slow to catch up to Hannah’s wit yet confident in his ability to win her over all the same. He hops aboard a stuffy school bus just to chat with Hannah and only finds her more attractive when she reveals it was a trick all along.
7. A first date…
It’s a teen girl’s dream: a perfect first kiss with the perfect boy. Hannah and Justin meet up at a playground, and after plenty of flirting and fooling around, they lock lips after Hannah goes down the slide in a dress. They’re happy, and in the present, Clay stares at the empty playground, having followed Hannah’s instructions to visit the significant locations she’s marked on a map for her listeners, imagining where things went wrong.
8. …that goes wrong.
Here’s what went wrong: Nothing at all — at least, nothing on that date. Hannah’s sadness stemmed from what happened the day after: Justin boasted of his night with Hannah and revealed that he took an upskirt shot of her as she went down the slide. Bryce then grabbed his phone and messaged that photo to practically everyone at school, embarrassing Hannah and shattering the illusion of a perfect first romance.
9. Tony knows more than he lets on.
By now, Clay is having trouble continuing to listen to Hannah tell her story, but as he hesitates, Tony finds him and confronts him about the stolen Walkman. He lets Clay keep it and reveals that he knows exactly why Clay needs it. See, Tony’s listened to the tapes — he’s helped shepherd them along — and he knows that Clay is one of the 13 reasons. “It’ll only get worse,” he warns Clay, especially if Clay doesn’t do as the tapes say.
10. Clay’s profound change.
All of this scares Clay, who up until now has thought that he was only ever kind to Hannah. The prospect of listening to a dead girl explain why he partly caused her to kill herself isn’t something he or anyone could possibly look forward to — and as he faces what comes next, he remembers something he did…
11. Clay’s first strike.
…He remembers the first time he failed Hannah. When Hannah became shunned by her classmates after the photo spread, she tried to strike up conversation with Clay in the cafeteria. Back then, though, Clay had been jealous that Hannah was so into Justin, and so he dismissed her without asking for her side of the story. He remarked that some people should wait. Hannah held back tears — and present-day Clay is horrified to think back to that memory.
12. Justin gets taken away.
Back at school, Justin appears to finally break. He’s summoned by the guidance counselor and the administration and gets taken away from class. Hannah, in her tape, warns him to stick around for a later tape. A girl, Courtney (Michele Selene Ang), who had checked on Clay earlier in the episode watches as Clay stands in the hallway contemplating Hannah’s story. And just before the bell rings, he sees her, projected from his memory, dressed in white and looking angelic and alive, smiling from down the hall.
13. “Now your mess is mine.”
That image fades as the scene changes and Vance Joy plays and the students rush out of their classrooms and on to their next classes. Clay stands in the middle, unsure of where to go, who to talk to, and what to do about the journey on which he’s embarked.
Right off the bat, 13 Reasons Why has a lived-in, high-school feel, which helps it somewhat overcome its dicey premise. Is it fair for a show to dramatize a novel that, in a way, justifies suicide through concrete, numbered reasons? Is it responsible to create a series of 13 episodes that addictively asks the viewer to hit “Next Episode” to figure out why a teenage girl decided to end her life? These questions aren’t exactly answered, but the series is certainly bolstered by incredible performances from its young cast so far — and if anything, the story is honestly told. In fact, the subsequent tapes only build on the raw hurt and confusion that anyone who went through high school can understand.
Episode grade: B+
Click ahead for episode 2.