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13 Reasons Why writer defends depiction of Hannah's death

Nic Sheff talks about how his own experience influenced the series.

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While many fans — along with the series’ main cast — are eagerly wishing and hoping for a second season of 13 Reasons Why, there are some viewers and mental health organizations concerned that the Netflix series might have glamorized Hannah’s decision to end her own life, criticizing the show for depicting the act in such a graphic manner. However, a writer for the show, Nic Sheff, has defended the series’ choice to do so in an op-ed in Vanity Fair, relating it to his own experience when he tried to end his life years earlier.

“From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible,” he says. “I even argued for it — relating the story of my own suicide attempt to the other writers.”

He continues: “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.”

Sheff recollects how his inability to stay sober at the time had prompted him to attempt taking his own life, only to remember a story he’d heard in rehab that reminded him that the experience wasn’t as peaceful as it is often made out to be, but rather painful and violent. He attributes that memory with saving his life — and inspired his insistence that they depict Hannah’s suicide realistically.

“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,” says Sheff. “It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all — it’s a screaming, agonizing, horror… So I stand behind what we did 100 percent. I know it was right, because my own life was saved when the truth of suicide was finally held up for me to see in all its horror — and reality.”

This fits in with what author Jay Asher told EW earlier this month about the show’s choice to depict Hannah’s suicide. “They felt for a TV series, if you’re going to watch it, you want to show it as horrific as it actually is,” said the writer of the bestselling 2007 novel, which had almost seen Hannah survive at the end. “So the way she does it, you can’t watch it and feel like it’s glamorized in any way. It looks and is painful, and then when she’s found by her parents, it absolutely destroys them.”

The 10th anniversary edition of 13 Reasons Why is currently available for purchase — order it here — and the television adaptation is now streaming on Netflix.