13 Reasons Why boss talks polaroid mystery, complicating Hannah's story in season 2
When Hannah Backer left behind 13 tapes, she was able to tell her story, and that’s exactly what we got in season 1 of 13 Reasons Why: Her story. But she wasn’t the only person talked about on those tapes. And she wasn’t the only student at Liberty High School with a story to tell. That’s the idea behind season 2 of the drama, which will see other characters get their chance to speak up.
With the announcement of the show’s upcoming return, EW hopped on the phone with 13 Reasons Why showrunner Brian Yorkey to talk about crafting a second season of the hit Netflix drama.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In season 1, you all were adapting the book. But now that you’ve outgrown the source material, so how did that affect crafting season 2?
BRIAN YORKEY: Obviously it’s a challenge because you don’t have the safety net of the book to fall back on, but at the same time it was very freeing because we said, “Okay now we can follow the story wherever it takes us and let’s talk about what would happen next and what is interesting and exciting to us and what story do we want to tell?” So it was liberating and it was terrifying in the way that liberating things can be.
Coming out of season 1, did you purposefully want to make season 2 feel different? Were there certain things you knew you wanted to keep or change?
One of the things we talked a lot about was second albums and the sense that there’s that old line: You have your whole life to make your first album and six months to make your second album. Certainly we had more time than that, but we had made a first record that ended up being a hit record and so you do wonder how you follow it up. I think you do a few things: 1) You try to stay as true as you can to the reasons why you started telling the story in the first place and you try to keep telling the story as truthfully as you can. 2) You don’t tell the story that you told season 1. And you don’t make season 1 again. I kept saying this, and I would have to remind myself and everyone around me numerous times and say, “We made season 1, we’re not going to make season 1 again. This is season 2 so it’s going to be different.” And I know that people are going to have vastly different feelings about it because that tends to be what happens with our show and that’s also good. The worst thing we could do in making a season 2 is set about trying to replicate, in any way, the success of season 1, except in the core idea that we are going to try to continue to tell the stories of these characters, have them encounter issues and themes that are relevant to young people today and to do it as truthfully as we could. That was our guiding force.
What do you feel is the biggest difference between the seasons?
The biggest difference is in season 1, Hannah was telling us her story, we were experiencing it with Clay, and it was the central monolithic story of the season — her story, where it ended, and how that fell out in the present day. Season 2 is very much more about everyone else’s perspective on that story — their side of the story, their reaction to it, their coming to terms or refusing to come to terms with their role in Hannah’s life and death. For that reason, the season is more diffuse in a way. There are more perspectives involved. It’s a wider range in some ways than season 1. That was very intentional and it’s a different flavor in the same world with the same characters.
In season 1, you all touched upon the fact that Hannah wasn’t perfect and that her story wasn’t necessarily the only truth. But in season 2, now that we’re hearing other people’s stories, how does that idea continue to develop?
We’re always very aware that this is a show that we want to resonate and be important to young viewers, and one of the things we wanted to do in season 2 was complicate everybody’s understanding of Hannah. Because Hannah is not just a victim and she is not just a victim in the way that she told us she was. She didn’t tell any lies necessarily, but she had a very specific story she wanted to tell us season 1 and there’s much more to that story. The things we learn are going to complicate your understanding of who Hannah was and of her journey in some ways that are dark, in some ways that have a lot of light to them. Hopefully, at the end of the season, the viewer will say, “Hannah was much more complicated than we knew season 1.” There are things that contradict her narrative of her life and the reasons she chose to die by suicide. There are many complications and complexities to that story, many more than we knew at the end of season 1. All that being said, she didn’t deserve to be raped, she didn’t deserve to die. So in some ways the picture is more complicated but the upshot of the story is the same.
Because season 2 does allow you to get to know some of the other characters more, was there one character in particular you were most excited to explore further?
I find all of them really, really interesting and my hope with every one of the characters is to try to continually surprise and unfold them in a way that makes us realize we thought we knew who they were and there’s actually more to learn. But specifically, I find Zach to be a really interesting character, and I think he’s the kind of character who could very easily be slotted into a certain type and certainly he is complicit in that to some extent because his identity as an athlete is very important to him. But I think that there’s a moment in season 1 where Hannah says in his episode, “I have this theory, I think you’re lonely too.” That always was one of my favorite lines because I think that that’s one of the secrets that no one knows about Zach is that he’s lonely and that he has a tangle of emotions inside of him that not many people get to see. I think we get to see them a little bit more in season 2 and I found that really interesting and I was very glad to be able to explore that. I find him really compelling and sometimes even heartbreaking.
What was the idea behind Olivia’s new haircut?
It was a conversation between Kate [Walsh] and myself. Kate was like, “I wonder if she changes her hair, I wonder if she chops her hair off.” We talked about it and we thought it would be really interesting and also, it’s helpful to distinguish present day Olivia from flashback Olivia. It felt like an interesting character move. She means business. She’s got no time for this beautiful hair, she’s got a trial to win.
As the trailer hints, there’s a new mystery this year, and it involves polaroids. What was the thinking behind keeping the mystery element of the show in season 2?
We talk a lot about the identity of the show amongst the writers and we think that if there’s a way to craft a mystery that drives especially Clay forward — looking for answers and then in looking for the answers he learns things about the people around him and he learns things about himself — that opens up these emotional stories and these character stories for us. A mystery at the center gives us this forward momentum or a story engine if you will. What I love about season 2 is that there are these different pieces to this mystery. The threads of this mystery, like who’s doing this and why and how does it relate to Hannah Baker and how does it relate to what Jessica went through, it all comes together in the later episodes in a way that I think is really satisfying and also speaks to some of the underlying themes that we’re talking about like sexual abuse and the endemic nature of sexual abuse and the way institutions sometimes wittingly or unwittingly allow it to continue. These are all tied up in this central mystery of what is on these polaroids, who is leaving them and why. I think it’s surprising how the pieces come together and how it’s all related.
Such a big deal was made about the music in season 1. Did you feel any pressure going into picking the music for season 2?
One of the things I always turn to is [the] 15-year-old me. I remember when I was 15 years old and the kind of thing I would be excited about and the kind of thing that would be really moving to me, and I know that the music has to be just as right as it can be so that’s the pressure I felt. Fortunately we have some really great partners. Season Kent won Best Music Supervision in a Television Drama [at the Guild of Music Supervisors Awards] for 13 Reasons Why. We’re really proud of her. She and I, with the help of everyone who works on the show and also Interscope, our label partner, everyone’s really committed to: How can the music tell the story and how can the music draw from the world of the parents and the world of the kids and brings those two worlds together? That was our guiding idea season 1 and it continues in season 2. As the season goes on, we also expand the dark post-punk world that we lived in in season 1, expand that to allow in actual punk music past and present. I also said I’d love to expand more into the John Hughes kind of world of that ’80s pop, the glossy synthesizer songs, which there’s just a ton of nowadays. So we’re trying to expand the world a little bit but keep that central idea of using these two musical generations to help tell the story.
13 Reasons Why season 2 hits Netflix on May 18.
Based on the 2007 novel written by Jay Asher, the Netflix drama follows a teen named Clay who attempts to figure out what led his classmate and crush, Hannah, to commit suicide.