13 Reasons Why showrunner on season 2's assault and school shooting story lines
For more on season 2 of 13 Reasons Why — and the potential third season — pick up the upcoming issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Spoiler alert: This post contains plot from all of 13 Reason Why‘s second season.
With its first season, 13 Reasons Why gained a reputation for telling stories even when they became uncomfortable. The show’s first 13 episodes followed the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who died by suicide and left behind 13 cassette tapes explaining her decision. Along the way, there were multiple scenes that were difficult to watch, whether dealing with sexual assault or Hannah’s suicide. And yet, heading into season 2, the writers knew they couldn’t let the controversy surrounding season 1 affect how they tackled the stories ahead. “We knew that we didn’t want to back away,” showrunner Brian Yorkey tells EW. “People often ask if we adapted the storytelling because of all the controversy, and we were certainly aware of the controversy — we were intensely aware of it — but all it really did for us is make us double down on making difficult choices, being as truthful as we could, and not backing away from trying to tell some unflinching stories about the kinds of things that young people go through. That seemed to be the thing that we were, in some way, uniquely able to do, and we thought we needed to keep doing it.”
Season 2 did that in a number of ways with a number of characters, though the story that has most people talking involves Tyler, the loner photographer who ended season 1 by collecting guns in a trunk in his bedroom. And by the end of season 2, he’d experience a sexual assault that would spur him to pick up those guns. Although, in the end, Clay would talk him down before Tyler hurt anyone.
EW talked with Yorkey about Tyler’s story below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the thinking behind Tyler’s assault?
BRIAN YORKEY: The general idea of Tyler’s story over the season is that he really has some ups and downs. He moves in positive social directions and then he has setbacks, which I think is the experience that so many kids have. And when you’re a kid without a lot of resilience, like Tyler, those setbacks can be devastating. After the intervention, we wanted to see Tyler really trying to make positive choices, but to have those choices derailed in some way by Monty or Bryce. We realized that Bryce would break with Monty and that Monty obviously is really, really deeply attached to Bryce and so that loss would be devastating to him and Monty would act out. We delved into research and found story after story of cases like this — upsettingly similar stories of male high school athletes violating weaker kids with mob handles or pool cues. The number of stories we found about it were astounding and those are just the ones that got reported, and we know that sexual assault is hugely underreported. We are a show that is interested in continuing the conversation around sexual assault in high school and this was a story that was not largely told and that made sense for these characters, so we took a deep breath and we all talked it over and decided it was worth telling even though we knew it would be hard to do and hard to watch.
That assault then leads to Tyler’s decision to take a gun to school, a twist that’s particularly timely.
13 Reasons Why is a dark show and I’ve heard from more than one person, including people close to me, who say, “My high school’s not really like that, it’s not really dark.” My response is: High school students not only have to put up with bullying and bullying in social media in a way that those of us who went to high school years ago never had to deal with, they not only have to deal with living in a country that’s polarized with more people interested, it seems some days, in sewing hate than in sewing love, but they also really have to confront the reality that they may show up to school and get shot. So I hear you, we’re a drama, we make choices to show dramatic versions of things, but the darkness is unfortunately not all our creation.
It really felt like you were making a statement when Clay called a potential school shooting “another f–king tragedy that adults cry about for a week and then forget.”
It’s crazy that we wrote that scene and then Parkland happened and then on the day we were scheduled to have a premiere, Santa Fe happened. It’s heartbreaking. We know that kids are sick of it. Kids are sick of the tears about the tragedy and then the thoughts and prayers and then a week later, it’s forgotten and the world’s moved on. It’s not going to stand anymore.
That conversation was also a full-circle moment for Clay. By stopping Tyler, he was finally able to say the things he never got to say to Hannah.
That’s exactly what we wanted it to be. Obviously the choice that he made to intervene with an armed gunman is not necessarily a choice we would encourage for everybody, but it’s certainly a choice that we understood and believed for Clay and the reason was in the line where he says to Tyler, “I don’t want you to die.” Clay is out there to save everyone’s lives, but he’s also really out there to save Tyler’s life, which is something he didn’t get to say to Hannah. He didn’t get to say, “I don’t want you to die,” so it really is the thing he believes he needs to be saying at that moment.
Was there ever a point in planning this story that you all thought of having Tyler go through with the shooting?
We all felt that that would be a step too far and here’s why: We set out to write season 2 believing that not only did we need some closure but we needed some hope. We needed to believe that a community of kids could learn from the trauma of losing Hannah and whatever part they played in it, that they could learn from that and do better the next time around. That’s what we wanted to see. In Tyler’s story we were super interested in looking at the state of mind of a young man who’s been through the kind of things Tyler has. We were very interested in following that character’s story. We were much less interested in seeing what the worst possible outcome looked like. We wanted to know that there could be a better ending to it.
13 Reasons Why season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.