Season Review: 13 Reasons Why – Season 4 (Netflix, 2020)

Netflix’s dropped the final season of their controversial teen drama 13 Reasons Why last week and, as expected, it quickly climbed to the number one spot and was trending. Albeit the trending topic was full of just as many people saying “don’t watch the show” as there were fans talking about the show but that’s too be expected.

Inspired by the teen best selling novel by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why was adapted into a television series by Brian Yorkey in 2017 and has since spanned four seasons despite controversy from critics, parents, and teenagers. The fourth and final season of the series follow the same group of Liberty High teenagers, now seniors, as they grabble with the aftermath of their decision to frame a murder on a fellow Liberty High student who was sent to prison for sexual assault and ultimately died in prison. Each of the core cast is dealing with the aftermath in different ways with Clay (Dylan Minnette) experiencing the most negative reaction due in part to his deteriorating mental health.

In true, 13 Reasons Why fashion the season deals with a variety of topics ranging from the ongoing drug use of students, their safety in school, mental health, and it even touches upon the very timely topic of police brutality and racial profiling. And of course, it had to pull one last controversial publicity stunt which left one of our beloved characters dead before graduation day.

I’ve already written about my overall thoughts on the characters outcomes but I felt the final season also warranted its own review. In addition to the usual categories, I’ve also includes a spot for my favorite character and favorite couple of the entire season since this is the final season. Least favorite character of the series will not be featured because I don’t feel the need to write anything more about Bryce. I’m also going to try to keep the character portions short so that I don’t repeat myself.

As always, spoilers are ahead.

Favorite Episode: 4×09 — “Prom”

Netflix

All I’ve ever wanted is for this group of teenagers to be happy and actually enjoy their youth instead of dealing with whatever shit was complicating their lives. Episode 9 finally gave that to us, if you ignore the last 3 minutes of the episode like I’m choosing to do.

This episode had some of my favorite scenes that left me crying tears of joy and had my heart swelling with pride. It was also the first time, in a long time, that we saw the entire group back together in Clay and Justin’s bedroom. I’ve always said this show is best when it’s characters are all united and share the screen together and that scene proved I was right. If only they would have supported each other from the beginning of this season instead of just at the end.

Episode 9 is also home to both Charlie and Alex’s coming out moments and they could not have been more perfect. I absolutely love that both of their families were accepting and didn’t even question their sons. Charlie’s scene with his dad literally had me laughing out loud when they were talking about Charlie’s obsession with Eli Manning. It’s such an innocent thing and yet it showcases that LGBT kids and teens are just like their heterosexual counterparts who have innocent crushes on celebrities and athletes. I also love that his dad basically said he knew but wanted Charlie to come to him when he was ready.

Alex’s coming out moment was equally as cute. I really loved the fact that his wasn’t a coming-out moment in the traditional sense because he didn’t sit his parents down and talk to them about his sexuality. Instead, he just shows up with Charlie who he introduces as his boyfriend. It was perfect and honestly, I think more shows and films should deal with coming-out stories that happen like this. I was once again laughing when Alex’s brother got all excited because he was dating the quarterback of the Liberty High football team. Plus, the heartfelt moment with both of his parents warmed my heart. All they’ve ever wanted for their son is to see him happy and healthy and they finally got that.

I loved Charlie’s promposals and how he kept trying to one-up them to get Alex to say yes. I’m wondering though if maybe he should have tried something more low-key and intimate since that seems to be more of Alex’s style. Either way, they were all cute and I’m glad Alex finally said yes. Also, I love that they finally realized that Jess didn’t need a boy on her arm to have a good time. Having her go with Ani was cute and felt a bit full circle since the only ever girlfriend she had was Hannah who she had a falling out with before her death. And I also love that Clay tagged along with Alex and Charlie to make sure Alex was comfortable. He’s always looking out. Honorable cute mentions also go to Caleb for finally getting Tony to participate in high school activities and Tyler for going with Estella and having the best time ever.

Of course, the prom scene as a whole was amazing (again, until the last 3 minutes which I will not be mentioning again…hopefully). Seeing these kids get to be teenagers warmed my heart and it was everything I ever wanted. I loved that the football team was behind Charlie and Alex winning Prom Kings. It really showed a growth in the team since they’d been homophobic and rapists in prior seasons but have finally started to mature and “be better” as Zach and later Charlie helped instill in them. I also love that Ani and Clay finally hashed out their weird relationship and that they were able to move on as friends.

I was so glad when Justin showed up at the prom. He deserved to have a great time and enjoy his dwindling senior year just like the rest of his friends. I love how they show the scene when Jess spots him in this cinematic and romantic way. Was it cheesy? Yes, but dammit these two deserve all the cheesiness after everything they’ve been through. I also love Jess’s line telling him to never love anything more than life. It was perfect and everything I wanted.

Oh, and Clay asking his mom to dance was equally as adorable.

The only thing I felt this episode needed (other than a different ending) was the inclusion of “The Night We Met.” That song is a staple of this series and it would have been nice to have it played at their final dance. Perhaps, they could have all come together on the dance floor like they did in season 2 for Clay.

Least Favorite Episode: 4×03 — “Valentine’s Day”

Netflix

To be honest, the whole first half of the season was a hot mess but I think my least favorite episode had to be the third episode. I literally almost stopped watching after it because it no longer felt like I was watching 13 Reasons Why.

I found it to be an interesting choice by the writers to write another episode centered around a dance when we were going to get a prom episode and have had multiple dance centric episodes in prior seasons. I think it would have been more interesting if they set the drama somewhere else. Then again, dances seem to be the only way to get all these characters in one place at the same time so I digress.

My biggest issue with this episode was the whole plot surrounding Clay and the mysterious phone calls. I felt like I was watching a cheap knock off of Scream every time Clay answered the phone and was tormented by the caller. Of all the dumb things this show has done, this was the dumbest and completely unnecessary. After all, Clay had been cleared from being a person-of-interest in Bryce’s murder before Ani’s confession that Monty was the one who did it. Therefor, the football teams motive for taking their anger and emotions for Monty out on Clay made zero sense. Not to mention, they did it in the most unoriginal way ever.

This episode also featured Winston and Alex getting closer and dating. Look, I believe most characters can change and be good people but Winston doesn’t seem to be one of those people. Granted, Alex didn’t know who he was or his involvement with Monty at the time but we did which made it hard for me to root for these two. Winston may have actually had feelings for Alex, but to me he was just using him to get information and that is totally not cool.

I also greatly disliked Clay and Ani in this episode. It’s clear that their relationship has run its course and Ani’s constant need to keep pushing Clay to be with her was dumb. Ani is such a smart character and yet she does the stupidest things. She definitely needed one of Jess’s woman empowerment speeches.

Also I absolutely hated Zach yelling at Justin and then Jess yelling at Justin — even if she was right to do so.

By far the worst thing about this episode had to be the ending sequence with Clay in the shower and then on the football field. Of course, the episode then ended with him walking into the gym with a red stained shirt holding a knife. Definitely not a good image for Clay but what really killed me is that everyone blamed him for brining a knife to the dance when Diego and his boys literally planted it for him to take! Once again 13 Reasons Why forgets its own plot for more drama.

Favorite Character This Season: Charlie St. George

Netflix

While Charlie might not be my all-time favorite character, he definitely earned the prize of being my favorite character this season.

Charlie was the one character this season who was actually there for everyone around him and wasn’t consumed with his own issues. In fact, Charlie is so selfless that he chose to get involved with all their drama last season when he didn’t need to but did anyway because he knew it was the right thing to do.

As for this season, well Charlie continued to out do himself. He helped Justin hold the football team accountable when they were being dicks. He made sure Jess was getting the team’s undivided attention during her speech. He tried to help Tony decide on what to do about Tyler’s gun pictures during the lockdown and he even calmed Alex down during one of his anxiety attacks. Not to mention, he researched Alex’s TBI so that he’d know what to expect and how to handle any issues that may arise from it. His helpfulness didn’t stop there. He also tried to be there for Clay and for Justin during the season. And he even went as far as tracking down Zach and forcing him to go see Justin in the hospital when he was dying.

If all that doesn’t prove that he’s the best character than I don’t know what will.

He also had the best coming-out moment and literally ruled the prom with Alex as his date.

So yeah, Charlie was the best.

Favorite Character Of The Series: Justin Foley

Netflix

Since this is the final season, I also wanted to speak about my favorite character of the entire show: Justin Foley. If you read my other post this should come as no surprise that Justin is my ride-or-die character.

Justin is my favorite character because he has one of the best character arcs of the entire series (if you ignore the final episode and is horrible fate). In the first season he was this angry and broken kid who was so distraught with guilt that he turned to the streets for some kind of relief and eventual revenge. Thankfully, Clay and Tony were there to save him and the Jenson’s were kind enough to offer him a home when he had no where else to turn.

Sure, Justin still struggled with his addiction but he tried and fought so damn hard to get better. Relapse is part of the recovery process and if you recall, most of the times Justin relapsed were do in part to major things happening in his life, like his biological mother’s overdose which lead to her death.

Despite all the things against him, Justin finally got help this season and was on the path to recovery. He was thriving in school, had a college acceptance letter in his hands, and was finally happy. All Justin ever wanted to do was live and he constantly tried to do that.

As you know from my character thoughts post, I was completely devastated when he died. It’s been a week and I’m still not over it. I honestly feel like I lost someone I knew in real life.

Despite his ill fitted and unnecessary ending, Justin Foley had the best character development of this group. He was the one character who deserved to live more than anything. In my head, he’s alive and thriving in college while having regular FaceTime dates with Jess.

Least Favorite Character This Season: Winston

Netflix

Avoiding the obvious answers like Bryce and Monty, who I hate with my entire being, I’ve decided that Winston is my least favorite character of season 4.

I mentioned this in my other post but I’m going to say it again, Winston is nothing more than a knock-off Clay who doesn’t have half the heart that Clay Jenson has.

I can’t get behind Winston because his entire character is rooted in being a rapist apologist because he “loved” Monty. Obviously, I don’t think Winston is a terrible person but I do think something is wrong with him since he is able to have feelings for Monty despite knowing all the terrible and hurtful things he did to people. I mean Mrs. Walker couldn’t look her own son in the eyes after learning everything he did and you’re telling me that Monty can turn a blind eye to it because he’s in love. I call bullshit.

I didn’t feel like Winston’s actions this season were rooted in good like Clay’s were. I think every relationship he formed with the core group was made because he wanted to get information out of them.

The only good thing Winston did was not turn Alex in for killing Bryce. In my opinion, though, that doesn’t redeem him for spending the entire season trying to seek revenge for Monty.

Favorite Couple This Season: Alex and Charlie

Netflix

Let’s be honest, 13 Reasons Why doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to relationships. Even the most iconic and shippable couples on the show are problematic. Which is why I was so shocked and proud when the writers finally decided to show a happy and healthy relationship, between two boys to top it all off!

While I’ll admit, I had been hoping that Alex would end up with Zach this season I am 110% sold that he was destined to be with Charlie. As I’ve said before and in this very post, Charlie is so caring and attentive to Alex that you can tell his feelings are completely authentic and he has no ulterior motive for wanting/choosing to be with Alex.

In fact, if you watch the third season carefully, you’ll notice that Charlie had taken an interest in Alex during that season. It just wasn’t as prominent on the screen. Perhaps, that’s part of the reason Charlie decided to get involved with this group. And once he found out Alex was the one who needed saving he jumped into action to plant Bryce’s tape on Monty. But that might be my brain stretching.

Regardless, Charlie and Alex are the perfect teenage couple and the by far the healthiest couple of this entire show. They’re there for each other, they celebrate each other’s victories (even if Alex doesn’t always understand them) and their love is unconditional.

These two may be Prom Kings but they’re also Kings of healthy relationships.

Favorite Couple Of The Series: Justin and Jess

Netlic

Even though Alex and Charlie are the healthiest couple and by far my favorite this season, I can’t help but continue to ship Jess and Justin.

Now listen, these two are not a couple that should be idolized. They’re extremely toxic at times and they are way too dependent on each other. Not to mention, the origins of their relationship are complex and for some, immensely problematic. And yet, here I am stanning this couple because they’re so made for each other.

Part of what makes Justin and Jess work is that they understand each other, even when they don’t always want to. They both have been in each others shows. They both know what it’s like to be at rock bottom and to climb out on top. Beyond that, they’re (usually) always there for each other or at least are cheering each other on in some way.

Was Jess wrong this season to lash out as Justin when he told her he needed to focus on herself? Absolutely. But Justin was also in the wrong a few seasons ago when he didn’t fight to help Jess enough. Regardless of their issues and arguments, these two are always finding their way back to each other.

I loved that Justin went to Jess’s aide during the lockdown. Sure, it took Diego being an ass to get him there but I’m pretty sure he would have went regardless. Frankly I’m convinced that Justin was texting Jess during the lockdown before he even went down to see her. And, despite everything going on, in that moment they felt safe, because they were together.

I love that Justin, even though he was jealous of Diego, never really made it an issue — or at least, a major issue. When Zach is trying to rile him up at the Valentine’s Day dance Justin reminds him that Jess doesn’t belong to him. It’s the smallest thing but it a sign that he loves and respects Jess enough to let her be on her own. In fact, I’d argue that the real issue he has with Jess seeing Diego is that Diego is a complete dick to Clay and is obsessed with finding out the truth about Monty.

I love that Jess is (almost) always there for Justin. Should she have pulled him out of the alleyway when she finds him doing drugs again? Absolutely, but I think her choosing to walk away was an extremely hard decision for her to make. And I’m glad their story didn’t end there. I absolutely loved Jess’s speech to Justin at the prom. And the scene of them in the hospital completely wrecked me. Hearing Jess say that Justin taught her to love when he was still convinced he ruined her life was seriously the most heartbreaking thing ever.

As I said, I’m pretending these two are living a happy and healthy life because that’s what they deserve.

Complaints:

Netflix

13 Reasons Why is strongest when the cast is together and supporting each other. Unfortunately this season everything felt disjointed, especially these characters relationships with each other. Alex and Jess had barely any scenes together despite committing a murder together. Zach was messy the entire season and acting very out of character. And no one cared enough to help him. Alex did try but it didn’t feel like enough, or maybe Zach was just too stubborn to accept it. The golden trio (Clay, Justin, and Jess) had little to no scenes until the end which hurt me to my core. I felt like Justin was missing from the first half of the season and then when he did get more time on screen he was literally dying. Clay and Tony barely had any scenes together and seemed annoyed with each other. Tyler was basically on his own this season – at least he had Estella. I guess I had higher hopes that our core group would be stronger than ever but that simply wasn’t the case and I’m upset about it.

My other major problem this season was the show’s need to try to be a psychological thriller. I fully support them wanting to show Clay’s deteriorating mental state and I found it interesting that they chose to go the disassociating route but I am not a fan of how they did it. I felt like the writers forgot the genre of their show. As I mentioned above, I also hated the football team using their phones to torment Clay. It was stupid and unoriginal.

Another issue I had this season was the fact that both Ani and Zach out Alex to different people. In Ani’s case she outed Alex to Clay by confessing that she caught him making out with Winston in the hallway during the dance. As for Zach, he outed Alex to almost all of their friends during the senior camping trip after learning that Alex broke up with Winston. While neither of them outed Alex with malicious intent, it was still wrong. I would have liked to see Alex confront them about it, at some point.

I absolutely hated and was disgusted at the fact the show tried to portray both Clay and Zach as people who would rape unconscious women who were unable to consent. I will never forgive the writers for that. It literally served no purpose and completely went again both of their characters.

I also found it extremely random and unneccesary that Clay hooks up with Valerie, Sheriff Diaz’s daughter, at that party. I don’t care that he hooked up with someone but because it was the daughter of the Sheriff I wanted that to be a bigger moment. I was waiting and expecting Sheriff Diaz to find out and flip out on Clay but that never happened. As it stands now, the only purpose that scene had was to inform us that Sheriff Diaz did have a family which would make his speech to Alex’s dad at the end of the season make sense.

I also wasn’t a fan of Monty and Bryce’s presence this season. Both of them already got their moments in the spotlight we didn’t need to see them again. They were monsters who don’t deserve any sort of redemption or yet another attempt of a redemption arc. I also found it extremely peculiar that Clay was the one that was seeing them. As I’ve said before, Clay wasn’t the one who came up with the idea to frame Monty so I wasn’t totally sure why he felt so guilty. I also hated that they gave Jess another scene with ghost Bryce at the end instead of having her see ghost Justin. If anyone deserved to be in that final scene where they’re burying Hannah’s tapes it was Justin. After all, he’s where the story began.

Speaking of the final scene, I felt it odd that they decided to bring Courtney and Ryan back. If they were going to reunite the entire tape crew where were Marcus and Sheri? Even though they weren’t prominent in the episode I felt their screen time could have been given to one of the other core characters instead.

Another minor thing, I missed the smooth transitions in and out of scenes that 13 Reasons Why always seemed to nail. I know they were mainly used when the story was switching from past and present but I truly missed them this season. Everything felt harsh and jagged and I wasn’t a fan.

Lastly, and this one is going to be obvious. I hated that they killed Justin. There was no reason for his death. There was no hint that he was the one who was going to die. It was unnecessary and a last ditch attempt to be controversial and shocking. I’m not over it and I’ll never be over it.

Praise:

Netflix

Most of the things I’m going to write here I’ve said elsewhere so I apologize for any repetition.

As I said above, one of my favorite things about this season was Alex and Charlie’s coming out scenes. Something I have yet to mention though, is that I love how Alex turned to Tony when he was still in the midst of questioning his sexuality. It was a really sweet moment and it showcased Tony and Alex’s friendship. I also love that Tony answered the question without questing Alex on why he was asking. Tony could have asked Alex if he was questioning his sexual identity or something else but he chose not to because it’s not his place.

Speaking of Tony, I adored the scene with his father when Caleb told him about Tony’s college opportunity. Tony was so adamant on turning it down because he wanted to keep the auto shop going and to hear his father tell him that Tony is his dream was heartwarming. I think we all knew that his father just wants what is best for Tony but to hear him say it was important.

I did like the scene where the tape crew was reunited. It felt very full circle but I think they should have burned the tapes instead of burying them. I swear to god, if in 10 years this show gets a reboot because someone finds the tapes I’m going to die. I was a bit confused though since it didn’t appear that all the tapes were in the box. And I still think Justin should have been a part of it in some way. After all, he was the start of the tapes. Bryce may have brought them all together in a twisted way, but without Justin they wouldn’t have existed either.

Everything considered, I’m glad we did get to see Jess and Justin together in the end. To me they are endgame — even though Diego tries to get Jess to date him right after Justin’s death. I’ll cherish the prom scene and even the scenes in the hospital forever.

Also regarding Justin’s fate, I loved his final scene with Clay. The series spends so much time trying to get us to believe that Justin found a brother in Bryce, but I never bought it. Justin’s only brother was Clay and that essay proved that. It was so heartfelt and sad and I loved it. I also love that Clay admits to Justin that he doesn’t know how to go on without him but Justin assures him that he does.

I also did like the ending scene with Clay and Tony, even though in my perfect world it was Clay and Justin driving off to college together. It was a nice full circle moment. Although, I will admit my anxiety was through the roof because I seriously thought they were going to get into an accident. After all, it is 13 Reasons Why.

Lastly, I want to discuss the final scene at the police station between Alex’s dad and Sheriff Diaz. I spent a lot of this season and last season hating Sheriff Diaz but he certainly redeemed himself in that moment. There’s no doubt in my mind that he realized that Alex was the one who killed Bryce. And yet, he understood that Alex is a good kid who doesn’t deserve to be in jail. He understood that Bryce and Monty were both monsters. He knew that if the truth got out Alex’s dad would fall apart. His speech about putting family before his job was important and impactful.

As I’ve said, of all the shitty things this show has done the one thing they actually got right was letting Alex walk free. I never would have forgiven them if they had sent Alex to jail. After all, he’s not a monster he’s the hero of the story.

* * *

I still have mixed feelings about the final season and I think I will for the rest of time. Had they not have killed Justin I feel like I would have felt a lot better about the conclusion of the show. But if 13 Reasons Why has taught me anything its that life is not fair and that we cannot let tragedy dictate our entire lives. We must live (and continue watching questionable television shows).

You can stream the final season of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix.

What did you think of the final season of 13 Reasons Why? What was your favorite and least favorite episode? Who do you ship? Are you happy with the ending? Let me know in the comments or by tweeting me @3RsBlog.

Featured Image Source: Netflix

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