“13 Reasons Why”: Was it the Goodbye We Wanted?

Dylan Minnette, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, and Brandon Flynn in "13 Reasons Why"

*Spoilers Ahead*

After a long wait, the fourth and final season of 13 Reasons Why was released a couple of weeks ago and the Liberty High students finally graduated from high school. But, did all the characters receive the happy ending we were hoping for? And did the last season deliver the shock-factor the other seasons have given us?

The final season tells the story of the students’ senior year and the major events that occur including a student spray-painting “Monty Was Framed” on the walls at the school, someone tormenting the students while they are on a class camping trip, and during a walk-out, someone sets the principal’s car on fire. We also see Clay (Dylan Minnette) trying to be there for his friends and keeping their secrets while coping with his depression and anxiety with the help of a therapist. By the end of the season, we see that all of the acts of violence have been committed by Clay, who doesn’t remember doing any of them.

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Yup. Shit just got real.

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It’s hard to imagine that the show’s hero is capable of doing all this destruction and that he doesn’t have any memory of committing these terrible crimes. The show’s writers make it seem as though Clay is capable of being a bully like the two characters he hates most, who were killed off in the previous seasons. But, by the end of the season, we see that Clay is back to his old ways of protecting his friends at all costs. And for a character as likable as Clay, we’re glad to see that he’s moving on past all the trauma that’s happened in the past seasons.

With a show that has so much going on, it wasn’t until the final episode and Clay’s speech at graduation that we see that the show’s overarching message is that you have to “choose to live” even when life is hard. This is perfectly summed up during Clay’s speech as the student speaker at graduation, “Hate is easy. Love and understanding are harder. But they are how we take care of each other, how we survive.”

While this message is inspiring and all the character seemed to have the happy ending we hoped for (including getting away with killing Bryce and framing Monty), we can’t help but mention Justin.

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Welcome to senior year.

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Each season of 13 Reasons Why left us dealing with at least one major death, but Justin’s death in the final episode of the series was the hardest to take. During the season we see pieces of a funeral and in the last episode we find out that it’s Justin who’s passed away. Justin seemed to be doing better after returning from rehab and he finally has the family he always wanted, but then we see him relapse after losing his mother to an overdose.

But the season doesn’t end there, Justin ends up dying from AIDs, a disease we had no idea he was suffering from. At the hospital, the nurse says he contracted HIV during his time on the streets as a sex worker and intravenous drug use and his condition quickly turned to AIDS.

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There are survivors around us all.

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For a show that ends the credits of every episode with a character saying “If you or someone you know needs help finding crisis resources visit 13REASONSWHY.INFO,” we wish the series would have used Justin’s HIV diagnosis as an educational platform to show that you can still live a long life with HIV and that it’s not a death sentence. With the stigma around HIV/AIDS, it would have been more interesting to see the character thrive, despite the disease. Why couldn’t he have had the send-off to college the other characters had at the end?

But, all in all, we loved the character development throughout the series and we’ll miss following the students at Liberty High.