“13 Reasons Why,” a popular yet controversial Netflix drama, has a large cast of characters due in part to the cassette tapes protagonist Hannah Baker uses to tell her story before committing suicide. Hannah devotes one tape to each character, detailing her interactions with that person and how she thinks they caused her death. Most of the tapes are directed at other students at her school.
Season 2 pulls these characters in different directions while exploring the motivations behind their problematic actions. The focus of the season is a trial covering the lawsuit the Bakers filed against Hannah’s school, Liberty High. Some of the students who appeared on the tapes are also subpoenaed.
The show gives due time to each of the characters, exploring their rocky situations and questionable, if not egregious, actions. And while they’re all flawed in their own way, it is not their flaws that cause problems as much as it is the way they treat those around them.
In honor of Netflix granting the show a third season, I bring you a list of the top 11 most problematic “13 Reasons Why” characters in order from most to least problematic.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
1. Bryce Walker
Bryce is a popular star athlete who openly brags about his sexual encounters and lacks respect for women’s personal boundaries. The football player sexually assaulted multiple people, including Hannah, her ex-best friend Jessica and his own girlfriend, Chloe.
Viewers learn in the second season that his parents travel frequently, meaning that Bryce is often left alone to his own devices. This probably influences his behavior toward women. What makes him the most problematic of all the characters is that he never acknowledges that what he did to all of these women is wrong and that his behavior jeopardizes the safety of the Liberty High female population.
2. Tyler Down
Tyler, a photographer for the yearbook, has a reputation for being creepy. Like Bryce, he has a problem with understanding and respecting boundaries. He takes pictures of people — especially women — without their knowledge. He stalked Hannah and took pictures of her in her bedroom by peering into her window. He took pictures of Alex while he was in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound.
Tyler is severely bullied by the athletes, but his voyeuristic tendencies make it difficult for viewers to take pity on him. He lands a top spot in this list not only for his “Peeping Tom” personality but also for planning and almost executing a school shooting.
Liberty High School did have a serious bullying problem, but just like suicide is not the answer to bullying, committing an act of mass violence is not the answer either. His willingness to resort to such a cruel act is terrifying.
3. Montgomery de la Cruz
He was not on the tapes, but he is a part of Bryce’s inner circle. The reason he’s so high on this list the list is that he sexually assaulted Tyler with a mop. That’s the only assault he’s committed that viewers know of, but most would agree it’s the most brutal scene of the second season.
The teen committed the crime despite Bryce warning him not to, as Bryce didn’t want to get in trouble while on probation. Montgomery says in one of the later episodes of Season 2 that he comes from a violent home, which he uses to defend his actions and his allegiance to Bryce and his inner circle.
4. Marcus Cole
Marcus is student body president and a young politician-in-training (in Season 2, viewers learn that Marcus’ father is running for public office). He also representative of the negative stereotype of politicians being manipulative and dishonest — traits he uses to convey a certain persona to whichever audience he’s trying to please.
In order to win a bet with Bryce over whether that Marcus could sleep with Hannah, the student president convinces her to go on a date with him. The date goes well until he tries to stick his hand between her legs, causing Hannah to snap at him. To make matters worse, Marcus says, “I thought you were easy,” further cementing Hannah’s reputation as the class “slut” and dimming her hopes of making positive connections with her peers.
To please his parents and Bryce, Marcus lies about this incident under oath during the trial by telling a story about how he was only trying to hold Hannah’s hand. This lie cements the fact that Marcus is only out to protect his own image.
5. Justin Foley
Justin has a reputation for being a jerk. His tumultuous home life explains but does not justify his prickly personality. His mother struggles with drug addiction, and dating a drug dealer does nothing to help with her addiction. Justin struggles to stand up to Bryce, feeling as if he needs to repay the popular athlete for all that he has done to help him with his home life (giving him a couch to crash on, extra clothes, food, etc.).
Justin’s biggest regret of the series thus far is not doing enough to protect Jessica, his ex-girlfriend, from being sexually assaulted by Bryce in her own bedroom. He is fiercely interrogated about his role in preventing the assault during his time on the stand at the Baker trial.
Because he didn’t stop Bryce or report him while the assault occurred, he is arrested as an accessory to the crime. Justin shows a lot of remorse for what he didn’t do to protect Jessica. He had a chance to stop Bryce, but he was so wrapped up in seeking his approval that he didn’t take it.
6. Hannah Baker
Hannah’s place on this list is highly debatable. She was not perfect, but she wasn’t a monster, either. While she is still alive, Hannah takes the chance to retaliate against Marcus for his actions during their dinner date. After their disastrous interaction, she confronts him at school.
While no one is looking, she grabs his crotch, and says something to the effect of “how would you like it if someone did this to you?” While Marcus committing sexual assault was clearly wrong, for Hannah to respond in a similar manner was not the appropriate answer.
Ending her life was the worst decision Hannah could possibly have made. It destroyed her family and Clay, her close friend and ex-co-worker. Leaving the tapes only made matters worse for the students on them, even if Clay’s hallucination of her may say differently (In Season 2, Clay begins seeing a hallucination of Hannah that talks back to him sometimes.)
Although Hannah didn’t have trouble articulating her feelings in writing as she penned pages of poetry, she did struggle to share her feelings with others. However, Hannah didn’t have to die to tell her story.
7. Alex Standall
Alex was just your average sarcastic and moody teenager when he met Hannah and Jessica at Monet’s, a cozy coffee shop in town. Early in Season I, he made a Hot or Not list that included the two girls which were then passed around school. He also stopped being friends with Hannah after he started dating Jessica.
When his guilt became too much for him, he attempted to end his life by shooting himself in the head. He survived, so Season 2 spends time exploring his recovery. An attempted suicide is still a painful experience for loved ones. After what everyone went through with Hannah’s death, Alex trying to commit suicide puts everyone through that pain again.
8. Mr. Kevin Porter
Kevin’s biggest problem in Season I was not taking Hannah’s report of her sexual assault seriously. In fact, he just told her to move on. By Season 2, the school counselor deeply regrets what he said to her, and his guilt causes him to go to extreme lengths to right his wrongs.
In the first episode of the season, he roughs up Bryce in the bathroom by aggressively holding his collar; while the scene was satisfying to viewers considering what Bryce has done, threatening a student is probably not legal.
Kevin even goes to some students’ houses — which is weird for a school counselor to do. At one of these house meetings, he gets into a fist fight with Justin’s mom’s boyfriend. What redeems him for this impulsive behavior is that he is finally ready to be a guidance counselor who actually cares about students and their needs.
9. Zach Dempsey
Zach is wrestling with two identities. One is the typical high school jock and Bryce’s friend. The other is a compassionate young man who stays to comfort Hannah after the date with Marcus, adamantly takes care of his sister and helps Alex recover from his injury.
In Season 1, he keeps these two identities completely separate, especially when he hides his softer side from Bryce and his friends. However, suppressing that side of himself makes it difficult to stand up to Bryce, which is why Zach remains a bystander for most of the first season.
When he becomes fed up with the football player in Season 2, Zach officially befriends Alex and helps Clay discover the Clubhouse, an old tool shed where the athletes in Bryce’s circle do horrible things to women.
10. Courtney Crimson
There’s a meme floating on the internet that shows a picture of two garbage bags. It has the caption: “Never before seen pics of Bryce Walker and Courtney Crimson from #13ReasonsWhy” No matter how much you dislike Courtney, she shouldn’t be equated with Bryce, a person who has committed multiple sexual assaults.
In the first season, she struggled with accepting her sexuality and took that frustration and fear out on Hannah. To protect her own identity, she spread a false rumor that Hannah was a lesbian. While spreading rumors is not recommended for anyone, these behaviors are normal for high school students.
11. Clay Jenson
Clay had a crush on Hannah, so her death was especially devastating to him. As Skye says in Season 2, sometimes Clay can’t help people in the way they need to be helped. That’s true.
In the second season, with Tony’s help, Clay tracks Justin down without Jessica’s permission. He posts Hannah’s tapes online, to the dismay of every other character. Consequently, Justin calls Clay out for his actions.
Although these characters were labeled as problematic, viewers must remember that most TV characters will come with a set of problems, especially in a show like “13 Reasons Why.” How they deal with those problems is what really matters.