Warning: Spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why season 3.
13 Reasons Why season 3 tried and failed to humanize Bryce Walker. Ever since its first season arrived on Netflix back in 2017, 13 Reasons Why has been unafraid to cause controversy, which isn't surprising for a series that deals with teen suicide and sexual assault.
First of all, there was the graphic depiction of Hannah Baker's suicide. That scene has since been omitted from 13 Reasons Why following consultation with experts. In 13 Reasons Why season 2, the show dealt with the aftermath of Hannah's suicide, but also focused on Tyler, a disturbed teenager who had been bullied badly at school. Tyler was subjected to a horrific sexual and physical assault at school from some footballers, and the scene was once again criticized for its graphic depiction.
All of this arguably pales into comparison when it comes to Bryce Walker. Bryce is the subject of season 3, or rather, his death and murderer are. Once the head jock of Liberty High, Bryce raped Hannah, Jessica, and Chloe. His punishment, when found guilty in court, was a mere 3 months probation. Season 3 picks up with Bryce after he's left Liberty and moved to an all boys private school, but for some reason, the writers of 13 Reasons Why season 3 decided to use this as an opportunity to present Bryce as a flawed character who deserved pity, rather than a monster.
We are taken through Bryce's story by a new character, Ani. She narrates flashbacks showing that Bryce was bullied in his new school, still had alcohol issues, and in his final days tried to reconcile with Justin and Jessica. However, as 13 Reasons Why spent so long showing us how awful he is, the turnaround is unsettling and wrong. For a show that claims to take sexual assault seriously, it makes a total mockery of what victims actually go through. Redemption is admirable, and indeed achievable for some, except Bryce is not in any way remorseful for his actions, and 13 Reasons Why seriously fails its viewers and impressionable audience when it chooses to show Bryce in this light. Bryce has never been a nuanced character; he was the spoiled rich white kid who used money and influence to get what he wanted. And what he wanted was drugs, alcohol, and girls. Bryce never once acted like a decent human, and we are expected to feel sorry for him because his new classmates don't like him?
Bryce only begins to act remorseful when his actions affect his own life. He never showed regret when Hannah killed herself, or when Jessica was emotionally unraveling because of his rape. He still went on to rape Chloe, his girlfriend at the time, despite knowing how he had impacted Hannah and Jessica's lives. Chloe ended up pregnant and getting an abortion without ever telling Bryce. Instead, she told Zach, and when Bryce found out? He broke Zach's leg. In 13 Reasons Why season 3, when Jessica goes to visit Bryce to tell him she's doing great (although she's clearly not), he sits there, repeatedly asking her what she wants him to say, essentially still victim-shaming her. There's also Ani's willing romantic involvement with him, which is bad enough, but worse is Bryce's overtly aggressive physical reaction when she refuses to sleep with him.
13 Reasons Why season 3 didn't need to focus on Bryce's alleged good side, it needed to center on Jessica's recovery and journey of self-discovery, something it touched but didn't fully explore. The beginning of each season carries a video from cast members, urging viewers to talk to a trusted adult or seek help if affected by any of the events depicted. So why does it place such a heavy emphasis on Bryce's downfall when it should be focusing on how his victims learn to live with their trauma? It's a confusing message from 13 Reasons Why, and it's astounding that more thought wasn't given to how this storyline would be received. In the midst of #metoo, it hardly encourages women and girls to come forward, when the overwhelming message concerning Bryce's actions seems to be that we should forgive and forget.