More than two years later, Netflix announced on Tuesday that it made the decision to cut that scene entirely. In a newly edited version of the Season 1 finale that replaced the old version, Hannah (played by Katherine Langford) looks at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The next immediate shot is of her mother, Olivia (Kate Walsh), discovering her body. The cut is seamless, and solemn.
A representative for Netflix declined my request for an interview with 13 Reasons Why’s showrunner, Brian Yorkey, or other producers. In a public statement, Yorkey said:
Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in Season 1 was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act, and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it. But as we ready to launch Season 3, we have heard concerns about the scene from Dr. Christine Moutier at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and others, and have agreed with Netflix to re-edit it. No one scene is more important than the life of the show, and its message that we must take better care of each other. We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers.
That the decision to reedit the episode took two years to finalize speaks to how intense the discussions were among 13 Reasons Why’s creative team over the specific treatment of suicide in the show’s first season. (Season 2 debuted in 2018; a third season is expected to be released this summer.) Nic Sheff, one of the writers on the show, originally wrote an op-ed for Vanity Fair in 2017 arguing that the graphic detail of Hannah’s death was necessary, because the horror of the scene should help dissuade viewers from copying her.
Dr. Helen Hsu, a clinical psychologist consulted by Netflix prior to the show’s release, told me that year that the show’s creators wanted to avoid romanticizing suicide by suggesting that it could ever be a serene or peaceful act. Following the show’s release, its producers monitored reactions to the series online, and documented a wide range of responses. “I think what they felt,” Moutier told me, “is that they were hearing very mixed messages.” Some viewers even in recent weeks have responded positively to the portrayal of Hannah’s death for how honestly and unflinchingly it showed the violence of ending one’s life.
The conclusion from almost all mental-health experts, though, was that such a graphic scene represented more risk than it did reward. Dr. Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, was consulted by Netflix before the first season debuted, and was reportedly so troubled by its messaging that he advised them not to release it. “Within the suicide-prevention field, there is very solid consensus around graphic portrayals needing to be avoided because of the risk of contagion,” Moutier said. She was first consulted by Netflix after the show’s release in 2017 regarding the addition of more informational content surrounding 13 Reasons Why. She helped develop the website 13ReasonsWhy.info, which is a resource for parents and educators regarding suicide prevention and mental health; the warning cards Netflix added to the beginning of episodes; and the series of short videos made by actors in the show encouraging viewers to seek help if they need it.