Like many others, I watched Netflix's 13 Reasons Whyrecently. The jury is out on how impressionable the story has been on young minds, but this post is not about that. It is about the unlikely hero of the story, Alex Standall. In his story arc, we may find the answer to the larger question posed by the show.
The first male friend that the protagonist Hannah Baker makes in her new school, Alex soon becomes a part of the "it" group, something Hannah never manages to become. While it is the same group of people who cause Hannah to take her life in some way or the other, Alex stands out as the only person who truly understands the reasons why Hannah did what she did.
Alex's grey to white U-turn makes for an interesting watch. Once Hannah is gone and her tapes have been heard, Alex starts atoning, even though he may not call it that.
Perceived as gay in the initial episodes, Alex comes off as a shy and lonely new kid who is befriended by Hannah and Jessica Davis, the two other new kids in the school that year. At Monet's, the coffee shop where the girls meet and talk regularly, they see Alex checking one of them out. They come to his table, explain the "male gaze" to him, and hit it off instantly. The three traverse the tricky lanes of high school life and agree that "fuck my life (FML)" suffices as life's mantra.
But as Hannah says, Alex "trades up" and gets into the popular group of jocks and stops meeting them. Further heartache happens when poor Hannah realises Jessica and Alex are seeing each other and are keeping it a secret from her, alienating her completely.
Till this point, one may think Alex is just doing what many people of his age do—giving in to peer pressure. It is obvious he isn't thinking of Hannah's feelings or even his girlfriend Jessica's when he makes a ridiculous list that pits the already estranged friends against each other. With a best and worst ass vote assigned to his former friend and his ex-girlfriend respectively, Alex kills three birds with one stone. He gets his revenge on the girlfriend who won't have sex, makes sure the two girls can never become friends again and shoots his way up the ranks in the group for being the guy who gets all the hot chicks in school. All win except that they were his biggest losses eventually... and he couldn't recover from them.
As the "douchebag who started it all" with his list, Alex is tape number three in Hannah's infamous 13. He gets to hear his tape, understands what he did and the following tapes confirm the ultimate damage caused. While several others also have tapes to their names, it doesn't affect them as much as much as it does Alex. Everybody chooses to protect themselves first, an obvious reflex. They call Hannah a liar and cover each other's backs. But Alex goes the other way. He starts suffering in her suffering and spirals.
While Clay Jensen is the only character apart from Tony who has no shades of grey, it is Alex's grey to white U-turn that makes for an interesting watch. Once Hannah is gone and her tapes have been heard, Alex starts atoning, even though he may not call it that. He gets into fights with the jocks of his own group and tells them what he thinks without flinching here on. Despite being skinny, he shouts at the foul tempered Montgomery for speeding in a pedestrian zone and gets beaten badly. He is later left with a warning by the student Honour Board, which he scoffs at for being too afraid to take real actions. More than thrice, he speaks up for Hannah, telling his friends that the girl was right when she accused them of different things. He says he agrees that he was a dick and lost the only people who actually mattered in the process. He repeatedly gets into arguments with Montgomery and Justin Foley and doesn't back down. He does all this, after he fully understood the consequences of his and others' actions.
'13 Reasons Why' is as much Alex's story as it is Hannah's. Because at the end of the day, society failed them both.
But the show makes a brilliant stroke by making Alex's story one of suicide too. He plays for the school's jazz band and picks a song which a fellow kid calls "suicidal." Later he quits the jazz band because he finds he doesn't care for it anymore. Another time, he is seen tearing posters in the school building walls that say "Suicide is not an option" in a post-Hannah world. He tells Clay that the authorities should instead put up posters saying "Don't be a dick." In his last scene, Alex is seen cleaning his room and closet, something Hannah does right before she commits suicide too. Soon enough, we get to know Alex shot himself on the head.
On closer look, one finds classic suicidal tendencies in Alex all along. From quitting the music band, getting into fights to not giving a damn to the consequences once the tapes are discovered, Alex constantly shows disinterest in life and all that's happening around him. His was yet another call for help no one in his friends' circle or school managed to notice.
And in that sense, 13 Reasons Why is as much Alex's story as it is Hannah's. Because at the end of the day, society failed them both.