Two years after the premiere of 13 Reasons Why, Netflix has edited out the show’s controversial graphic suicide scene.
Netflix confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter on July 14 that it had removed the scene, featured in the finale of the show’s first season, releasing statements from both the network and members of the 13 Reasons Why creative team.
“As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we’ve been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show,” a spokesperson told THR. “So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we’ve decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one.”
The original cut of the infamous 13 Reasons Why episode depicted Hannah, the show’s troubled heroine, getting into a bathtub and slitting her wrists with a razor, with the camera lingering so that every detail of what she was doing was clear.
The new version, however, has removed those details. Now, we instead see Hannah looking into the bathroom mirror before climbing into the bathtub, and then move from that sequence directly to the moment in which her mother finds her dead body.
“Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in season one was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act, and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it,” Yorkey said in a statement to THR, adding that “[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.”
The Hollywood Reporter adds that Netflix is expected to work toward ensuring the scene does not appear on third-party platforms, like YouTube or Twitter — essentially wiping it fully from existence.
This is the most conclusive response Netflix has offered to the ongoing criticism surrounding the suicide scene. After the first wave of backlash against the show in 2017, Netflix announced that it would increase its trigger warnings. Originally, it offered written warnings before the three episodes that showed Hannah’s suicide and graphic rape scenes, as well as a separate, 30-minute PSA episode starring the cast and crew of the show, entitled Beyond the Reasons. After the backlash, a month after the show came out, it added an additional written warning to the first episode of the series. And when the second season dropped in 2018, the premiere was preceded by a spoken trigger warning delivered by the show’s cast.
13 Reasons Why has argued that its graphic suicide scene helps deglamorize suicide. Experts say it had the opposite effect.
Throughout the two years since Netflix released the episode, the show has faced increasing outcry from suicide prevention experts, who say that 13 Reasons Why is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst, and that it could lead to an increase in the number of teens who die by suicide. And those fears appeared to be confirmed earlier this year when a new study established a correlation between the 2017 premiere of 13 Reasons Why and a spike in youth suicide rates of nearly 30 percent over the number existing suicide trends suggested we should expect. (Suicide rates among US youths have been climbing for the past 20 years.)
That study wasn’t able to establish a causal link between 13 Reasons Why and the spike in suicide rates, and experts I spoke to had some quibbles with its findings. But the pattern it established did by and large match the problem that experts predicted when 13 Reasons Why premiered.
The theory is that for people who struggle with suicidal ideation, anything that can make suicide feel more familiar to them and cause them to keep thinking about it can be dangerous. That’s part of what leads to suicide contagion, the phenomenon in which media coverage of a death by suicide can lead more people to die by suicide. While there are comparatively fewer studies of the effects of fictional depictions of suicide than there are of media coverage of real suicides, many experts believe the effects are similar.
“To the degree that watching fictional depictions about suicide prevents vulnerable youth from disengaging from their suicidal thoughts, keeps them thinking about how they would kill themselves, and gets them used to the idea of suicide as an option,” Regina Miranda, director of the Youth Suicide Research Consortium, told Vox in 2018, “it potentially makes them vulnerable to acting on their suicidal thoughts when they can no longer tolerate or think of other ways to escape their distress.”
13 Reasons Why was thought to be a particularly dangerous example. In part, that’s because it shows its heroine’s suicide in graphic detail. But it’s also because the suicide of the heroine, Hannah, succeeds in winning her popular immortality. Once Hannah is gone, all the people who mistreated her in life are sorry for everything they’ve done to her, and all of the people who loved her are sorry that they didn’t take better care of her. It’s the ultimate vindication, which can have the effect of making suicide feel alluring to those who struggle with suicidal impulses.
“Imagine an adolescent feeling emotionally lost, almost invisible, and witnessing the notoriety or memorialization of a teen who completed suicide, gaining attention in their immediate community as well as the vast amount of attention obtained from social media,” Phyllis Alongi, the clinical director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, told Vox in 2017. “This is the essence of contagion.”
Ironically, the show’s creative team originally argued that the graphic depiction of suicide would help undercut anything that appeared to be glamorous or attractive in Hannah’s death. Shortly after the show’s premiere, 13 Reasons Why writer Nic Sheff wrote a guest column in Vanity Fair about his own experience with suicidal ideation. When he came close to trying to kill himself, he wrote, the thing that prevented him from doing so was remembering a story he had heard of a woman who tried to kill herself by swallowing pills and instead survived in horrible pain.
“So when it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my own experience,” Sheff wrote. “It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like — to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.”
According to experts, however, the scene was likely to have the exact opposite effect for people who are actively dealing with suicidal ideation.
“It is probably, for most of the viewers, a way of effectively dealing with the sense of the suicide being dreamy and ethereal,” Victor Schwartz, a psychiatry professor at New York University and chief medical officer of the suicide prevention program the JED Foundation, told Vox in 2017. “On the other hand, research shows us that the more obvious, florid, dramatic, and explicit the portrayal is, as disturbing as it is to most of us, there’s the potential that for some people who see it, who are really struggling with something, this winds up being in some way strangely appealing.”
Despite consistent efforts to justify the scene’s existence and defend it against experts’ concerns about its damaging effects, Netflix knew about the possibility that 13 Reasons Why might be dangerous very early on. Before the show even premiered, Netflix hired suicide prevention expert Dan Reidenberg as a consultant on how to roll it out in a responsible way.
Reidenberg told the Syracuse Post-Standard in 2017 that he didn’t think it was possible to release the show in a responsible way. So he told Netflix it shouldn’t put the show out at all.
“But that wasn’t an option,” Reidenberg said. “That was made very clear to me.”
13 Reasons Why is believed to be one of Netflix’s most popular shows, if not one of the most popular shows streaming online in general. While there has not yet been an official announcement, early reports suggest that it has already been renewed for a fourth season.