**Warning: May contain spoilers — I apologize, but it is difficult to talk about this series without going into some detail**
This season caught me completely off-guard, but for once it was not because of the content. I knew that this season was coming at some point this year, but I had no idea when, so I was very surprised to see it on my Netflix list. I really enjoyed both previous seasons (reviews linked here and here), but as I mentioned with Season 2, I was a bit apprehensive since we have now veered very far off the original book. Given that the second season ended on such a cliffhanger, I was excited to see what happened, but not quite convinced that continuing the show in general was necessary.
This season picks up soon after the events of Season 2, focusing on the disappearance of Bryce Walker after Homecoming. When Bryce’s body is found, all of the main characters seem to have motive and opportunity to be the killer. A new character, Ani, is introduced to narrate the episodes as she attempts to uncover what happened to Bryce, in the process revealing many of the secrets that everyone has been trying to hide. The season is mostly told through flashbacks, showing what has happened for everyone after the attempted shooting at Spring Fling, leading up to the Homecoming riot. It was an interesting approach to show, although it didn’t quite grip me from the start as strongly as the first two seasons. I went into this season knowing almost nothing about what the major storyline would be, aside from a brief trailer I’d seen that mentioned Bryce’s death, but it was a bit jarring to have a brand new person unconnected to any of the events of the previous seasons take over as narrator.
Another central overarching storyline for this season is about healing, with both Jess and Tyler starting to heal from what has happened to each of them. I thought it did a particularly good job with Tyler’s story, especially around his decision whether to tell anyone what had happened and/or report it. For Jess, a big part of her healing was getting involved in a group for sexual assault survivors and their allies, and struggling to figure out what she needs herself in order to move forward. Interestingly enough, the show also attempts a kind of redemption arc for Bryce, where he finally begins to understand the impact his actions have on others, and deciding that he wants to be better. I found it interesting how the writers contrasted Bryce, the main villain of the first two seasons, with Monty, who really became the monster by the end of Season 2. In this season, we do get a bit more backstory for Monty as well. Both Bryce and Monty will be discussed in a bit more detail in the Characters section below.
Given the focus on healing and how to move forward following traumatic events, I found this season less dark overall. I liked the use of flashbacks to show what had happened for all of the major characters, and the season in general kept me guessing all the way to the end about who the killer really was and why. I had absolutely no idea who it was since everyone seemed equally implicated. A large part of the season also focused on Clay, who the police strongly suspected, although to be honest, I felt like his character almost took a backseat to the others this season. When I think about the season arc as a whole, the characters who most strongly come to mind are Bryce, Jess and Tyler. While I enjoyed the season overall, I didn’t quite connect with it as strongly as I had with the previous two. That may have been because I didn’t expect it to be out at the time, so I hadn’t fully been prepared to watch it, or possibly because I wasn’t sure if it was really necessary to continue this story.
Characters & Casting
As always, the main strength of this show is the characters and the brilliant cast who brings them all to life. I often forget that I’m watching a fictional show since the characters all seem so real. Ani (played by Grace Saif) was a character whose presence alone seemed to spark a lot of controversy among fans. Many have complained that adding someone new at this point made little sense. Ani is a British transfer student whose mother works as a nurse for Bryce’s dying grandfather, so the two of them live in the Walker’s home. To me, Ani functions in a similar way to Hannah in the earlier seasons, narrating events from more of an outside perspective. There are definitely things about Ani’s character that make little sense, such as how someone who is brand new can get people, especially those who are very guarded like so much of the main cast, to open up about traumatic experiences. Ani seems to quickly and easily befriend everyone, to the point where they are willing to tell her just about everything, while simultaneously leaving the viewer to wonder how reliable she is herself as a narrator. It also strikes me as a bit odd that a teenager manages to piece together what happened relatively easily, especially since she is completely depending on what she is told since she wasn’t there. Personally, I didn’t mind Ani as a character, and although it was a bit of an odd decision, I thought the actress did a great job and it somehow worked.
I thought both Devin Druid (playing Tyler Down) and Alisha Boe (playing Jessica Davis) once again did a fantastic job of playing these two very complex characters. Both of them have really come into their own as characters who are struggling to move forward, and I thought they both did an outstanding job of portraying that. I was especially impressed by the subtle way Tyler began to change over the course of the season, as his daily photography project showed, as he began to once again regain some confidence through the support of those around him. Jess’s arc similarly showed her learning to feel in control again, and attempts to take steps to ensure that no one else will have to face what she did by targeting “jock culture” at her school. Both characters also had especially powerful scenes where they confronted Monty and Bryce respectively, which were brilliantly handled.
I have to give a special mention to Timothy Granaderos, who plays the cruel and aggressive Monty. This actor did such an amazing job playing this character that I genuinely found him scary to watch. This season did attempt to add a bit more complexity to Monty’s character, showing his difficult home life as well as him struggling to come to terms with some things about himself. What made him truly creepy though was his outright refusal to take any responsibility or even admit what he did to Tyler, attempting to pass it off as “a joke” or “just hazing.” He even tells Tyler not to make such a big deal about it since it happens to lots of other guys, in a particularly eerie interaction. Like Bryce in Season 2, it seemed that the writers were attempting to flesh this character out a bit more as a full person, although I felt a bit conflicted about how it was done. Similarly, while I thought Bryce’s potential redemption arc was interesting to watch, and definitely believable thanks to the brilliant acting job by Justin Prentice, this entire storyline can be a bit problematic. We spent two seasons viewing Bryce as a monstrous person who takes what he wants and doesn’t care what it means for anyone else, only for him now to start to realize and openly acknowledge that he was wrong. Although I really liked how it was portrayed, that part of the story arc left me feeling a bit conflicted about Bryce in general — his desire to change and be a better person seemed genuine, but it doesn’t erase the harm he has caused. At the same time, I’m not sure he deserved to die for it either.
In general, I found that this season had cut back quite a bit on the overall number of characters to follow. Characters such as Ryan, Marcus and Sheri are completely absent. I did find it interesting how some of the adults were brought in for brief appearances, including Derek Luke as Mr. Porter, the school counsellor, and Kate Walsh as Hannah’s mother, Olivia. The season also gave ample attention to Justin (Brandon Flynn), who is still living with Clay’s family, and my personal favourite — Tony (Christian Navarro), who once again is a strong and interesting character to follow. This season also gave a bit more time to Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler) and Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), rounding out a complex cast of characters with secrets to hide. Although Clay (Dylan Minnette) was still a prominent part of the series, especially as the police’s main suspect for much of the season, I didn’t connect with him quite as strongly as in previous seasons.
As always, the is the most difficult part of any show for me to comment on since it’s not something I actively pay attention to. I can’t really say that I remember any of the music that was used, although it must have fit quite well since I don’t remember finding any of it out of place either. This season once again kept up the stark visuals of the previous two, although it was much less graphic and violent overall. I thought the show once again did a strong job of capturing the tone of the show. I don’t think there were any specific scenes that stood out for me in the way that a few did in each of the previous seasons, but that’s probably a good thing because the scenes that tended to stay with me the most were some of the most difficult to watch.
To be honest, I went into this season with relatively low expectations. I had really enjoyed Seasons 1 and 2, despite the graphic and violent content, so I expected to like this one as well. I somehow couldn’t help feeling a little disconnected from this season in general, and I wonder if that had to do with the change in the kind of story. This season was more of a murder mystery, whereas the previous one was a courtroom drama and the first a (dark) contemporary high school story. Once again, I found the casting one of the strongest parts of the show, and it is a huge reason that I continue to watch, even when I’m not sure the story really needs to continue. I also thought that this was going to be the last season, so I was surprised to see news about an upcoming fourth and final season due next year. I’m interested to see how much further they can take this story, considering it’s already stretched so far past the book.
Plot – 8/10
Characters/Casting – 10/10
Visuals/Music – 8/10
Overall – 8.5/10
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