Since the moment its first season released on Netflix in 2017, the Selena Gomez-produced drama 13 Reasons Why has propelled a spectrum of difficult, yet passionate conversations. Exploring such painful topics as bullying, suicide, and sexual assault that affect many teens today, it has sparked powerful responses across lines: appreciation from young fans for its raw takes, as well as genuine, fearful ire from parents. And now, it has all come to a close.
Its fourth and final season hit Netflix earlier this month. The closest to fantastical horror that the series has delivered to date, the season follows a group of high school students covering up the murder of a football player, all while preparing for their freshman year of college. No longer guided by the Jay Asher novel on which it’s premised, there are scenes of school lockdowns, mysterious phone calls, blood spurting from showerheads in locker rooms, and riots against law enforcement — which, filmed long before the protests against police brutality occurring at the time of its release, feel eerily foreboding. Appropriately, its twist ending drew further controversy.
But that finale stirred mixed emotions from the cast, as well, who had been with the Netflix series since day one. In February, after the crew wrapped filming and prior to the height of the coronavirus pandemic, MTV News gathered 13 Reasons Why stars Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn, and Ross Butler to reflect on going into the final season, graduating from Liberty High School, and portraying “a lot of assholes” on-screen.
MTV News: What was it like going into this last season, knowing it would be the final?
Brandon Flynn: It was emotional. I think it was a blessing to know that it was the last season because it put a fire under all of our asses to really make it something special.
Alisha Boe: It was a rollercoaster, for sure. The writers and the creator really wanted to make the show for the fans, and they took really huge risks. It was still so exciting for us, four years in, to be surprised and challenged as actors, and to be able to portray these characters. So it was a lot of fun.
Ross Butler: And then going into it knowing it was the last season, we all decided to enjoy it a little bit more because it was the last time that we’re going to all be working together.
MTV News: Do you feel satisfied with where everything ended up?
Butler: It’s like senioritis. You have that feeling of accomplishment. And there are ups and downs like usual, but in the end, we all have come to a sense of closure, both on-screen and off. As actors, we created something that millions of people watched, and hopefully, we made them learn something. And I think the ultimate goal, as an artist, is to feel like what you’re putting out in the world is being heard, or that you’re leading culture in some way for the better.
MTV News: Have you thought at all about the legacy you hope this show has?
Flynn: I hope that it carries along with it that message of, at an age filled with turmoil and narcissism and self-obsession, what’s going to help you most is unity, community, compassion, and kindness. You have to discover that for yourself, which was the gorgeous journey these characters have taken. It sucks what we’ve been through, but we’re so happy to have been through it with each other.
MTV News: So, throughout the season, the teens are dealing with the emotional aftermath of a murder, all while preparing to go to college.
Boe: We’re definitely graduating, surprisingly, because we’ve never been in a classroom.
Butler: I know, dude. How are they doing homework and everything with all of this going on? And what comes after all this? That is the big question. How do you live with it? Especially now that we’re so, I wouldn’t say reliant, but we’ve created this small clique with each other. We all know each other’s secrets. And now that we’re splintering off into our own lives, how do you deal with that without the support group that is literally getting you through the hardest thing that you’ll probably experience in your whole life?
MTV News: Do you feel like there’s a level of relatability in that? Just the sense that you create the support system and then you’re splintering off into your own ways?
Boe: Absolutely, I feel like that now. These guys have been my new support system the last four years. And now we’re all splintering off into our own little projects.
Flynn: I think our parents even deal with that stuff. It’s not just a youthful thing. It’s a lifelong journey to find the people that are going to support you.
Butler: Especially for teens. Another big thing we deal with in the show is that this isn’t the end of your life. This is the beginning of your life, getting through high school, getting out of there alive. Because once you go off to college and you start attracting people because you’re like-minded, not because you’re in the same neighborhood, that’s when you really find what you enjoy and you really find your passion.
MTV News: So that’s what you hope the audience takes away from this final season?
Butler: Yeah. Well, that might just be a little tidbit of advice. Because we don’t really address that necessarily, this season. It’s more so just getting through high school.
Boe: Yeah. I think the audience will be satisfied, shocked, and probably some will be very upset. Some won’t be. But like anything, it’s a very good way of wrapping up. All the characters get a very solid wrap-up storyline. So I think for me, I was very satisfied and happy with all the endings.
Flynn: I hope that the audience goes, “I really wish I could see what happens next with them.” Because then I feel like the show really did its job. We’ve created these characters that you’re in love with and you want to watch. And in some weird, meta way, I hope that’s the message, too, that that’s how you should be with people who aren’t on a Netflix show.
MTV News: Looking back on the course of the four seasons, what will you be taking away from this experience overall?
Boe: It was a huge educational process for me, practically. I’ve never worked so consistently before in my life. I learned how a set works. I learned how to adapt. I acquired new skill sets. And it’s been so incredibly great to be able to be comfortable on this set and in front of a camera and being able to get all those walls down. Especially as a young actor, you get so nervous. I’m definitely taking away amazing, amazing friendships with these people — lifelong, honestly, because we went through something so crazy together.
Butler: The story is so meta.
Boe: It really is. I learned so much through playing Jessica. I learned so much about women’s rights. And that was also very meta, because the Weinstein case was happening as we were filming the second season.
Butler: I grew up an only child and I was very self-reliant, very independent. And I think the one thing I learned about going through this is you can only be so tough on your own. No matter what age you are, it’s just about finding the support group of people that you want to support and they want to support you. And it becomes a community. And yeah, being in L.A., I moved here not knowing anybody. So, this was my first real support group. And I’m walking away feeling really emotional about it.
Flynn: You’re choking me up with that. Yeah, you really can’t do any of this alone. You can’t. And I don’t even mean the whole industry, whatever; I just mean life. You can’t do it alone. I’m so fortunate to break into this industry, and into this career, to have a show that speaks that truth, but also a community of young actors and artists, and crew members who also speak that truth.
Boe: We really do have something special, for sure. None of us were actual assholes, which is so weird.
Flynn: We just played a lot of assholes.