Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from Season 3 of 13 Reasons Why, including the finale.
13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s teen drama that often doubles as an all-school assembly on the dangers of partying, needs a narrator.
Season 1 was entirely framed through recently deceased Liberty High student Hannah Baker’s tapes, explaining her decision to take her own life and how the other students at the school affected her. Actress Katherine Langford’s narration echoed through every episode. For Season 2, the narration was handled by the ensemble, as they shared their own experiences as part of Hannah’s parents’ lawsuit against Liberty High. The narration could be cloying at times, but it ultimately gave the show its shape.
So when it came time to write Season 3, the creative team had to choose a new narrator. But instead of going with anyone from the existing ensemble — a genuinely beguiling group of young actors led effectively by Dylan Minnette as Clay, Brandon Flynn as Justin, and Alisha Boe as Jessica — the writers decided to add a new character to the mix. Enter Ani, short for Amorowat Achola, a new student at Liberty High and daughter to the in-home caretaker of local teen rapist Bryce Walker’s wealthy grandfather.
To say that Ani (played by Grace Saif) has been divisive among fans of the show would be an understatement. Fans hate Ani. They despise her. They think she’s annoying, an interloper and a know-it-all. This isn’t just a vocal minority, either. There are whole threads with hundreds of comments devoted to castigating her character and the decision to include her. It’s gotten so bad that stars of the show have had to come to Ani’s defense in interviews.
Is all this hate justified? Well, I’d argue the hate of a TV character is never fully justified, as they’re ultimately just a fictional being. But is dislike justified? In this case, very much so. Ani is a baffling character, in both conception and execution, and is the latest poor choice made by the 13 Reasons Why writing team.
The biggest issue with Ani is the form her narration takes. With Hannah’s narration, she was telling her own story. With the rest of the ensemble’s narration in Season 2, they were telling theirs, which often contradicted Hannah’s in interesting ways. Because that’s the thing about storytelling, right? There’s your story, there's my story, and there's the truth.
But Ani isn’t telling her own story. She’s telling a very specific, detailed version of events, one that involves her spilling every other member of the ensemble’s dirty secrets. She goes on at length about how Justin is a drug addict and how Jessica was angry at her rapist. And her tone — matched with a British accent, the only one on thw show — feels judgmental at all times. Combine all that with her rushed introduction, which thrusts her into the heat of the action immediately as Clay’s investigative partner in the case of Bryce Walker’s murder, and you have a recipe for a character who’s far too involved for someone so new.
She’s also key to the problematic redemption story arc for Bryce this season. For whatever reason, the creative team decided that Bryce, the clear villain and monster of Seasons 1 and 2, shouldn’t go out like that. So most of the season is spent showing all the other sides to his character, including a friendship and later relationship with Ani. At several points, Ani shouts Clay down, telling him he’s only judging Bryce by what he knew of him. But Clay knew Bryce far better than Ani did. She didn’t even know about the Hannah Baker tapes, or that Bryce raped Jessica. It all makes Ani look clueless, and yet more often than not, the show takes her side.
Things get worse in the finale, when we find out what Ani’s been doing all along. She’s been telling the deputy sheriff a long-winded tale in service of setting up one Monty De La Cruz for Bryce Walker’s murder. She’s taking so long because her friends need to confirm that Monty is dead first, after having been killed in prison. That’s right: She’s doing this to frame a dead man for murder.
That this is largely sold to us as Ani’s plan to get Clay off the hook only makes the situation worse. Not only is Ani a know-it-all, she’s also the savior who gets our protagonist out of trouble. Her story importance is massive, when any number of the original ensemble’s members could have taken at least part of her role. Ani’s inclusion smacks of deus ex machina, and an irritating one at that.
Considering 13 Reasons Why has just one season left, I’d imagine Ani will be back next time around. Maybe she’ll be less irritating when she’s not the narrator, but as a character this season, she was not what the series needed.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.