13 Reasons Why ended with a last catastrophe, and here’s why Justin’s death was the show’s biggest error. So, how did Justin Foley die? Foley, played by Brandon Flynn, was a key character in 13 Reasons Why. He was the first person addressed on Hannah’s records, and he was named and shamed twice for contributing to her suicide.
The first happened when he shared a filthy photo of her, inadvertently exaggerating a rumor. The second time was even more serious: he stood by while Bryce Walker raped Jessica Davis throughout the first season of 13 Reasons Why; Justin was the antagonist.
By the end of the first season, the weight of his decisions had been too much for Justin, and he spent the following seasons actively trying to atone for his mistakes. He never stopped fighting for and protecting Jessica, testified in court on behalf of Bryce’s victims, and became Clay’s most loyal ally and adoptive brother.
Foley led 13 Reasons Why’s most (and possibly only) successful redemption journey. Unfortunately, the character’s efforts were in vain by the series’ conclusion. Foley died from a variety of ailments related to his previous drug use and sex profession. Here’s why Justin’s death on 13 Reasons Why was wrong.
Justin’s Death Was a Backward Step in Depicting HIV/AIDS
Following his breakdown in the penultimate episode of 13 Reasons Why season 4, it was revealed that the answer to the question “How did Justin Foley die?” was that he had contracted HIV previously. By the end of the series, it had progressed to the late stages of AIDS.
His compromised immune system has also caused pneumonia and fungal meningitis. With everything deemed too far along to be adequately treated, Justin faced death and said his goodbyes before succumbing. However, Justin Foley’s death in 13 Reasons Why proved to be a technological and narrative nightmare.
Even discounting the fact that Flynn, who is openly gay, was entrusted with depicting a terminal case of the disease, the decision has received widespread technical criticism. Even organizations such as the National AIDS Trust in the United Kingdom have expressed disappointment with the storytelling decision.
It’s easy to see why. HIV takes approximately 8-10 years to progress to AIDS. However, the needle use and sex work that were said to be the causes of Justin’s death on 13 Reasons Why occurred only a few years ago. The extraordinarily rapid progression of Justin’s disease was just one example of the show’s lack of study on the subject.
Given that the show has frequently justified itself by shedding light on difficult topics, such as Hannah Baker’s 13 Reasons for Suicide, it was not a good image. While the condition was originally considered an epidemic, resulting in widespread deaths, things have improved considerably in the intervening decades.
Additionally, you may be interested in reading some of our other articles:
- How Did Tiana’s Dad Die? The Tragic Tale of James in the Princess and the Frog
- How Did Balerion Die? Mystery of the Black Dread
It no longer needs to be a death sentence, as many survivors can live long and fulfilling lives even after being diagnosed. 13 Reasons Why attempted to portray this point, with Clay noting that “it would have been so easy to save him.” However, it was more a case of telling than showing.
Instead, the show chose to dismiss the lack of a diagnosis as the product of Justin’s shame-driven rejection to be tested. That proved to be a controversial decision, especially because the show caters to a younger audience. Though the show has used a fear-based technique to convey its themes and cultural wisdom, this was an exceptionally bad decision in this situation.
One that could increase the stigma associated with the sickness and significantly impede discourse. Justin Foley’s death on 13 Reasons Why was the latest in a long series of missed opportunities to educate viewers about a specific ailment and the ensuing healing process.
Justin’s Death Missed an Opportunity for Positive Parallels With Season 1
13 Reasons Why season 4 also attempted to bring various stories full circle, with many parallels to season 1. Justin’s death in 13 Reasons Why was the most significant of all. After all, 13 Reasons Why began in the aftermath of a horrific catastrophe. It will now be recorded in history as having ended accordingly.
Similarly, the first episode focused on Justin, whose name appears first on Hannah’s cassettes. As a result, making him the central focus of the series finale makes both logical and thematic sense. His death, however, represented a missed opportunity in terms of storytelling.
13 Reasons Why has dealt with a great deal of sorrow and sadness, to the point where it has been accused of glamorizing and even fetishizing it. This was especially true during season 1 when the show was extensively connected to an increase in real-life suicides.
It’s also why the scene in which Hannah commits suicide was eventually edited out. The controversy has spread to other areas of the show in succeeding seasons. Despite this, the writers continued to fall into the same trap, seemingly unaware that their desired message could be accomplished in various ways.
Justin’s death on 13 Reasons Why could have acted as both a prime example and a source of much-needed catharsis, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. Whereas Hannah was unable to overcome her demons in 13 Reasons Why season 1, Justin may have succeeded in overcoming or learning to live with the ones tormenting him, both medical and otherwise.
Justin’s Death Contradicted 13 Reasons Why’s Own Message About Redemption
In the series finale, 13 Reasons Why discussed the importance and beauty of life. That was notably evident during Clay’s address during the group’s graduation ceremony. Unfortunately, it was little more than lip service and evidence of the show’s overall tell-rather-than-show mindset when it came to Justin’s death on 13 Reasons Why. Like Hannah, the writers had been lost in the pain and gloom of the stories they were writing, to the point where they could rarely discover joy and light until it was too late.
Yes, 13 Reasons Why’s tragedies are an unavoidable part of life. Yes, some crimes go unpunished and deserve to be brought to light. Yes, conversations about certain problems must be prompted. However, there is hope and recovery — two concepts that the show continually ignored in favor of a shock-and-awe approach to emotional resonance, such as Justin’s death on 13 Reasons Why after being presented as a source of misery, ending with Justin as a symbol of hope and recovery could have completed 13 Reasons Why in a much deeper, more fulfilling way.
Another of 13 Reasons Why’s problematic judgments occurred in season 3, when the show oddly attempted to humanize Bryce Walker. It also maintained the trend with Montgomery de la Cruz (Timothy Granaderos), who attempted to give more sympathetic colors to the character posthumously. The strategy could have been more successful since the change felt too harsh, given their previous unrepentant behavior.
However, the idea was that even the most terrible individual may be redeemed. Furthermore, the episode consistently stressed that Alex’s murdering Bryce and Monty’s death in jail deprived them of that opportunity. Unfortunately, the writers accomplished the same thing with Justin’s death in 13 Reasons Why.
What Justin Foley Actor Brandon Flynn Said About Justin’s Death
While Justin’s death justifiably grieved many viewers on 13 Reasons Why, several cast and crew members felt that the conclusion of season 4 was genuine to the program and appropriate for the character. Even Justin actor Brandon Flynn has stated that he is pleased with his character’s death on 13 Reasons Why and that negative reactions are simply the result of individuals grieving the loss of the character. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Brandon Flynn commented, “I applaud the writers in the way they handled the storyline because I think even seeing some of the responses being outrage, it’s the actual process of grief.”
While Flynn believes Justin’s death was the correct decision in 13 Reasons Why, the season 4 finale was contentious in the same way that Game of Thrones’ ending was (though fewer people saw it). Flynn went on to say that he feels people are reacting adversely because they are really saddened by the loss of a 13 Reasons Why character: “I’ve had circumstances in my life where I’ve lost someone, and it’s inspired anger at first. I think once we move past that first stage of anger in grief, we get to the understanding of life and it sometimes not being fair.”
Life is not fair, really. However, that did not have to be the loud message that 13 Reasons Why sent forth. The show could have finished with Justin achieving repentance and living a fulfilling life. Instead, show creators chose to give him a harsh and borderline offensive finale. Dylan Minette (who plays Clay Jensen on 13 Reasons Why) expressed satisfaction with Justin’s death in another interview (via EW). Minette reportedly stated the following:
“I remember all season Brandon and I were specifically hoping that it would be Justin, and we were pushing for it, and we would plead to Brian making the case of why we feel like it should be him because he and I both felt that it would have the biggest emotional impact on the series given Justin’s entire arc.”
Justin Foley had the show’s most successful redemption storyline. In fact, he may have had the strongest character arc overall. Despite childhood trauma, a drug-addicted and irresponsible mother, abusively toxic friendships, homelessness, and his own drug addiction, Justin transformed his life. He fought to become a better person. And by the fourth season of 13 Reasons Why, Justin had finally found a loving family and was looking forward to the future, which included a successful college application.
Justin was on the point of witnessing his redemptive story grow. Unfortunately, the writers made him suffer further pain, relapse into his addictions, and eventually die. By continuing its habit of what can only be defined as emotional torture porn, the show also limits Justin’s genuine potential as a character. As a result, the death of Justin in 13 Reasons Why deprived viewers of what could have been one of television’s most actively inspiring personalities rather than just another terrible cautionary tale.
Additionally, you may be interested in reading some of our other articles:
- How Did Adrian Die in Rocky? The Emotional Journey After Tragic Loss
- How Did Nancy’s Mom Die in A Nightmare on Elm Street?
Justin Foley’s Death is One of Many Problems, With 13 Reasons Why
Justin’s death on 13 Reasons Why wasn’t the only controversy – the program has received a lot of criticism during its four seasons. Many sequences in the first season alone were very distressing for viewers, and depicting Hannah Baker’s horrible murder felt all but gratuitous.
Parental organizations hoped that by showing Hannah’s suicide, other kids struggling with mental health might follow suit. Despite showrunner Brian Yorkey’s dismissal of these sentiments, claiming that the show will spark debates between teenagers and adults, Netflix opted to remove the controversial Hannah Baker death scene two years after it premiered.
The rape of Hannah, Jessica, and Chloe by Bryce Walker was also a contentious point in 13 Reasons Why. The depiction of sexual assault in an adolescent drama was ruthless, but showrunners defended the decision, claiming that sexual violence is an important and under-discussed topic. The issue wasn’t that consent should be discussed; rather, 13 Reasons Why focused on Bryce more than the consequences of his horrible conduct. The over-exertion of drug culture, as well as bullying/jock culture, were also criticized.
While these behaviors actually happen in high school, 13 Reasons Why exaggerated the problem to absurd dimensions. Tyler Down, a victim of this bullying, is sodomized with a broomstick and brutally beaten. While there was a warning before this episode, it wasn’t enough to prepare viewers. Tyler’s attempted school shooting was likewise handled poorly, as there was little to no understanding of his psychological state. As a result, Clay talked the Tyler character from 13 Reasons Why out of it and removed him from the scene.
In addition to Justin’s contentious murder on 13 Reasons Why, Bryce’s rape conviction resulted in only three months of probation, despite one of his victims committing suicide and the other getting widespread condemnation. Showrunners also made the poor decision of casting Ani as a 13 Reasons Why actor. Having Ani lecture Jessica about rape and healing while courting her rapist was plainly inappropriate. Many viewers were similarly angry when Manny’s character was killed off in season 3 of 13 Reasons Why.