Warning: Major spoilers from seasons 1 through 4 ahead. Trigger warning: This article contains language related to rape, sexual assault, substance abuse and suicide.
When it comes to complex characters, Justin Foley (played by actor Brandon Flynn) on 13 Reasons Why definitely fits the bill. During the first half of season 1, Justin appeared to be your typical high school athlete — he was part of the popular crowd, liked to party and had a cheerleader girlfriend.
As the episodes unfolded, it became more and more clear that he was troubled in a number of ways. For starters, Justin came from a broken home. His mom, Amber Foley (played by Jackie Geary), struggled with substance abuse and routinely found herself in toxic, abusive relationships.
Because of that, Justin relied heavily on his friends, primarily Bryce Walker (played by Justin Prentice) for support. However, after Bryce raped Justin’s girlfriend, Jessica Davis (played by Alisha Boe), he began to spiral.
At first, Justin tried to cover up Bryce’s actions as a means of “protecting” himself and Jessica. Eventually, the truth is learned and Justin skipped town. While homeless, he turned to prostitution to support his growing heroin addiction.
Even after Justin came home and moved in with Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette) and his parents, he continued to use off-and-on. Sadly, in season 4, which hit Netflix in early June, Justin was met with a tragic diagnosis.
As a result of his sex work, Justin contracted HIV, which later became AIDS. Since AIDS is a life-threatening condition that attacks the immune system, Justin suffered from pneumonia and meningitis before dying.
While Justin’s death has been faced with some backlash, Dylan Minnette believed it was the only way to end the series. “I remember all season, Brandon and I were specifically hoping that it would be Justin,” the Wallows singer, 23, told Entertainment Weekly. “We were pushing for it and we would plead to [showrunner Brian Yorkey] 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.”
Dylan added that despite Justin’s fate being “devastating and tragic,” it was ultimately the most “powerful” choice.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you or anyone you know has been sexually abused, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). A trained staff member will provide confidential, judgment-free support as well as local resources to assist in healing, recovering and more.
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