Netflix's hit series 13 Reasons Why is a thought-provoking drama that reminds us to be weary of our actions and our words, because we never know how they may be affecting others. It's also a series that is confusing and riddled with controversies, and of all the people on Hannah Baker's list, there is one person we think doesn't belong there (apart from Clay Jensen, but he's there for an entirely different reason).
That person? Zach Dempsey.
The character is played by actor Ross Butler, and although he's flawed, he's actually surprisingly likable. Was what he did to Hannah bad enough to put him on a list, a list of reasons why she ultimately took her own life? This is debatable, but we do have 15 reasons why Zach may not have deserved to be grouped into the same category as people like Justin Foley (who slut-shamed Hannah) and Bryce Walker (the rapist).
15 Hannah Baker's Narrative Is Unreliable
The show focuses on a series of tapes made by high school student Hannah Baker. It's on these tapes that she details the actions of her peers, which ultimately led to her decision to take her own life. Each tape is dedicated to a different person, and Zach Dempsey is the subject of Tape 4, Side A.
On this tape, Hannah reveals how Zach's decision to steal her messages during Communication Class caused her to fall deeper into despair and loneliness.
She suspects that it was Zach who was stealing the notes from her "compliments bag" and writes him a long and emotional letter about her feelings, including how desperately she needed to read those notes. Hannah also claims on her tape that Zach threw away her heartfelt letter, but we later find out that this isn't true. Zach showed Clay that he had not thrown away the letter she wrote him, in fact, he still kept it in his wallet. And what this proves is that Hannah is an unreliable narrator, whose story cannot always be believed.
14 He Is Not A Bully
Prior to Zach's tape, Hannah discusses how their fellow classmate, Marcus Cole, left her deeply depressed.
Every year the school holds a Valentine's Day event called One Dollar Valentine; which matches students up with people who are supposed to be compatible with them based on their likes and interests. In Tape 3, Side B, Marcus told Hannah she was first on his list, and invited her on a date to Rosie's diner.
What followed was a public humiliation: Marcus showed up an hour late and then proceeded to try and make a move on Hannah because he thought she was "easy" — all while a group of jocks watched on and laughed. Zach was in that group, but he never laughed, and he was not a bully. His actions that came next only further prove that he is, at his core, a good guy.
13 He Was Kind To Hannah When She Needed It
Seeing how Marcus had humiliated Hannah in the diner, and how she was visibly shaken by the incident, Zach decides to return and comfort her.
He sits across the table from Hannah and apologizes for Marcus and the rest of his friends. He can tell that Hannah needs someone to talk to, but she's also not in the right frame of mind to speak, so he sits across from her in silence — just letting his presence be known and expecting nothing in return.
In this moment we get a glimpse into the character's sympathetic nature, and as the story progresses, it reminds us that Zach has a good and kind heart. Zach was there when Hannah needed someone (even if she was too hurt by this stage to let anyone in), and this is an important reason why he shouldn't have made it onto her list.
12 He Treats Women With Respect
Zach is not perfect, and we can't excuse his actions, but we also can't help but think he is one of the few male characters that actually has respect for women — based on his interactions with the most important women in his life: his mother and his sister.
While Zach seems a tad terrified of his mother, he interacts with her in a way which is respectful and polite. But we are given a glimpse into just how incredible he can be thanks to his interactions with his younger sister. He plays games with her and he eats her vegetables when their mom isn't looking. It's sweet.
Throughout the series there are several moments that focus on Zach and the relationship he has with his sister. And the way that he treats her is a good indication of how he treats most of the women in his life.
11 He Is Family-Focused
Despite the many things Zach could be doing, he chooses to spend time with his younger sister, and he would rather be at home bonding with her and playing games than going out and doing typical teenager activities. This proves that he has some pretty impressive core values.
An example of this came towards the end of the series, when Zach ignored his friend Justin Foley's call because he was spending time with his family. These are the people he clearly values the most.
Ross Butler spoke about his character, and the relationship that Zach had with his family during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Speaking of why Zach chose to ignore Justin's call he said, "That's so revealing of what's going through Zach's head, because he's questioning his friendships and who's going to stand up for him, and when he's at the table with his sister and his mom, he knows that those are the people who really care about him…"
10 Zach Did What He Did Because He Was Hurt
Zach's decision to steal Hannah's notes from their peer communications class, was intended to hurt her. However, in a way, you have to feel sorry for Zach, because he too was hurting.
He had been rejected by Hannah when he was trying to convey that he had real feelings for her. He told her in the cafeteria that he liked her for her, and that she was so much more than just a "great ass." His choice of words were stupid, but they weren't meant to offend her. However, Hannah was so tired of the whole "hit list" thing that she flew into a fit of rage and rejected Zach. He then channeled this humiliation and rejection into something bitter.
Not excusing his actions, but it should also be remembered that Hannah was not the only teenager with emotions in this show, and that Zach was obviously hurting and unsure of how to deal with it.
9 Hannah Knew Zach Was Lonely
In the beginning of Hannah's tape for Zach, she states, "Even the most basic social interactions help keep us alive. Statistics prove the subjective feeling of loneliness can increase the likelihood of premature death by 26%..." But she also acknowledges that while she was desperately lonely, she thought Zach was lonely, too.
This is confusing on many levels, because if she realized that Zach was silently suffering, just like her, why did she do nothing to help him? Why was she not more understanding of the way he reacted her rejection?
Hannah's tapes are meant to help the teenagers who made high school a toxic experience, realize what they did to alienate her and make her feel such depression. But at the same time, she recognized those feelings in someone else and did nothing to help. And, just like her, Zach had his own set of problems, and was in need of a real friend, too.
8 He Showed Genuine Remorse For What Happened
Unlike many of the other characters who found themselves on the tape, Zach showed genuine remorse about what happened to Hannah, and he was deeply affected by the part he had to play in this.
We saw glimpses of this throughout the series (including his reaction to Clay when he keyed his car), but the most obvious example was during the deposition tapes. Hannah's parents sued the school for doing nothing to prevent their daughter from being bullied. According to Entertainment Weekly, during his deposition interview Zach revealed that he and his friends had bullied Hannah, and this is an incredibly important moment. It proves that he has a conscious, he's willing to take responsibility, and that he knows that he did was wrong.
7 He Was Honest About His Feelings
Zach liked Hannah. Okay, he really liked her. Not because he was trying to get something from her (like Marcus, who proclaimed that he only went on a date with her because she was easy). And putting his feelings out there was a brave thing to do.
Did things go as planned? Absolutely not, but it should still be noted that Zach was unconcerned with the slut-shaming rumors that surrounded Hannah. But more than that, he didn't care what other people thought about him liking Hannah.
In high school there is a lot of pressure from friends and different peer groups. And Hannah and Zach were not in the same group (he is a popular jock and she was more of an outsider). His friends may have given him a hard time if he ended up with her, but that didn't stop him from confessing his feelings — which ultimately made the rejection even more bitter.
6 He Didn't Get Violent
How would you react if someone keyed your car with the words "Why Me?" Well, Clay Jensen did this to Zach, but rather than Zach getting physical or even verbally abusive, he chose to deal with the situation in a more mature way.
We know Clay did this while listening to Zach's tape. So he decided to carve those two words into the side of Zach's Audi S5 convertible (a symbol of his wealth) because he wanted to get revenge on his fellow classmate for how his actions affected Hannah.
Zach did not tell his mother that is was Clay who did the damage to his car (she found out because Clay had reportedly been acting strangely during the game, and the coach had to kick him out of the auditorium). He also tried to defend Clay, after his mother accused Clay of being jealous of his car.
It's also worth noting that Zach seemed to feel terrible about what he did, and in a way, probably felt that he deserved what Clay did to him.
5 He Didn't Know What Was In Hannah's Head
Whether Zach did everything that Hannah said he did, or not, we can't be sure. Yes, when it was revealed that she had been wrong about what Zach did with the letter, it made viewers question what else could have been inaccurate. But if we assume that Zach did indeed steal Hannah's notes from the compliment box, then we still have to ask ourselves if he realized just how badly his actions would affect her?
Until Zach received Hannah's letter, it's likely that he didn't know what was going on inside her head. And although he intended to hurt her by stealing her compliments, he most probably had no idea just how badly this would affect her, and he appeared to stop once he received her letter. When compared to what some of the other characters did on the list, Zach's actions pale in comparison.
4 He's Deeply Emotional
Zach is a complicated character with many different personality traits: he was sympathetic and funny at certain points during the season, but he was also vindictive. But perhaps these different traits help us realize that Zach was not perfect, and his popularity was not a suit of armor. (Something which Hannah may have failed to realize.)
What Zach is, is a vulnerable teenager who was unable to deal with his emotions in an adequate way. Even Ross Butler, who plays the character, acknowledged during an interview with Teen Vogue that Zach is "deeply emotional" and that his "feelings come out of left field." Confirming that this character is far more complex than the typical jock stereotype.
3 He Didn't React To Hannah's Letter Because He Was Scared
Perhaps one of most convincing examples for those who argue that Zach should have been on Hannah's list, is his reaction to the heartfelt letter she wrote him; detailing her personal struggles and how lonely she felt. While it appeared that Zach did not care about the letter and simply crumpled it up and threw it away (we later find out that this is not true), we also have to remember that his actions were that of a confused, scared teenager.
He most probably didn't react to Hannah's note because he didn't know what to say, and didn't know how to deal with it. Should he have dealt with it better? Absolutely. But he did keep it, meaning that it meant something to him and he was not callous or cruel.
2 He Was Suffering, Too
Zach did not have the perfect home life: He enjoyed a close relationship with his sister, and his mom appeared to have a lot of love for her children (even though she is as tough as nails), but there was also a lot of pressure from Zach's mother for him to be perfect.
He is well-liked at school and the star of the basketball team, so to an outsider, it may appear as though he has the perfect life. But that pressure would no doubt be hard to cope with, and it's something that Zach was struggling with in private.
It's also worth noting that although he has all the material luxuries that he could ever need, Zach doesn't have one vitally important thing: time with his father. Whom did not appear once in the series and was absent because of his focus on work.
1 He Realized He Needed To Make Changes In His Life
While it can be argued that Zach's decision to ignore his friend Justin's phone calls was a selfish move (because he wasn't there for his friend when things got really hard), and we saw just how desperately Justin needed someone to be there for him, it can also be looked at in a more positive way.
Zach decided to focus on his family, the people who really mattered to him and who he knows will love him unconditionally. But this also means that he may have realized he was not in the right crowd to begin with. Justin humiliated Hannah and started the slut-shaming rumors, Marcus humiliated her again in the diner thinking that she was easy, and Bryce is quite clearly the worst of them all and is a serial rapist. So, understanding that his life was not going in the direction that it should, and knowing that it was time to change it, was actually a mature and sensible thing to have done.