The second season was first ordered in January of 2016 (Photo courtesy of Netflix).
Out of the six full seasons of television that ultimately made up phase one of Netflix’s lucrative Marvel TV universe, the first season of “Jessica Jones” was undoubtedly the standout. With its choice to embrace the trappings of film noir rather than that of more traditional Marvel faire, it was the rare piece of superhero media that put more emphasis on character dynamics and puzzle solving than it did on raw action, all while tackling themes of trauma, sexuality and survivor’s guilt with the respect that those topics reserve. A second season was in the cards from the moment the first finished its run, but what was less certain was how series creator Melissa Rosenberg planned to continue the story past season one’s decisive conclusion to Jessica’s main arc. As it turns out, there was nothing really to worry about. “Jessica Jones” season two is an fantastic sequel that builds on the foundation season one left in ways that should leave most returning fans pleased, though they will have to put up with an incredibly slow beginning in order to find out how.
Season two starts off a few months after the events of season one and not too long after Netflix’s crossover special “The Defenders.” Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is back to working as a private investigator, mainly sticking to smaller cases to avoid dealing with competition from more professional outlets springing up as well as to avoid clientele that more and more consider her a super-powered thug due to her murder of the mind-controlling villain Kilgrave at the end of the last season. Things only get worse, however, when her surrogate sister and talk-radio personality Trish Walter (Rachael Taylor) begins digging into Jessica’s past in secret only to discover that Jessica’s superpowers may be the result of experiments by a shadowy organization known as IGH that Jessica repressed any memory of, convincing Trish to try to hunt the group down to bring them to justice. Jessica wants nothing to do with this at first, but ultimately joins Trish’s crusade when she witnesses the murder of a former IGH test subject by a mysterious killer whose powers appear to be a much stronger version of her own.
Right off the bat, what is most fascinating about this season is how different it feels compared to its predecessor in terms of structure and theme. Whereas the first season was able to keep its storyline organized by centering all of its disparate plot threads around the conflict between Jessica and Kilgrave, this season opts to keep each of its side stories mostly independent from each other, with the main link tying them together instead being an exploration of the season’s central theme: “What does it mean to be a hero in a world where the line between hero and monster is tenuous at best?”
Throughout the series, we watch as each member of the cast, in one way or another, struggles under the weight of their past mistakes and try desperately to make up for them, only to corrupt themselves further in a single-minded drive to “do the right thing.” Jessica is the most obvious example of this, with her struggle to come to terms with her murder of Kilgrave and to keep her most violent impulses in check being core to her development this time around. But, it can also be seen in the supporting cast as well, from Trish’s near-suicidal drive to prove herself as a hero to Jessica’s partner Malcolm’s (Eka Darville) struggle to pull his life together as a recovering addict colliding with an overriding need to prove himself to Jessica. Even the villains end up conforming to this theme, with their eventual motives and goals painting them less as outright villains and more as tragic monsters whose good intentions have spiraled out of control. Even at the season’s worst moments, this intense dedication to theming on top of character writing that is as rock-solid here as it was three years ago keeps the story engaging.
Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true from start to finish. While not bad by any means, the first third of the season suffers from a bizarre lack of focus, failing to present an immediate plot hook to get the audience invested in its central mystery beyond simple curiosity. Further complicating things is the portrayal of Jessica herself, whose perpetual rage and righteous anger comes across as frustrating and exhausting without the presence of a proper villain to direct that anger towards. Granted, both of these issues are eventually fixed, with a mid-season twist that completely re-contextualizes the plot up until that point and the introduction of a new character (played to perfection by Janet McTeer) that easily fills in the void left behind by Kilgrave’s absence. But that does not excuse a first third that, while not devoid of memorable moments, takes far too long to give its audience reason to care outside of goodwill from the previous season.
All that being said, “Jessica Jones” season two paradoxically represents some of the best and worst that the Marvel/Netflix crossover has produced so far. Once the show kicks into high gear, it is utterly riveting to a degree that comes close to topping even the best moments of season one. Just know going in that it takes a little while for the series to find its footing again.
Final Grade: B