The second season of “Jessica Jones” seemingly begins with an approach best described as “back to basics.” After a first season of emotional catharsis, followed by beating down a bunch of ninjas during team-up series “The Defenders,” the emotionally damaged P.I. with superpowers (Krysten Ritter — don’t call her a superhero) has returned to do what she does best: drink, fight, make poor bedroom-related decisions, and maybe, if she gets around to it, unpack the mystery of her past.
After killing her tormenter Kilgrave (David Tennant) at the end of Season 1, Jessica seems to have come to terms with the fact that if she’s going to move on with her life, she’s going to need some answers when it comes to what led to her getting superpowers in the first place. But that doesn’t mean she’s comfortable with acknowledging that she’s a killer, or that she’s ready for those answers once she gets them.
Everybody’s got their stuff they’re dealing with, to be fair. After “The Defenders” (where “Jessica Jones’s” supporting characters only got the most bare bones of attention) it’s refreshing to return to a narrative format where the personal issues of Malcolm (Eka Darville) and Jeri (Carrie-Anne Moss) can get a little more concentration. In fact, one of the most compelling new storylines revolves around Jeri confronting a medical issue that’s (so far) completely disconnected to the overall narrative, but puts the character front and center in a way that leaves us wanting more.
Season 2’s all-female directing staff, including Minkie Spiro and Deborah Chow, keeps the show’s noir bent in place though doesn’t push too hard into the realm of art — but the clean approach works, as does Ritter’s always grounded and believable performance. What doesn’t work is the lack of direction on a plot level. The early episodes add a few new players to the action, including J.R. Ramirez as Jessica’s new super and Terry Chen as a rival P.I. (Chen might be remembered best as Ben Fong-Torres from “Almost Famous,” but over 15 years later he’s still pretty groovy.)
Meanwhile, supporting the narrative and honestly driving it forward the most is Jessica’s best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor). The more active role Trish takes is welcome, especially given that Season 2 suffers from what we may be forced to officially deem Marvel-Itis — a condition which infects the patient with drawn-out narratives and seasons of television that are at least three episodes too long.
At least thanks to Trish, the story has some forward momentum. The most difficult thing about these opening episodes is that they fall into the trap so many superhero stories do, seeming to suggest something about Season 2 of “Jessica Jones” that wasn’t necessarily true in Season 1: A superhero is only as good as her supervillain. This is disappointing on a number of levels, not the least of which is that it implies Jessica can’t carry a story on her own, which is certainly not true.
Yet it’s the introduction of Janet McTeer as a mysterious figure connected with Jessica’s past who is the most dynamic element of these early episodes. While she has potential as a foil, there’s not enough of her to keep us hooked, not to mention the lack of the emotional hook that we had with Kilgrave in Season 1. It should be an emotional journey on something like an equal level, given that both storylines feature some form of violation for Jessica. Unfortunately, the path remains a bit too meandering.
There was an undercurrent of terror throughout “Jessica Jones” Season 1 that gave the series a darkness and dynamism which elevated it over previous Marvel series; Season 2 lacks that in its first five episodes. Yet there are still eight to go, which is plenty of time for Jessica to make bad decisions in her fight to do right. And one thing remains unchanged — her story is singularly hers, uncompromising and unapologetically all about what we’ve come to love about this character. The point of Jessica Jones isn’t that she’s a hero, but that she’s still standing despite everything that’s happened to her, and everything she is. So even if her story takes its sweet time to get going, we’re still glad to be on the journey with her.
“Marvel’s Jessica Jones” Season 2 premieres March 8 on Netflix.