When the first season of “Jessica Jones” premiered nearly two and a half years ago, the Netflix/Marvel universe felt shiny and new, and fans relished the possibilities behind this bold new take on superhero storytelling.
But now in the year 2018, after slogging through a second season of “Daredevil” that felt inessential, “Iron Fist” (no explanation needed), and the ultimately disappointing “The Defenders,” our excitement level for a new Marvel season — even a follow-up to arguably the very best Marvel season produced so far — is a bit waning.
That said — damn, is it good to be hanging out with Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) again. In Season 2, the P.I. with superpowers remains vulnerable to bullets as well as the consequences of her bad choices. And while the narrative surrounding her takes too long to find cohesion, it still results in a searing, in-depth character study not normally expected from this genre.
[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” Season 2.]
When Netflix offered press a look at the first five episodes in February, we noted that the early episodes were slow to start, as well as the fact that we only got five of them in advance — a deviation from Netflix’s and Marvel’s usual pattern of providing the first six episodes of a new season for critics for review.
The reason for that choice smashed into focus at the end of Episode 6, as soon as Jessica discovered a framed photo of her young self and little brother in the bedroom of the mysterious killer she’d been tracking up to that point.
Technically, the reveal that this woman was her presumed-dead mother Alisa (Janet McTeer) isn’t a massive twist for anyone who’s ever watched a television show before, though the twist was aided by the fact that Jessica had seen the woman’s face, and hadn’t identified her. (Funny what losing all the skin on your body will do to your complexion.)
But with that reveal, as well as the additional backstory provided by flashbacks in the thoroughly enjoyable Episode 7, the season finally starts to come together, with Jessica confronted by a perhaps impossible dilemma. She may have just rediscovered her mother, but her mother is truly dangerous and unstable, making this reunion far from a happy one.
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and the writers still manage to build up some hope that maybe, just this once, Jessica might be able to recover at least one small piece of her family, which is almost as commendable as McTeer’s fantastic performance. Ritter and McTeer play beautifully off each other, forming a relatable mother-daughter dynamic even while attacking buses and dodging snipers.
It’s not a flawless season of television. For one thing, this season could once again be tighter in its construction — especially the episodes prior to Alisa’s reveal, since the story really only kicks into gear once we understand her place in Jessica’s world. Seriously, Marvel, you let “The Defenders” be eight episodes; why can’t we see more experimentation with season lengths? Especially since the 13-episode orders aren’t doing these shows any favors.
Another element that is starting to grow a bit tired is Jessica’s drinking, only in the context of it being played almost for laughs while two of the people she’s closest to are recovering (or in Trish’s case, relapsed) addicts.
The choices Trish makes, it’s also worth noting, are perhaps the most problematic of the season. Rachael Taylor does her best to sell her new addiction to her performance-enhancing enabler, but her relapse is played a little too over-the-top, especially when she keeps insisting that no, it’s not addictive at all. The fact that it escalates into an obsession with having powers equivalent to Jessica’s is a discordant note, especially when it leads to more people dying, followed by her actually getting what she wants.
Of the returning cast, Carrie-Anne Moss fares the best, given some real meat to chew on following Jeri’s diagnosis with ALS, to which she reacts in the sort of ruthless fashion we’ve come to expect from the MCU’s scariest lawyer. We don’t get quite enough of Terry Chen as a rival investigator, but his final scene in Season 2, which unites him not just with Jeri but with Malcolm (Eka Darville) for some shady enterprise, indicates that should the show return for another season, he’d play a very interesting role in it.
The 13 episodes were all directed by women including Minkie Spiro, Millicent Shelton, Jennifer Getzinger, Rosemary Rodriguez, and Uta Briesewitz. But the best episode of the season may be Episode 11, “AKA Three Lives and Counting” — and not just because Kilgrave (David Tennant) returns to haunt Jessica’s conscience. Directed by Jennifer Lynch (“Boxing Helena,” as well as plenty of television in recent years), it’s a psychologically engrossing hour that also feeds into the season’s best component: The emphasis on Jessica’s inner state, and the literal and figurative demons she’s confronting.
In Season 1, Jessica’s front door kept getting broken. Really, her entire apartment sustained heavy damage over the course of the season; but her front door, with its once-elegant pane of glass declaring this to be her place of business, kept getting smashed open.
It was a clear metaphor for where Jessica was in her journey at that point — an open wound of a human, still grappling with severe trauma, all her angst exposed bare.
Over the course of Season 2, by some miracle Jessica’s door stays intact, shut against the world. And that in itself becomes a too-fitting symbol. What happens when a wound heals? It leaves a scar, the tissue tougher to penetrate. And that’s what she presents to the world, even though it costs her relationships, no matter the cost.
“Jessica Jones” might be about people with superpowers, but it’s always been so deliciously sneaky about the fact that of all the Marvel series, it is the least about what it means to be a superhero. Frankly, that’s more than welcome: We have plenty of heroes on TV, but the number of series largely devoted to the psychology of one complicated woman is far lower.
Not only does the season grapple with Jessica’s self-loathing over the lives she’s taken, but there are so many moments in Season 2 in which we see a glimpse of what Jessica is missing — a real chance for human connection, which fate, circumstances, and her own choices keep denying her. And watching Ritter process and conquer Jessica’s isolation is as achingly beautiful a character portrait as the one painted of her by Oscar (J.R. Ramirez, though the art is very reminiscent of comic book artist David Mack’s work).
Of all the strong choices made over the course of Season 2, here’s the one that lingers in the memory. The season ends not with Jessica suiting up and standing on a rooftop, but with her doing something that scares her a whole lot more: Going to Oscar’s place for dinner, and finding a smile for his son. It doesn’t mean she’s fixed. But it does mean she’s trying.
While there’s no official word on a renewal yet, Season 2 seems to end with the full expectation of a Season 3 — the groundwork has certainly been laid, anyway. We might whine a bit about how much TV in general there is out there, especially when it comes to the Marvel world. But a third season of “Jessica Jones” would be one we’d welcome happily.