What is Jessica Jones?
Welcome to Season 2 of Jessica Jones, pretty much the best of the Marvel Netflix shows thus far. Season 1 found the fast-talking, hard-drinking private eye of the title dealing with the demons of her past. Including Kilgrave, a psychopath who made people do his bidding by simply saying the word, and who had previously enslaved Jessica. Jones killed him at the end of the series, though as Season 2 begins, it’s clear she’s struggling to move on.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 OF JESSICA JONES AHEAD
Season 1 plonked the audience slap-bang in the middle of a story. Jessica Jones already had super-strength, had already been abused by Kilgrave, and already escaped his clutches. So the series was very much the second-half of that horrific tale.
Season 2 takes us back to the start. The very start. To investigate what are referred to as the ghosts in Jessica’s head. So while it kicks off in the here-and-now with Jessica working for clients she hates just as much as her new-found fame as a vigilante superhero, the series is also filled with its fair share of flashbacks.
Most notably, nostalgic scenes that transport us to happier times with her family. Though they lead into the crash that killed said family, followed by Jessica’s superpowers being forced upon her in horrific fashion.
There’s even an episode that almost entirely takes place in the past, revolving around young Trish (Rachel Taylor) going off the rails as she pursues a career in music via her unforgettable ditty ‘Cray-Cray,’ and young Jessica making horrible decisions as she dates a bad boy and starts using her powers for purely selfish reasons.
Fans of the character will love finding out how she came by her iconic leather jacket, or where the name for Alias Investigations came from. But these scenes also lend the characters real dimension and depth, giving the audience a greater understanding of traits like Trish’s self-involvement, or Jessica’s anger. And paving the way for the horrors taking place in the present.
A Family Affair
The season’s central storyline concerns how and why Jessica got her powers. It seems as though straight after the aforementioned crash, Jones went missing for 20 days. Then mysteriously re-appeared with super-strength.
A cameo from classic Marvel character the Whizzer — who actually harks all the way back to the 1940s — suggests Jones wasn’t the only person to power-up during that period. Unfortunately for them, it also becomes clear that someone is trying to bump these exceptional people off.
The investigation ultimately takes Jones back to where it all began. It turns out, Jessica’s mother Alisa Jones didn’t die in the crash, but rather received her own powers as part of the same experiments. For what started out as groundbreaking genetic editing designed to speed up the healing process, ended up doing super-bad stuff to good people. Giving Whizzer super-speed. Jessica super-strength. And in Alisa’s case, super-SUPER-strength. That also turns her into a killing machine whenever she feels negative emotions.
All of which has a devastating effect on Jessica, who doesn’t know whether to hug her mother now she’s returned from the dead. Or kill her, to stop all those pesky murders. The pair attempting to bond makes for some of the season’s most affecting moments, and turns them into something of a super-powered Thelma and Louise late in proceedings.
But those scenes also serve to give our anti-hero hitherto unseen vulnerability. Now we’re not saying Jessica goes soft in this series — but we do witness her feeling emotion, even crying on a couple of occasions. Jones embarks on something approaching a relationship — even bonding with her new dude’s kid. Basically, becoming a human again, which is beautiful to behold after what she’s been through and brought convincingly to life in touching fashion, by the ever-brilliant Krysten Ritter.
The Kilgrave Problem
It’s also a sweet relief for viewers, with Season 2 a little lighter in tone than the deeply distressing Season 1. Still, this season does touch upon serious issues, from gun control and immigration to homophobia and sexual abuse, the latter occurring when Trish confronts a director who previously molested her.
But overall it’s a much lighter affair. Trouble is, it’s also less tense, less powerful, and less compelling. With much of that down to Kilgrave. Marvel has a problem with its villains, both on the big screen and small, with bad guys and gals frequently failing to match the good.
But as played by David Tennant, Kilgrave was a true great; all smiling malevolence as he mentally and physically abused those around him. Season 2 has nothing approaching that in terms of villainy. Dr. Karl — the quack responsible for those experiments — is briefly introduced as a bad guy, but it soon becomes clear he’s little more than “a creep with a science hard-on.”
So Alisa Jones becomes the villain of the piece, the side effects from her superpowers sending her into those killing frenzies. Unfortunately, as performed by the normally excellent Janet McTeer, those frenzies look a little silly, most notably when she’s bashing a piano to bits, and hulking out in a hospital.
The fact that the “monster” is her kin makes it more personal for Jessica. And makes the nature of the evil more complicated for the audience, with those devastating mood swings entirely out of Ailsa’s control. But sadly, that combination does not make for an engaging show.
This is an issue that isn’t helped by Kilgrave reappearing in Episode 11. He’s purely a figment of Jessica’s imagination, whispering sick nothings in her ear like some invisible Iago, and claiming that he’ll always be in her head. Yet while he doesn’t stick around for long onscreen, Kilgrave’s scenes are some or Season 2’s best; a grim reminder of just how frightening he was last time out, how effective that storyline continues to be, and how much it’s missed in the new series.
The Plot Thickens For Trish, Malcolm and Hogarth
Jessica Jones friends and foes all have expanded roles this season, with varying degrees of success. Malcolm (Eka Darville) has perhaps the best story arc. Jessica’s junkie neighbour — redeemed last time around — now works as her assistant, and quickly proves himself to be a pretty skilled investigator in his own right.
But Malcolm’s relationship with his boss deteriorates as proceedings progress, so-much-so that by the end of the series he’s pretty much working against Jessica Jones. Making it an interesting journey for perhaps the show’s most likeable character, and setting them on a collision course in the future.
Trish is all over the place this season, championing tolerance early in proceedings, falling in love with a wooden Brit, trying to become an investigative journalist, falling out of love with that wooden Brit, having a Network-style meltdown live on air, puffing on an inhaler that makes her stronger and faster, becoming addicted to the contents of that inhaler, having withdrawals from that inhaler, being experimented on, and finally developing powers that should see her turn into comic book character heroine Hellcat in Season 3.
It’s exhausting to watch. And frequently feels like the writers just chucked stuff her way when they had minutes to fill.
Speaking of filler, Hogarth‘s storyline is ALL filler. She falls ill early in proceedings, but as the least likeable character in the show, it’s hard to care about her predicament. Yet the show keeps returning to her deeply dull storyline. And when her search for a cure overlaps with the central storyline in painfully forced fashion, I actually found myself willing Hogarth dead. Which is probably not what the show was going for.
Is Season 2 of Jessica Jones Good?
Jessica Jones is a solid season of superhero shenanigans. One that sadly doesn’t live up to what came before. That’s partly down to an insistence on making these seasons 13 episodes long, and therefore dragging out multiple storylines while suffering that predictable mid-to-late series slump.
But the lack of a compelling villain is also a huge issue. After the horrors of Kilgrave, it was smart to go with more ambiguous evil; Dr. Karl doing his experiments for logical reasons, and Alisa Jones proving easy to both empathise and sympathise with as she desperately tries to control her lethal mood swings.
But the lack of any tangible threat for much of the time means Jessica Jones simply coasts for far too long. The lack of narrative thrust here means the audience is often simply in their seat rather than on the edge of it, with the show building towards an uninspired and underwhelming finale that doesn’t pay-off in the emotional way it really should.
Season 2 then, makes Jessica Jones just another superhero series when, thanks to the marvellous foundation laid during Season 1, it had the potential to be so much more.