Article by: Anthony Florez
The second season of Jessica Jones was released on Netflix on March 8th and quietly racked up an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With the enthusiasm for The Avengers: Infinity War reaching fever pitch and the crossover series The Defenders concluded without any apparent plans for a second season, excitement for the Netflix/Marvel collaboration appears to be waning somewhat, which is a real shame. With the extended format of a TV series and the freedom of expression available on a streaming service that has no obligation to cater to advertisers or parental guidelines, shows like Daredevil, The Punisher, and Jessica Jones have the opportunity to explore real human stories and character pathos in ways that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its elaborate inter-connectivity will never have – no matter how gigantic or evil the villains get. Without the ability to humanize both the heroes and the bad guys, there’s going to be an inherent lack of depth, which is something Jessica Jones, with her increasingly dark story arc, has no shortage of.
It’s difficult to care about a character like Jessica, whose acerbic personality and perpetual bad attitude make her hard to like, especially when she is constantly surrounded by an endearing, well written supporting cast that she treats like garbage. Also, if the first season had a real weakness, it was that David Tennant’s spectacularly creepy turn as Kilgrave, AKA The Purple Man, carried much of the momentum. When he was contained or missing it caused the show to drag through filler episodes that didn’t seem to have much substance or energy. A real concern for me was whether or not his absence from the second season would rob the otherwise good-to-very-good show of it’s primary asset, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that, the former junkie Malcolm, the best friend Trish, and most significantly, Carrie Anne Moss’ fantastic Hogarth more than carry their own weight. While Jessica sometimes seems to be spinning her wheels with some of the same old tropes (she likes to drink and doesn’t want to be friends, rinse, repeat) the rest of the cast is fleshed out and expanded on in many compelling ways, particularly Trish, who was not as well written the first time out but is complimented by a perfectly casted Rebecca DeMornay as her unpleasant, manipulative mother.
This was also a little confusing through the first three episodes or so, however, as this season takes its time presenting its conflict. In fact, it’s very difficult even after completing it, to describe exactly who the actual antagonist is but not because it’s muddled or unclear, so much as every character is acting convincingly in their own self-interest, there isn’t exactly a clear cut villain as much as a series of good intentions gone wrong. As mentioned above, the lawyer Hogarth has one of the more interesting story arcs, for a character that hasn’t exactly been sympathetic in previous appearance; it’s some of Carrie Anne Moss’ best work to date. And as mentioned previously, Jessica as a ‘hero,’ if such a thing exists in this neo-noir Universe, is difficult to root for, but it’s genuinely the performance and commitment of Krysten Ritter that keeps the character so clearly in focus. Eventually the chip on the shoulder and the shitty attitude gives way as affectations of a deeply wounded, distrusting, lonely person finds the one thing in this season that she might have wanted to let lie.
The second season of Jessica Jones also successfully continues an approach that Luke Cage lost track of in the final stretch of its first, which is putting her powers in the backseat to the actual story. Although it’s a trope that is done to death in other shows and media, the whole ‘my powers are a curse‘ thing can come off as self-important and pretentious to the rest of us who would love to be able to lift up a car or jump over a tall building. The focus of this season is the origin of those abilities and their real cost to her, and once this is discovered, it’s much easier to understand why Jessica wants nothing to do with them. The showrunners are smart enough to avoid closing the series arc out with a mindless random punching match in the middle of a New York City borough, (glancing significantly in the direction of Luke Cage). Instead, the ending is an emotional encounter that is more than a little heartbreaking, one that I sincerely did not see coming.
In all honesty and despite the first season’s many qualities, its conclusion was a big disappointment, with its odd misdirection and jarring, anti-climactic confrontation; the characters themselves, specifically Kilgrave, deserved a better ending and it left me feeling a real lack of enthusiasm for more. This is, I’m happy to say, not the case at all at the end of the second. Although it seems like a low bar to set, I like to gauge the success of a series on two things: the likelihood that I’ll ever rewatch it and the enthusiasm I have towards the next installment.
At the conclusion of Jessica Jones I immediately started rewatching the first. I wanted to keep that world alive and re-explore its dark corners. Up until this point, in my opinion, it’s been Daredevil that has been the benchmark for the Marvel/Netflix collaboration, but with this recent entry and much like the second season of DD, the showrunners on Jessica Jones have better honed their characters and fine-tuned their approach to superhero drama; they’ve produced something that is not just good for the genre — it’s good television. Period. Now if only the overlords of the MCU, with it’s massive pantheon of characters, would take notice of the great heroes on the JV squad. I’m as interested in anyone else in the forthcoming Captain Marvel film (still a year away), but if you’re looking for a superheroine to head up her own big screen adventure, why not Jessica?
The second season of Jessica Jones is available for streaming on Netflix.
MG rating: 7.5 – (Needed more David Tennant!)