Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two and a half years since we first met Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones in Marvel’s television universe. Although we saw her as just one of the many super-powered characters packed into Marvel’s The Defenders last year, despite all she’s been through not much has changed with the private investigator. That same angry, tough, bitter, and unhappy anti-hero is the same person we meet at the beginning and at the end of the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, now appearing on Netflix. For fans of the fringe of the Marvel superhero world where little fun is to be had, Ritter’s gritty heroine stands alongside The Punisher (our favorite superhero series last year). Yet despite its heavy dramatic component, it’s very much a superhero show, providing a complete picture of the downside of possessing superhero powers created by chemicals in a lab–a key fact of life for so many Marvel creations, including The Hulk, Deadpool, Luke Cage, the Fantastic Four, the Winter Soldier, etc. For those viewers that thought Jessica Jones’s first season was the best TV had to offer, good luck comparing which is best after watching the second season.
But it’s not really Jessica who shines in Season 2 as much as the supporting characters, and the series doesn’t really reach its stride until Episode 7. The real standout for Season 2 is a new super-powered character created by the same mad scientists that created Jessica Jones, actor Janet McTeer’s new complex antagonist Alisa. Alisa is a driven, unstoppable human machine attached to a fantastic, layered core. Alisa is older and wiser and far more powerful than Jessica or anyone else we’ve seen from the Netflix Marvel realm. Two scenes with Alisa playing the piano really reveal what viewers are in for (and the cast of characters is up against). Unfortunately for Alisa and everyone that she touches, she’s been pushed to the extremes, resulting in a decisively volatile foe. As with Marvel’s Killmonger in this season’s big screen movie Black Panther, calling Alisa the villain of the show omits much about the character. A cold-blooded killer? Sure. But even the worst can still have hope for redemption, especially if what made them bad in the first place was never their fault. Or can it?
Right along with Alisa, Jessica’s step-sister Trish “Patsy” Walker–Jessica’s rather bland supporter and confidante in Season 1–really leaps into action in a breakaway performance that aims toward Linda Hamilton’s tough-as-nails heroine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Credit the acting range required of actor Rachael Taylor this time around and a stellar character arc created for her by the writing team of Melissa Rosenberg, Jack Kenny, Aïda Mashaka Croal, Gabe Fonseca, Lisa Randolph, Jamie King, Raelle Tucker, Hillie Hicks, Jr., Jenny Klein, and Jesse Harris. Viewers may want to strangle Trish by the halfway mark in the season, but just wait–she only gets in deeper as the series progresses.
Jessica Jones has not been the series for anyone who needs more than the minimal traditional superheroics, capes and costumes, and the rollicking fun of the comic book pages. That doesn’t change in Season 2. Dreary, dark, and nearly always depressing, while Jessica must confront a new competitor to her private investigator business and pursue the element that created her in the first place, a second story arc gets far darker. The writers really churn hotshot lawyer Jeri Hogarth in and out of hell and back again. Portrayed beautifully and brutally by Carrie-Anne Moss, Hogarth illustrates the futility of success, that being on top of the world looks very much like being at the bottom, and she’s almost a cautionary tale of the price of allowing yourself to be cold-hearted and ruthless. A strange mirror to Jessica, she seems like she will never get a break, and Hogarth is written as if nobody wants her to.
If the first season’s theme is taking back control, illustrated by Jessica breaking away from the control and domination of David Tennant’s mind-control villain Kilgrave, this season the theme is addiction, illustrated in multiple subplots. Jessica, Trish, Jessica’s assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville), Alisa, and others take on theme in differing ways, and each seems to spend the entire season failing to confront it. Will the future of Jessica Jones allow the anti-hero to ever confront her own alcoholism, relegated to a repeated aside and mere character trait for the show’s first two seasons? This season leaves off practically begging for a crossover series with The Punisher’s PTSD-plagued anti-hero in need of a twelve-step program (although a scene with Jessica at an anger management class illustrates why this may never be in the cards for her).
Like The Punisher, only the barest of strings connect Jessica Jones with the rest of the Marvel universe, leaving the writers to freely dig into Jessica’s dark world. Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson) from Daredevil has a brief appearance, as does mention of the prison where a few of the Avengers were held in Captain America: Civil War. Fans of Season 1 can also look forward to some visits from more than one key character from Jessica’s past. So far Marvel has not provided any reason to think there will be any further season of The Defenders. No obvious next step is provided for Jessica at the end of Season 2, if a Season 3 is even contemplated at this point. No doubt the character has a legion of fans in her corner, so we’ll be watching to see where she turns up next.
Once you get started be sure to stick through all of Season 2–the writers saved the best episode for last, which includes one of our favorite superhero tropes. Don’t miss the 13 episodes of Season 2 of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, released this weekend and available now for streaming exclusively on Netflix.