What went wrong (and right) with Jessica Jones’s second season

What went wrong (and right) with Jessica Jones’s second season

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones is still Marvel’s best Netflix show, but there are some new flaws.

The first season of Jessica Jones is the best superhero show Marvel has produced for Netflix. It was thrilling and took its audience to places where Marvel’s Netflix shows are supposed to go — darker, more adult worlds too violent and malevolent for its movies. Through its hero’s eyes, Jessica Jones explored trauma, abuse, and the struggle — often times fickle and fallible — to recover from both. In doing so, it gave us a show that felt more nourishing than regular superhero fare.

Jessica Jones’s second installment of 13 episodes, released this week, doesn’t surpass, or even meet, its first season standards — in large part due to its inability to capitalize on the series’ momentum in the first few episodes of the season.

We catch up with Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and her allies as they’re picking up the pieces from her confrontation with Kilgrave at the end of season one. She’s still surly and trying to find new cases when one, which happens to involve her past and some unexplained murders, falls into her lap. Her friends implore her to, once again, delve into her dark past to figure out who or what gave her her powers, and for what reason. This time, however, the journey into Jessica’s past feels like familiar territory, making the show seem less urgent and less captivating than it previously did.

The back end of these 13 episodes is much more exciting and also a lot weirder (in a great way) than the first half, featuring delights such as Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) leaning into her ice queen status, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) being irrationally violent, and a promising future for Jessica and the series. But it takes too long to get there, and the result is a Jessica Jones season that often feels at odds with itself.

So to get a better handle on the mixed bag that is this sophomore season, here’s a look at the good, bad, and the weird of Jessica Jones season two.

The bad: there’s no compelling villain

The first season of Jessica Jones was defined in large part by its villain, David Tennant’s Kilgrave. Kilgrave, who had the power to control the minds of the people around him with nothing more than a whisper, left a mark on the show that still lingers — in this second season, you still feel his presence every single time his signature color, purple, flashes on the screen.

Season one didn’t shy away from depicting how seductive and alluring Kilgrave’s mind control could be — he was always stylishly dressed and lived comfortably — and how power like his could make life so easy. But his power also gnarled and perverted his psyche, to the point where he wasn’t just living selfishly but also looking to exploit, traumatize, and humiliate his victims. His character was odious but also distinctive and nuanced in a way that amplified the series’ central themes.

The second season is lacking in a Kilgrave-like presence, or any sort of compelling villain, in the first six or so episodes — and by extension, lacking in the energy he brought to Jessica Jones.

To be clear, we don’t need another Kilgrave, and the allegorical demons he stood for, for the show to be successful. But we’re not given many reasons to care about this season’s villain (without giving too much away, there are a few murders linked to moments in Jessica’s past), whereas with Kilgrave, we saw how connected he was to Jessica’s past, his twisted mental state, his motivations, and why he mattered.

This season’s villain doesn’t get that sort of exploration in the first half of the season and ends up being less dynamic than Kilgrave by the end of it. The result is the feeling that we’re watching Jessica and her Scooby gang go through the motions of apprehending a line of stock villains, rather than a truly nefarious and dangerous entity we want to see them confront and defeat.

The good: Jeri Hogarth is a boss

While the main heroes of the show are mired in a lifeless plot for the first half of the season, Jeri Hogarth is dealing with a coup at her law firm and a life-changing revelation.

Watching Moss slink around silky Manhattan penthouses, frosty conference rooms, and shadowed cars, all the while giving Jeri a veiled, ruthless charge of menace, is the highlight of this season. Jeri has nothing to lose and yards of earth to scorch — and Moss takes her to gloriously vindictive depths you may not have thought possible.

The bad: the series forgets what makes its hero distinctive

What made Jessica Jones one of Marvel’s better Netflix superhero shows was that it had its own sense of style and noir feel within the connected Netflix universe’s Hell’s Kitchen setting. In the first season, a lot of that came through via Jones’s profession as an investigator: Instead of fighting her way through the season, she tracked smaller mysteries throughout Hell’s Kitchen that required her specific set of skills and detective mentality.

She couldn’t just plow through the opposition like Luke Cage, nor was she particularly interested in martial arts or mysticism like Daredevil and Iron Fist. She solved problems in cunning, even deceitful ways.

Unfortunately, Jessica’s investigative skills seem to have gone missing in this second season. She’s still a detective, but a lot of the mysteries she solves seem simple and elementary. There are, inexplicably, a boatload of scenes of her taking pictures with her camera phone (with the sound on, no less). Using Google and reverse image searches seems to be the extent of her investigative talents. More often than not, forced lines like, “When there’s an ex, there’s always a why,” undermine, rather than reinforce, the dark energy that defined season one.

This is a show that feels like you could have swapped in Iron Fist, Luke Cage, or Daredevil as the main hero without much noticeable difference — which is disappointing for a character and show whose greatest strengths stemmed from a commitment to that distinctive noir style.

The weird: Trish Walker’s addiction to heroine

On paper, the idea of a superhero literally addicted to heroism sounds good, opening up stories about heroes as empty shells who only define themselves by the good deeds they do, or about getting a high that can’t be replicated anywhere else, or finding self-worth through heroics. These are all potentially riveting ideas, but translating them to screen is a little more difficult, as the creative team behind Jessica Jones may have found out this season.

Trish Walker — whom we’ve seen endure an abusive relationship and hints at addiction — becomes addicted to being a heroine, thanks to an inhaler she steals that allows her to temporarily get high on performance-enhancing drugs that sharpen her reflexes and heighten her strength.

Again, this sounds fascinating on paper, but executing these ideas is a whole different story. Bless Taylor’s heart, but her portrayal of getting high on the kickass drug often consists mainly of squinting and looking like an agitated woodland creature (and not in the impossibly charming Squirrel Girl way). Then again, I’m not sure many actors could be convincing as a jittery, tweaked-out wannabe looking for their next hit of heroism without straying into unintended comedy.

The good: maybe Jessica Jones can finally go forward

Last season was all about Jessica’s past with Kilgrave; this time, it’s about her past again, but with a different villain. Jessica Jones’s fixation on its hero’s backstory made me want to drop the series after the third episode of season two.

It’s not that origin stories can’t be great, but it increasingly feels like we’re stuck in a holding pattern with Jessica. The same issues she faced with Kilgrave are dredged back up in season two, but since the villain is nowhere near charismatic or as convincing, it feels like we’re seeing Jessica repeat the same patterns without any significant character development.

The pace of the season’s first half suffers as a result — but the good news is that it does pick up in the last four episodes. Hopefully, a third season of Jessica Jones will allow us to see the character finally start to move forward and explore new facets of her life with the knowledge and experiences she’s gleaned from these two seasons. After all, there’s not much past remaining to go back to.

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