When I finished watching the second season of Jessica Jones (the first time through) I tweeted this:
S2 of @JessicaJones is even better than S1, which makes it the best of all Netflix MCU shows.
— Harry Connolly (@byharryconnolly) March 8, 2018
Now that I’ve seen it all the way through three times does my opinion still hold up?
The standard “First Story” in any MCU property is that the hero faces off against a bigger, stronger version of themselves. Iron Man vs Iron Monger. Hulk vs MCU version of Abomination. Cap vs MCU Red Skull. Black Panther vs Killmonger.
But S1 of Jessica Jones skipped this plot structure because the character already had an arch-enemy with terrifying powers that were perfect for a TV budget. So Jessica faced an enemy who was not a stronger but morally corrupted version of herself, she faced her opposite.
Where Jessica was physically powerful but barely in control of herself in social situations, Kilgrave was physically weak but totally in control of every social interaction he had. It was only at the climax, when Jessica exerted complete control over herself, that she took emotional control over Kilgrave and defeated him.
But now, in the second season, Jessica Jones has shifted back to that debut MCU style. She’s pursuing someone like herself, with extraordinary strength but deep emotional trauma. Their origins even match, because the antagonist got her abilities from the same procedures after the exact same accident.
I confess that I was leery of this season when I heard it would be delving into Jessica’s past. I’ve seen a few shows that lost their way because they kept looking inward at the main character’s supposedly cool backstory, but JJ avoids all of that when they make the villain into Jessica’s mother.
From the start, Jessica is trying to insist that, even though she has killed, she’s not a killer. It’s clear from her expression that even she doesn’t believe it, but she *wants* it to be true. She also knows that she’s not fully in control of herself. She managed it during that final confrontation with Kilgrave, but the damage is still deep.
Once again, the show pits Jessica–who is so damaged that she can’t help pushing away the people around her–against a villain desperate to have a relationship with her. But in this case, the villain isn’t someone she hates. Jessica wants to spend time with Alisa, but every time she tries to make it work, it falls apart. Alisa can’t deal with the world. She’s dangerous, flying off the handle over the petty annoyances of life. And she’s an unrepentant murderer.
So yeah, Jessica wants to be with her mother, but it’s impossible. After 17 years apart, Jessica is reunited with a parent with brain damage who can no longer manage the world around her.
Which means this season is more complex than season one. Jessica has more of an internal struggle. Janet McTeer is terrific as Alisa, a woman you really don’t want to piss off, but the character she’s playing is never going to have the same oomph as Kilgrave. But that’s not as important as the *interaction* between Alisa and her daughter.
Okay. This is a 13-episode season where each ep is about 50+ minutes long. So, about 11 hours of story. In the past, some of those hours felt like spinning wheels. Season one felt like that toward the end. Season two is more cohesive.
And that means it can be about more things. It’s about mothers and their troubled relationships with their kids. It’s about taking stock of your life and deciding what’s really important. Who’s really important. It’s about being damaged, and having damaged people in your life, and about what you can do to help them.
There’s a scene midway through the season where Trish turns up at Jessica’s place looking for the killer, not knowing that the killer is Jessica’s mother and is at that moment in the bedroom. Jessica realizes that Trish is high as a kite and needs her help, but when Trish stalks out the door, Jessica is torn. Help her friend who fell off the wagon? Help her brain-damaged mother who might straight up murder someone? The show doesn’t linger on the moment, but it’s powerful for all it’s speed. Jessica follows Trish down the hall offering all sorts of help that she knows she can’t follow through on, because she has to stay and take care of her mom.
Poor Trish. She burns down every relationship she has in this season, except the one with her mother, because she’s determined to be a hero. And she seems so terrible at it! So dedicated to self-aggrandizement and the exercise of power. At the end, when she’s finally done what she thought was necessary to save her sister, she realizes that she doesn’t feel like a hero at all.
Fantastic performance by Rachel Taylor. Ritter has been great in this show, but Taylor has a long string of tough scenes to play and she’s great. Absolutely great.
Of course, Trish has powers now, too, on some level. I wonder if she’ll be the villain in season three.
And Malcolm, and Jerri, burning friendships to find something they’re desperate to hold on to.
Because the show is also about what it means to be a hero, which is saccharine and pathetic most of the time. Poor [Insert Hero Name here] has to dump his dream girl at the dance to go fight the superhero, or not give up after they’ve been punched in the face a bunch of times.
Here it just means that you give a shit, and you do something about it.
I guess some folks have complained that the pacing of the show is off, because the main villain is mostly off-screen for the first few episodes. That didn’t bother me, because I like private eye stories. I like investigations.
Anyway, of the Netflix shows, Jessica Jones is clearly the best of the lot, and I would still rank season two above season one.
If you haven’t watched it, give it a try.