jessica jones season 2 spoiler review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Netflix’s Jessica Jones season 2.)

Jessica Jones season 2 has a monumental task ahead of it. Not only does it have to follow the riveting, near-perfect first season, it has to do it from scratch.

The first season of Jessica Jones neatly wrapped up the main storyline adapted from Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos‘ critically acclaimed Alias comic book series after Jessica sent Kilgrave to his — well — grave. Now, the sophomore outing of Jessica Jones is left without Jessica’s main, nay, only supervillain. Where does it go from there?

The seeds of season 2 were planted throughout the first season: an shadowy corporation, illegal child experimentation, new sidekicks. But Jessica Jones doesn’t exactly follow up on those plot threads — and that’s for both better and worse. Instead, Jessica Jones season 2 introduces one of the most fascinating and layered dynamics between complex women we’ve ever seen in a Marvel series. Too bad it’s buried underneath clunky subplots and incoherent narratives.

Getting Past the Worst

The opening of Jessica Jones season 2 all feels very familiar. A steamy outdoor affair, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) wearily photographing a couple, Jessica’s noir-inspired voiceover punctuating the scene. And for much of the first few episodes, that’s what Jessica Jones feels like: a retread.

Not much has changed for the private investigator, despite her having snapped the neck of her rapist and biggest foe. Jessica is still suffering from PTSD, alcoholism, and bursts of uncontrolled anger that lead her to attacking people who assume the worst in her. And she still refuses to accept her newfound fame as a superpowered vigilante. But Jessica can’t deny that her life has irrevocably changed, even as she desperately tries to keep things the same.

For the first time ever, Jessica finds herself surrounded by a loving found family. Her best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) is busy championing the plight of the superpowered vigilante, launching a public investigation of IGH — the mysterious corporation behind Jessica’s powers — on her radio show, Trish Talk. Malcolm (Eka Darville), Jessica’s recovering drug addict neighbor, has become an eager PI in training under Jessica’s tutelage. Though her relationship with her former employer Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) has frayed, Jessica has a new support system like never before.

But Jessica remains untrusting, getting her feathers ruffled by the sudden appearance of a new foe: Pryce Cheng (an under-served Terry Chen). A big-shot private investigator, Cheng offers to buy Jessica’s firm…or else. Cheng’s smug, bloviating villain feels almost like an obligatory Marvel series addition — a relatively flat character to stir up trouble and act as an obstacle at the most inopportune times. With the introduction of Cheng, Trish’s IGH investigation, and Jeri’s mysterious sickness, already there feels like too many plot threads left dangling at the very start of the season — the classic Marvel bloat. But the best thing about Jessica Jones is not its adherence to the Marvel structure, but to the graphic novel’s noir roots. Jessica Jones works best when it’s a standalone series (there’s a reason the only nod to Defenders is a patronizing “you people like team-ups” comment), and it knows it.

We get treated to a lightly comic montage of sob story cases that Jessica brushes off until one becomes all too real. Whizzer (yes, the guy who’s actually named after a Marvel superhero) comes to Jessica for help over a “monster” that is trying to kill him, and ends up dying by a horrific scaffolding accident after Jessica initially ignores him. It’s smart to kick the season off with an intriguing mystery that’s more than just a “Jessica needs closure with IGH” narrative — the stakes are heightened as Jessica attempts to solve Whizzer’s murder and digs deeper into her own past.

The Monster You Made Me Into

Until a couple episodes in, it remains somewhat of a mystery why Jessica refuses to “move on.” She’s a hero, not just a killer who snapped a man’s neck, her best friend Trish continues to assure her. “But Trish,” Jessica wearily responds. “It was easy.”

Jessica blames herself, she blames IGH, she blames Kilgrave for turning her into the killer that she believes she has become. Throughout the season, she wrestles with her dark proclivities, which comes to a head when she accidentally kills a menacing prison guard. It’s an intriguing season-long struggle, but Jessica Jones stumbles by introducing it too late. The buzzy return of David Tennant‘s Kilgrave doesn’t take place until the third to last episode, and while Rytter’s rapport with him his as riveting as ever, it puts words to Jessica’s struggle too late.

But here we have the central theme of the season: Is Jessica a hero or a villain? It’s a common debate hashed out over multiple Marvel Netflix series — The Punisher, two seasons of Daredevil. And that overwhelming guilt over her past threatens to crush both Jessica and the season’s momentum. Thanks to a miraculous third-act twist, that doesn’t end up being the case.

But it’s not simply about scattering her family’s ashes or finding out why she was given powers. “My past is killing people now,” Jessica realizes to her horror after she suddenly remembers her time at the IGH clinic in flashes of memory, alongside the “monster” that attacked her there. It’s wonderful motivation that drives the season along much better than simply existential angst. Because in this case, her existential angst has a body count.

For the first five episodes, Jessica Jones really engages its season-long mystery, acting for the first time like the noir detective series it always was. While the first season had a thrilling, action-packed narrative, Jessica’s detective chops were often put in the backburner. Season 2 puts them front-and-center, with early episodes acting as character driven monster-of-the-week stories — with Jessica unearthing a new lead or clue in the case — that juggle the season-long mystery. It’s reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except there’s only one manifestation of Jessica’s internal demons.

Our introduction to the Big Bad (Janet McTeer) is dragged out over three episodes, but it’s worth it. Unnamed until the episode 6 twist, the season’s villain is a powered woman who’s not totally dissimilar from Jessica. Almost immediately, Jessica begins seeing herself in this alienated, angry, brutal killer — questioning how long it will take until she becomes the villain. It’s a tired trope that is suddenly turned into a sobering reality when Jessica learns the earth-shattering secret: the “monster” is her mom.

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