Mommy Dearest

Thought to be dead for 16 years after the fatal car accident that killed their family, Alisa Jones is revealed to be the monster killing all of Jessica’s leads and framing her for murder. And instead of a city-wide cover-up of the sinister IGH, the culprits are merely two tragic lovers. Not quite the vast conspiracy that Trish and Jessica expected — or that the show has led us to believe.

The reveal is a huge let-down narratively, but it’s a trade-off for an even more compelling thematic conflict. Jessica sees herself in the monster because the monster is literally her mother. Does that mean Jessica is fated to become a human rage monster like Alisa? Or are they both victims of the same megalomaniacal scientist?

But even the megalomaniacal scientist is quite the opposite of that. Dr. Karl Malus (Callum Keith Rennie) isn’t so much a mustache-twirling villain as he is a dorky, misguided knowledge-seeker who wears a lot of The Doors T-shirts. He cares deeply about Alisa, keeping her captive both for her own well-being and the safety of others — as well as out of his own slightly creepy fixation on her. But even then, Malus never verges on menacing, toeing the line between benign and affably boring.

But that’s all right, because Alisa makes for the much more intriguing, sympathetic villain. Her emotional connection to Jessica is unquestionable, even if Jessica initially mistrusts her because of her different face and years of absence. Alisa had spent the better part of four years in a coma, brought back from the edge of death by Dr. Karl Malus’ illegal genetic-editing experiments. But waking up in a panic and learning of her daughter’s survival, Alisa had escaped to seek out her daughter, leaving a bloody rampage in her wake. When induced into a rage, she essentially “hulks out,” murdering anyone in her way. Realizing that she poses a danger to her daughter, Alisa goes back into hiding — until now.

The next six episodes are spent telegraphing the fascinating tension between Jessica and Alisa, who are more alike than not. Like Jessica, Alisa is a droll, dry, whiskey-drinking independent woman. But she is also a mass murderer. Not since Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk have we seen a villain who so deftly balances between sympathetic antihero and horrifying villain. Alisa is a raw, exposed nerve posing as a human being — driven solely by emotions and acting out erratically. But those emotions aren’t just anger; she’s driven to kill just as equally by her love for Jessica and Karl as she is by her manic bouts of rage. McTeer is given a tough job: to navigate a character whose motivations don’t entirely make sense, but to never let the audience become too comfortable with a her. The result is a bit of a confusing mess, but it’s in keeping with the show’s argument that women contain multitudes.

Complicated Women Being Complicated

“Is this how I get normal?” Jessica asks herself as she chains her mother to the bed in her apartment. They had just escaped from Malus’ house where Jessica had called the cops, uncertain how to act on her inner conflict of finally catching the killer and finding her mother.

From here, the season’s exciting momentum that it had maintained for the past few episodes starts to fizzle, as the show attempts to stretch eight episodes worth of story over 13. It’s another common Marvel-Netflix practice that the show’s need to do away with: overlong episode orders that only serve to derail taut, well-written plots. But unlike season’s 1 slightly unbelievable plot twists that delayed the story, Jessica Jones season 2’s plot twists are all motivated by character. Mainly by the layered, complicated women who populate the show.

Jessica and Alisa’s riveting back-and-forth is at the forefront of course, but Trish and Jeri have their own demons to wrestle with. Unfortunately, both Trish and Jeri’s — and to an extent, Malcolm’s — subplots offer little more than padding for the season, despite promising intriguing insights into each of the supporting players. Trish’s subplot is perhaps the most frustrating, with the radio host growing steadily irrational in the face of the IGH investigation. She first resorts to taking her ex Will Simpson’s performance enhancers to protect herself, then struggles with its addictive qualities. She has her own “mad as hell” Network moment that goes nowhere before nearly becoming a full-on villain, kidnapping Karl Malus in a self-righteous attempt to become the superhero that Jessica refuses to be. When she shoots Alisa, it’s horrifying and has horrifying implications for her friendship with Jessica. But it doesn’t quit feel earned. If not for the hackneyed addiction storyline, Trish’s arc could have rivaled Jessica’s in terms of morally gray actions, but instead they feel like the frenzied actions of an addict.

Jeri, meanwhile, gets even less to do. The high-powered lawyer gets diagnosed with ALS that sends her into a spiral of self-destruction before she resorts to partnering with Inez, a streetwise nurse who Jessica finds during her IGH investigation, to find a cure. But Jeri gets conned by Inez and her convict boyfriend and comes out just as ruthless as before, with perhaps some softer edges.

All the same, despite the frustrating turns, this season of Jessica Jones has some of the most intricate female character work in a Marvel series. The show truly explores all facets of female antiheroes, villains, and wannabe heroes.

Jessica Jones hasn’t lost its title as the best Marvel-Netflix TV series, by any means. The second season is an inspired, character-driven follow-up to the incisive first season that threatens to buckle under the weight of its ambitions. But luckily, thanks largely to the raw, searing performance of Ritter and the complex women who support her, it manages to pull it off.

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web: