The first few episodes of Jessica Jones’ second season didn’t wow me. In the absence of a prominent villain, the season’s stakes felt low and personal rather than high and universal. It felt like we had lost something vital without David Tennant’s Kilgrave as a lightning rod, both dangerous and energizing.
Jessica Jones has not lost its edge, it turns out. It’s just that that edge is buried in the back half of the season. If you can make it through the first four episodes, you’ll find that season two has rewards for you.
What kind? Well, halfway through the final episode I nail-bitingly paused and switched out to the episodes menu to double-check that I was actually watching the finale. I couldn’t imagine how the show would be able to tie itself up in only a half an hour.
The first season of Jessica Jones was about single, abusive monster. The second is about how abuse can make monsters of the abused as well — the ways in which trauma can beget more trauma — and about the idea that “monster” and “victim” are states that can coexist, without invalidating either.
Season two does what a good sequel does — it pits its protagonist against a challenge that echoes the original but deepens and complicates it as well. Kilgrave, too, was a villain from Jessica’s past who was all about reminding her of her worst self and making her afraid that she wasn’t in control of her life. This new antagonist (about whom I must remain extremely vague so as not to spoil a big reveal) is just as terrifying as Kilgrave but even more personal to Jessica, more sympathetic to the audience. And unlike Kilgrave, she is impossible for Jessica to truly hate.
But season two isn’t just about Jessica making bad decisions; it’s also about digging deeper into everyone you remember from season one as they make bad decisions, too. Did Kilgrave make Malcolm an addict, or did he always have the seed of addiction in him? Finding ways to exceed her own abilities is the only way Trish can feel like she’s succeeding — but what does that mean in the Marvel Universe’s seedy underbelly of experimental superhero treatments?
With great power comes great responsibility
So goes the adage, referenced early in the season — but Jessica Jones takes us further. How much responsibility is it right to ask of a person? When does responsibility become an unfair obligation? Does having great power mean that you must sacrifice your mental health for your greater responsibility? Your personal happiness?
We don’t tend to see superhero stories that say anything but yes to this question. That’s understandable — if Peter Parker were capable of taking a sabbatical and seeking some rest and therapy, it wouldn’t make for much of a classic adventure story. But Jessica is a character primed for it: Her entire hook is that when she realized that her great power had only ever given her great grief, she quit the superhero life entirely.
With its second season, Jessica Jones lays out the emotional underpinning of being a superhero and of living in a world where superheroes and superpowers are common — a concept that the Marvel films rarely have time for. It may not have many direct connections to the broader continuity, but in this way, at least, it’s fulfilling the promises of the Marvel Netflix line, which has so recently and consistently disappointed with Iron Fist and The Defenders. It’s telling the smaller stories, the more complex stories, that are tougher to explore when half a dozen heroes share a mere two hours of screen time.
It’s just a pity that it takes it a rough third of the season to get there. Demanding that level of commitment from the viewer would normally be a capital television offense to me. But I have to admit that having finished the season, I don’t feel like my time was wasted.
If you’re willing to give Jessica Jones’ second season four hours to hit its stride, you have my encouragement and recommendation.