So, Jessica Jones, huh. It’s been a while.
I know, I know. Jessica was just in The Defenders last year, but like some of the more disposable Marvel Studios movies The Defenders is a thing I remember less and less the further I get away from it. Didn’t she mostly buddy cop around with Matt Murdock and work in some pretty sick digs at Danny (although, really, who didn’t)? It was fun, but it was a side adventure, more of a Daredevil/Iron Fist extension than anything else.
The real Jessica Jones, the Melissa Rosenberg-orchestrated version that took the genre by storm and veered off into cool film noir feminism and surprisingly mature reflections on sexual assault and PTSD, has been missing for over two years now. The first season premiered long ago enough that at that point Donald Trump wasn’t even half a year into his presidential campaign yet. To put it in more comic book terms, when Jessica arrived on the scene Captain America and Iron Man were still friends, Andrew Garfield was still the most recent Spider-Man, Old Man Logan and Wonder Woman were still considered impossible storylines/characters to adapt to film, and no one had heard “Wakanda Forever.”
So, yeah, like I said, it’s been a while.
But even after Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow we’re still embarrassingly short on female-led options in this genre. Plus, Jessica’s themes should fit perfectly into the #MeToo and #TimesUp era, freakishly so, really. There is, however, the rather monumental challenge of figuring out how to top yourself when the last thing you did was this:
How does a show move on from such a legendary villain as Kilgrave?
By first having Jessica cope with the fact that she murdered him.
A general, spoiler-lite description of what happens.
The first three episodes of the second season – “Start at the Beginning,” “Freak Accident,” and “Sole Survivor” – are the standard slow boil you’d expect from the first three episodes of any new season:
Jessica is struggling to move on, turning away perfectly good clients, lashing out at everyone, drinking her problems away. Standard Jessica, really, except now she has the extra guilt trip of being known as Kilgrave’s superhero vigilante murderer. Suddenly, standard Alias Investigations cases that start out with a client simply wanting her to catch a cheating spouse in the act turn into, “I’ll give you a couple hundred more if you kill him.” It’s super awkward, but also upsetting, an every-other-day reminder of a moral line Jessica crossed, completely of her own free will, in the name of the greater good. She’s not handling it well.
Elsewhere, Malcolm refuses to go away no matter how many times Jess tries to fire him. Hogarth has problems of her own over in Law & Order: MCU. Trish is trying to get to the bottom of how exactly Jessica got her powers even if her friend would rather not dredge up old, painful memories.
By the end of the first episode, Jessica is forced to begrudgingly admit that Trish’s investigating is onto something, and by the end of the third episode, she’s possibly met the season’s big bad, who, unlike Kilgrave, is her physical equal.
What it all means.
The throughline seems to be that if the first season was about Jessica confronting the man who manipulated her and took her metaphorical power away from her then season two is about digging even deeper and forcing Jessica into a confrontation who whoever gave her powers in the first place. It’s an origin story being told in reverse, and the goal each time is for Jessica to reclaim agency and achieve some sense of closure.
Is it as interesting as Kilgrave?
Thus far, I don’t find this part of her origin nearly as compelling as last season’s psychological drama with Kilgrave. Now, that was unlike anything I’d seen before in the genre. This, however, with its shady doctors and research facilities and “What did you do to me?!?” protestations, is in the superhero 101 playbook. Luke Cage already went on this journey himself a little over halfway through his first season. That being said, this storyline has already triggered a clear survivor’s guilt in Jessica as well as a new sense of responsibility to anyone else who might have been tested, which I find intriguing. Also, [spoiler warning] since the villain she’s encountered is an older woman I imagine we might be in store for some metaphorical mother-daughter confrontations, Trish verbally sparring with her biological mom, Jess literally fighting the matriarchal presence responsible for her powers. That could be interesting.
What’s been the best and worst parts of the season so far?
I’m down with the way the first three episodes builds everything up through old-fashioned detective story tropes, like the jazz score, Jess’s pulp narration, and various break-ins, run-ins with cops, and undercover details. Where I grow a bit more impatient, though, is with the side stories involving J.R. Ramirez as the prejudiced new super in Jess’s building and Trish’s various romances. However, since it’s been since November of 2015 since Jessica Jones has been around I might have simply forgotten how much time the show devotes to its ensemble and various B and C plots.
The feminism is (still) strong with this one.
This was true, in general, of the entirety of the first season, and it remains true of this season: the women on this show don’t want or need men to save them. In fact, if the men try the women will put them in their place. The second and third episodes of this season lean particularly heavy on that. Hogarth and Trish are especially not hearing it from their well-intentioned male friends/suitors, although Hogarth’s outcry is punctured by the rather reasonable pushback that it’s okay and sometimes necessary to ask for help; she’d just rather get that help from Jessica.
Plus, yeah, they don’t waste any time whatsoever to take advantage of Trish’s background as an actress to comment on #MeToo. She confronts her own Harvey Weinstein in just the second episode, and one imagines we haven’t see the last of it this season.
Do they reference The Defenders?
Vaguely, at best. In the first episode, Jessica seems to be referring to dearly departed Matt Murdock when she mournfully mentions what happens to heroes. Quick reminder: dude’s not dead. No one else knows that yet, though.
What about the MCU?
Actually, Captain America is flat out named, which is rare for the Netflix shows. They almost always use descriptors (big green guy, the blonde god with a hammer) to refer to the Avengers, not actual names.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- When the first season arrived, no one was doing anything quite like it with comic book material on film or TV. Since then, we’ve seen the form stretched every which way from Luke Cage’s blaxploitation to Logan’s neo-western to Wonder Woman’s Richard Donner-style old-fashioned sincerity to Black Lightning’s Black Lives Matter evocations to Deadpool meta-mockery and dick jokes to Black Panther’s afro-futurism to Legion’s…um…Noah Hawleyness?. Looking back on it, does anyone remember those “superhero fatigue” arguments now? Yeah, the genre zigged like crazy just when we expected it to zag.
- Wild Prediction #1: By the end of the season, Trish is fired from her radio show and starts a true crime podcast.
- Favorite line from the first 3 episodes: “With great power comes great mental illness.” It’s an obvious one to love, but it worked for me.
- Rosenberg and Jessica Jones made a lot of headlines with the decision to employ only female directors this season Anna Foerster’s (Outlander) direction of a slow-motion sequence in the premiere, when the ashes of Jessica’s family are flung in the air in front of her, is particularly effective, beautifully framing the look of mortified heartbreak on Krysten Ritter’s face. Minkie Spiro makes rather judicious use of the Marvel female gaze with Eka Darville’s shirtless scene in the second episode. And Mairzee Almas (Lost Girl, Being Human) perfectly stages the action finale of the third episode.
Next up: Episodes #4-6