To this point, I’ve been trying to write these reactions in a somewhat spoiler-lite fashion. Netflix did, after all, drop the season closer to the middle of the week than the end. Maybe you’re waiting for the actual weekend to binge and need some reviews to skim through just to get a general sense of how the season is shaking up.
In which case, I’ll tell you this: Season 2 has been, to borrow a line from Vulture, “darker, edgier, and more difficult.” To a degree, it’s an exploration of the same question which drove the first season: “Why is Jessica the way she is?” A hard-drinking self-destructive person living on the fringes of society and refusing to use her extraordinary powers for good has to have a tale of woe. The first season veered down dark roads with metaphorical (and sometimes literal) musings on rape, stalking, and sexual predation. It was a story of comic book cinema’s strongest woman (to that point, at least) and the demented man who took that power not only away from her but also used it against her with little more than a couple of well-placed commands.
But that was something that was literally done to her and how she had to live with/confront/move past it.
I thought the second season was doing heading for something similar, simply walking it back even further and circling around to Jessica’s original tormenter, the male scientist who experimented on her when she was but a child. That’s certainly played a part so far, but what episodes 7 – 9 focus on is this: Jessica is the way she is largely because of something that was held back from her. As we find out, she had a path to happiness, a way to have a real family, but it was locked away in secret. She was allowed to grow up hating herself when the one person who could have told her otherwise and put her straight was alive and well, all without Jessica realizing it.
A general description of what happens in episodes 7 (“I Want Your Cray Cray”), 8 (“Ain’t We Got Fun”), and 9 (“Shark in My Bathtub, Monster in the Bed”):
At this point, my prior spoiler-lite approach probably doesn’t apply anymore. We’re over halfway into the season, after all. So, I’ll just jump straight into it:
Jessica’s mom, Alisa, is alive. She’s got a wig, super strength, and a serious temper, but she’s alive, has all of her memories (so no amnesia business here), and wants to reconnect. She did kill the guy who robbed Jessica, but not to frame her. She simply saw someone messing with her daughter’s life and couldn’t help herself. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time either. “I Want Your Cray Cray,” a flashback episode, reveals rage monster mom actually killed one of Jessica’s old boyfriends. So, basically, she’s the world’s most overprotective mom.
Last season’s flashbacks mostly took us to who Jessica was both immediately before Kilgrave and during the zombie-like stretch when she was under his control. Here, we go back a little further into her college days, not that were a whole lot of them. After a falling out with Trish, who flirted with Britney Spears-like pop stardom during her coke-addicted days, Jess drops out of college and shacks up with a sweet, but simple bartender with club owner-dreams. He inspires Jessica’s choice of iconic leather coat and leaves enough of an impression on her that she names Alias Investigations after what he wanted to call his club.
He died because Alisa, who broke out of her research facility/prison to finally see her daughter, overheard him apparently selling Jess out to some thugs. While he may have actually been lying to them just to buy more time Alisa smashed his head into a wall before we could find out for sure. So, not only did Jess not know her mom was alive she never knew for sure who killed her boyfriend, although she blamed herself. She beat those thugs up when they first approached her boyfriend. She assumed his death was their revenge, having no idea they simply came back because they wanted to hire her to be their muscle but were too afraid to present the offer directly to her.
Alisa confesses all of this to Jessica in the present day, but rather than forgiveness she gets a punch to the face. The next two episodes – “Ain’t We Got Fun” and “Shark in My Bathtub, Monster in the Bed” – are then about Jessica debating what exactly what to do with her mom. It’s essentially a stretched-out repeat of last season’s “WWJD?” episode where Jessica lived with Kilgrave for several days and got a glimpse of what life could be like for the two of them if they worked together, if she used her influence on him to bend his powers for good instead of evil. In this case, J.R. Ramirez’s son is stolen by his mother, but Jessica and Alisa work together to track him and bring him home, harming no one in the process and kind of making a great team, actually.
Yeah, but, Alisa killed people, and not Kilgrave-like people either. She’s a murderer who sometimes disappears into psychotic fits of rage. Jessica knows that technically she’s also a murderer now because she killed Kilgrave, but that was a one-time line crossing. Her mom, though, has done a world of hurt. The right thing to do is to turn her in, and though it takes her 2 episodes to decide that’s eventually what Jessica does. In an interesting twist, once Alisa realizes Jess is the absolute only, non-chemical thing in the world which can actually pull her from the brink when she’s having a psychotic break she gives herself up to the cops rather than annihilate them the way she so easily could.
Elsewhere, Trish quit her show but has full-on slipped off the wagon regardless of how much she wants to believe otherwise, Malcolm is on his own pursuing Hogarth’s case with her partners, and, speaking of which, Hogarth might have been healed of her ALS by another superpowered person from the IGH factory.
What I Liked:
- Jessica and her mom. The apple clearly didn’t fall too far from the tree. One of my favorite scenes of the entire season is just the two of them in that cab together, particularly when Alisa got into it with the driver. There’s such an instantly believable difficult mother with long-suffering daughter dynamic with them even though Jess hasn’t seen her in nearly two decades.
- Playing against expectations with the boyfriend. They did it earlier in the season by making us think Trish’s boyfriend was trying to steal a story from her when in fact he was just planning out a surprise engagement ceremony. They’ve kind of done it here again with the against-type reveal that our mad scientist is really kind of a hippie with a love for metal band T-shirts. Of course, Jessica rejects him on solid grounds and clearly views his pairing with Alisa as an uncomfortable shadow of her own relationship with Kilgrave. Still, they didn’t make him arch when they so easily (and quite boringly) could have.
- Trish’s awesomely awful video for her spot-on innocuous pop song which might just have had no lyrics other than repeated chants of “I want your cray cray” interrupted by grunts and oohs and ahhhs.
- Getting to see more of what Jessica and Trish used to be like.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Anytime Jess and/or her mom weren’t on screen.
- Hogarth’s sidestory. It’s not that I actually don’t like it. Carrie Anne-Moss broke my heart with the look on her face in the above screenshot. However, the longer the season has progressed the more this has turned into an extraneous bit of padding which is only there for Carrie Anne-Moss/Hogarth fans. I’m just waiting for it to hook back up with the larger story of the season.
What I’m Worried About:
That we just passed episode 9. That’s around the time the first season lost its momentum for me. The show put forth some of its best episodes – Jess and Kilgrave together and then Jess, Hogarth, and Trish trying to trip him up in the surprise cage they shoved him into. But once he broke out the rest of the season meandered. I worry this season, which is following a very similar formula with slight inversions here and there, might follow suit.
How I Feel About the Season So Far:
Loving it. Jess and her mother are so compelling together that I don’t miss Kilgrave anymore
Actually, my favorite line is in one of the earlier screengrabs I included, specifically where Alisa says, “Who doesn’t wish they could change something about their mother?” But the Trish blogger line was fun too.
I See What They Did There
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Wild Prediction #3: By the end of the season, Jessica will realize she does have a family with Trish and Malcolm, and she will learn to trust again and pursue a real relationship with J.R. Ramirez’s character.
- Revisiting Wild Prediction #1: So, Trish quit Trish Talk (gonna have change the name of the show now, doncha think?). Kinda called it (well, I said she’d be fired). But now she’s aiming for a TV news gig? Still, there’s a chance that falls through and she’s humbled and reduced to a true crime podcast like I jokingly predicted, but outlook not so good.
- The directors for these three episodes, in order: Jennifer Getzinger (Mad Men; she directed the classic episode “The Suitcase”), Zetna Fuentes, and Rosemary Rodriguez (The Good Wife, Blue Bloods, Walking Dead).
Next Up: Episodes 10-13.