Too late in the season to avoid them now. So, spoilers below:
Jessica Jones: Season 2 is about a great many things, It’s beyond obvious to say it’s all about family – Jess re-gaining and re-losing her mom, and ending the season isolated from her friends but newly motivated to seek out a less lonely existence. The true throughline from beginning to end, though, is Jessica’s continued self-hate and introspection over murdering Kilgrave. For all of its film noir trappings, Jessica Jones always has one foot squarely in the superhero vigilante space. Thus, season 2 turned into a reflection on that most common of all superhero vigilante stories: the shaky definition of and challenging adherence to a moral code.
That’s why, even though it zaps the season of all its momentum, these final four episodes saw fit to work in a “What if Alisa is tortured by a sadistic prison guard, and Jessica ends up killing that guy in self-defense?” subplot. That’s also why the season ultimately came down to Jessica’s twin conflicts of being incapable of killing of her own mother but also unwilling to let her mom’s past murders just slide by.
How they chose to resolve this proved to be a disappointment, and as per usual with most of these Netflix Marvel shows they stretched out a 10-11 episode story into 13. By the end, the padding really, really showed. But I still found this to be a compelling, at-times emotionally gut-wrenching season. I’ve never seen a mother-daughter relationship explored in quite this way in a superhero context, and Jessica’s final moments with her mom just tore me up.
Great. Now I’m getting verklempt. On with the recap:
Where We Left Off
Alisa just gave herself up, Trish landed her dream audition, and Hogarth thought she’d been cured.
What Happened With All Of That
Alisa breaks out of prison two episodes later, Trish, fresh out of the mysterious substance in Sampson’s inhaler, bombs her audition and spirals out pretty epically, and Hogarth learns she’s been conned.
A general description of what happens in episodes 10 (“Pork Chop”), 11 (“Three Lives and Counting”), 12 (“Pray for My Patsy”), and 13 (“Playland”):
If it wasn’t already, it becomes abundantly clear in these final episodes that Trish is season 2’s story engine. Without her actions, there is no season. If she doesn’t poke the IGH bear, Alisa never comes out of hiding to protect Karl. Beyond that, without Trish continually working against Jessica under the guise of knowing what’s best for her this final run of the season would be largely bereft of conflict. Simply put, Jessica and Hogarth land on the best possible scenario for Alisa, and Trish mucks it up to hell.
In “Pork Chop,” Jess and Hogarth reach a plea deal which will allow Alisa to live out her life behind bars in the most humane way possible. All she has to do is give up Karl, and the only way she’ll do that is if Jess first gets him out of the country to somewhere without extradition laws. That way Alisa can give him up without actually harming him. Perfect plan, really.
Two small problems: 1) The sadistic guard overseeing Alisa isn’t really into humane treatment of prisoners; 2) No one let Trish in on the plan, and Jessica’s “the case is over; let it go” just fuels her obsession even more.
So, of course, Jessica has to step in to do something about the guard, and Trish, through some expert manipulation of Malcolm (translation: sleeps with and lies to), has to step in to bring Karl to justice.
But why? What the heck is really going on with Trish? “Three Lives and Counting” provides the answer: she wants Karl to give her powers just like he did for Jessica. Maybe it didn’t start out that way, at least not consciously. Maybe she’s just a junkie struggling through a relapse and withdrawal. But with her personal life shattered and career prospects dimmed to non-existent her dogged pursuit of the big story with IGH holds little practical application. Who, really, is going to buy her as a trusted source? And it’s not like she can go back on Trish Talk to break the news. That bridge has been burned.
Thus, the daughter of an emotionally abusive mother and sister to a superpowered woman who never uses her powers has an inferiority complex and Karl is her answer to fix that. He tries, but Jess stops him mid-procedure. Then he kills himself in “I’m a monster! A failure! And my work should never be repeated!” moment by blowing himself up along with all of his research. Can’t help but feel like the season never quite got a handle on Karl.
Jess’s choice to let him kill himself rather than do it for him is the culmination of the episode-long debate she has with the Kilgrave in her head. Is she a murderer or not? The back-and-forth plays somewhat similar to that time the self-hating voice inside BoJack’s head narrated an entire episode of BoJack Horseman, his every line and action punctuated with insight into the bitter self-flagellation underpinning everything he does. Here, Kilgrave voices every bad thing Jess has ever thought about herself, and she almost gives in before learning to forgive herself and again claim control over her life and powers.
“Pray for My Patsy” mostly involves Jess racing to protect a comatose Trish in her hospital bed from Alisa, who breaks out the moment she learns of Karl’s death. “Playland” sees Jess and Alisa on the run together, briefly talking about going to somewhere in the world where they could help people in need before the cops catch their scent and track them down. In the end, Trish somewhat randomly kills Alisa because Jess can’t. That’s not the kind of thing sisters can get past, especially since Alisa had finally achieved an emotional breakthrough and was in full control of her rage, at least with Jess by her side. Not that Trish knew that, of course.
What I Liked:
- Again, Jessica and her mom. Every single second they were together. Heck, every single second they weren’t. Krysten Ritter and Janet McTeer (as Alisa) are the clear MVPs of the season.
- Malcolm coming into his own, even if it played a bit like a repeat of Foggy and Matt on Daredevil.
- The personal stakes and smaller scale. Looking back on the prior Marvel shows, there’s usually some neighborhood/city-threatening plot to thwart or a government conspiracy to untangle by the end. What I truly love about Jessica Jones: Season 2 is how hard it works to avoid all of that. Karl’s research never rises to the evil conspiracy-levels it could have. Alisa doesn’t go on an insane, Elektra-like rampage. In the end, it’s just a mother and her daughter on the run, in pursuit of a better life. The fallout of their ultimate failure to escape breaks hearts without ever having to tear down literal buildings, call upon ninja armies, or identify corruption at the highest levels of government.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Again, Hogarth’s sidestory. Carrie Anne-Moss puts in some fantastic work here, but this is the definition of a storyline generated from “We cast too good of an actress in this part to give her nothing to do.” So, they created a season-long arc about her suffering personally, professionally, and physically and coming out of it stronger than ever, even if her remaining years are definitely numbered. It’s certainly well-acted and will be a reference point for any future seasons of Jessica/Iron Fist/Daredevil/whatever where the name of Hogarth’s law firm will have changed. But, overall, it added very little of substance to Jessica Jones: Season 2.
- Kilgrave’s forced return. I’ll never say no to seeing David Tennant as Kilgrave, but even though his return paid off Jessica’s season-long inner-turmoil it still felt forced.
- The whole subplot with the prison guard, which played like an awkward return to an episodic story in a season that was by and large serialized.
- Trish’s unraveling. She was forced into the role of plot obstacle far too often this season.
- Trish killing Alisa. The conflict and Trish’s repeated assertions about Alisa being a psychopath, despite Jessica’s protests, never felt fully realized.
Jessica Jones following The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s lead? The first season: confront male oppressor. Second season: confront mother who abandoned her, reach catharsis when they visit an amusement park together. Third season: stop with all the introspection and have fun at college…or whatever. Honestly, Kimmy kind of went off the rails in that third season. So, the similarities might stop here. Of course, any similarities are almost certainly coincidental. It’s just something that jumped out at me.
My Updated Ranking of Marvel Netflix Seasons/Shows, Best to Worst:
- Jessica Jones: Season 2 – gets the edge over the first season due to, probably, recency bias but also how moved I was by Jess and her mother together.
- Jessica Jones: Season 1
- The Punisher
- Daredevil: Season 2
- Luke Cage
- Daredevil: Season 1
- Iron Fist
- The Defenders
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Revisiting My Wild Predictions: I said by the end of the season Trish wouldn’t have her show anymore, Malcolm woudn’t work for Jessica, and Jessica’s experience with her mother would inspire her to pursue a relationship with J.R. Ramirez and the potential for family he clearly represents. I got all of that right; I just got some of the details wrong. Because I also said it was also possible Malcolm would die (wrong!), Trish would start a true crime podcast (you were kidding about that, right?), and not only would Jess embrace J.R. Ramirez she’d also pull Trish closer as her beloved sister (yeah, they’re not even on speaking terms anymore).
- The directors for these four episodes, in order: Neasa Hardiman (Inhumans), Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena), Liz Friedlander (The Gifted), and Uta Briesewitz (Iron Fist, The Defenders, This Is Us, Altered Carbon).
- So, is Foggy going to work for Hogarth now or what? He’s in the season for one little cameo. Feels like he should have come back for another after she set off that proverbial nuclear bomb in the law firm he works at.