Latest posts by Alexander Vandewalle (see all)
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! Caution — Spoiler Alert !
When Jessica Jones‘s first season hit Netflix in 2015, it was one of the first times that I went into a Marvel production with absolutely no prior knowledge of the main character. When I finished the season, I was completely blown away. Not only did the show present a very interesting, yet unlikely and cynical hero, battling both supernatural and everyday problems, but it also gave us one of the best villains the MCU has ever had. Now that season two has officially been released on the streaming platform, let’s see if the second season reaches the (high) bar that the first season has set three years ago.
There’s often so much going on in these Marvel Netflix shows, that their overall narratives can feel crowded or convoluted. Jessica Jones‘s second season is no real exception to this, though I must say that most of the (many) storylines are handled extremely well and without major problems. The story brings us back to the origins of its titular character, and answers lingering questions left by the show’s first season. Unlike last year’s The Punisher, which had severe problems in terms of story structure, Jessica Jones knows where it wants to go and almost every scene we see brings us tangibly closer to that goal. That being said, there are two storylines that feel notably out-of-place, those being Jeri’s (Carrie-Ann Moss) fight against ALS and Pryce Cheng’s (Terry Chen) forced corporate rivalry with Alias Investigations. Jeri Hogarth has become a seminal character in connecting the different Defenders shows, and I understand that the showrunners had to find a way to include her here, but her entire arch feels kind of superfluous. Pryce, on the other hand, is an unnecessary addition to the show that slows the pace more than it ever succeeds in pushing it forward.
Jessica Jones‘s season two is a very different kind of superhero show, even compared to the other Marvel shows Netflix has produced over the years, in that it doesn’t feature a straightforward “great big bad” such as Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, Elektra, Cottonmouth, Diamondback, Bakuto, Alexandra or Billy Russo. Here, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) goes up against her own revived and now powered mother (Janet McTeer), a character constantly roaming the borders between good and evil and challenging Jessica on an entirely different level than Kilgrave (David Tennant) ever could. This approach is cool and innovative, and means that our audience expectations are often subverted. The season’s end also promises to resonate in possible further seasons. I would’ve liked if the finale had relied more on Jessica making her own choice instead of what eventually happened, but the way it was handled definitely brings an equal amount of character drama that a possible third season will no doubt benefit from.
The main plot is really set into motion at the end of episode 6 (“AKA Facetime”) where it is revealed that the woman Jessica has been chasing has been her mother all along. I’m not a fan of suddenly reviving characters who’ve been long proclaimed dead (as I think it often feels like sloppy writing; still looking at you, Jon Snow), and initially I really did have my concerns about how this would work. The character did grow on me, though, as Alisa was included in an above all meaningful way and provided Jessica with a reality she really wasn’t prepared for.
Jessica Jones is the darkest thing the MCU has to offer, and this season’s main strength is its downright ruthless treatment of its characters. The show constantly puts the main cast in new and unknown dangers, and it is these new situations that shape every move the characters make. On many occasions, in fact, we get the feeling that these characters are utterly broken. It is insane to consider everything Jessica has been through, for example, and this season surely doesn’t allow her to rest. The events constantly challenge her on a deeply psychological level, so much so that even Kilgrave pops up as a fragment of her subconscious in one of this season’s best episodes (episode 11, “AKA Three Lives and Counting”). This season shows that Jessica is more than a sarcastic unbreakable shell by having her constantly display new and never-before-seen levels of emotion, for which Krysten Ritter can only be applauded.
The characters of Malcolm (Eka Darville) and Trish (Rachael Taylor) aren’t put to waste either. While Malcolm struggles to find his way in the world without drugs and needles, Trish is caught in a quick downward spiral that frequently brings her to morally dubious areas which make for some of the show’s most powerful moments. The group dynamic between the three main characters is constantly changing, which keeps their interactions engaging.
My biggest complaint about the story is that it doesn’t talk about the events of The Defenders (2017) at all. Ignoring The Defenders made sense for The Punisher (with Frank Castle being excluded from the team-up and all), but here it just feels weird. Jessica played a great role in the events at Midland Circle, yet now it seems like it never even happened. I understand that The Defenders didn’t get the best reviews (though it really isn’t all that bad) and that the showrunners might therefore try to keep silent about it, but the miniseries was still a huge event in the overall Marvel Netflix narrative (they blew up a skyscraper in the middle of New York for crying out loud!). It remains to be seen if the second season of Luke Cage or Daredevil‘s third (both set to be released later this year) will shed some more light on post-Defenders character development.
The Marvel Netflix shows always impress on a visual level, and this season is no exception to that. The characteristic light-blue or purple color grading gives the show the ‘sad’ or ‘depressing’ look it needs to convey the gravitas of the events it portrays. Mise-en-scene and editing are also used effectively to give us a sense of how troubled these characters really are. A frequent use of window or mirror framing keeps otherwise dull shots interesting.
In terms of thematic atmosphere, this season amplifies the dark tone that the first one has decisively established for the series. Jessica, haunted by her having murdered Kilgrave in season one, has resorted to more drinking, while Trish has fallen back into her old drug habits (which we see in episode 7 “AKA I Want Your Cray Cray”, easily the best episode of the season). The contrast with the light-hearted Marvel films cannot be any bigger, and I personally think it’s great that we as an audience get to have this ‘double look’ on this universe.
Season two never really reaches the same level of ‘being mindblown’ as season one, but, if anything, this season explores who Jessica really is. It does so by presenting a new set of challenges, engaging her on a psychological level in an overall atmosphere that’s even darker than season one. The show goes back to the very origins of the character, and isn’t afraid to take dramatic twists and turns when it feels the need to do so. With a strong, largely female cast, the show will no doubt resonate strongly in the contemporary #MeToo era. Jessica Jones has always been one of the most interesting Marvel productions, and season two continues to keep us engaged in what is quite possibly one of the most intriguing superhero TV shows to date.
Like the Marvel Netflix shows? Then be sure to check out how we break down the Cinematography of The Defenders!
Written by Alexander Vandewalle. For the featured image, click here. Click here for the picture with Jessica on the phone, the picture of Jessica drinking, the Malcolm picture and the Trish picture. Give us a like on Facebook!