With season 2 of Jessica Jones here, we compare Jessica’s character arc to Matt Murdoch’s: two characters who are similar in many ways, but choose drastically different paths in their second season.
When Daredevil was released on Netflix in 2015, fans were delighted to see Matt Murdoch’s story portrayed by such a great cast, stunning visuals and a wonderful universe that welcomed the Defenders. Jessica Jones followed soon after, to even more stellar reviews which praised its depiction of a strong female character, its handling of difficult themes, and its unapologetic toughness.
But while Daredevil got a season 2 a mere year after season 1, a second season of Jessica Jones was postponed to three years later, to make way for The Defenders. And in the meantime, reviews of the next season of Daredevil were mixed.
While Matt began Daredevil strengthening the friendships around him, season 2 found him bringing those relationships to an end. His once fascinating character became angst-ridden, and his Saving-People-Thing (to quote Hermione Granger) alienated him from everyone around him. His series of bad choices became more and more frustrating, culminating in a character arc that felt like a deconstruction of the person he used to be. As season 2 drew to a close, we found ourselves wondering if we even cared about Matt at all.
So with Jessica Jones setting such a high standard in season 1, we had our concerns about a second season. With Kilgrave out of the picture, everyone agreed that it would be difficult to keep the show as powerful as it had been before. After Daredevil’s lukewarm reception, we were even more wary — Jessica is already a character that has difficult relationships with others, and while it’s fun to see her take people down with her strength and her snark, it can also get tiresome. Would Jessica’s story go the same way Matt’s did?
But things go quite differently in season 2 of Jessica Jones. Instead, we find Jessica slightly more open to relationships with others, trying to navigate life as a not-so-mean person.
Whereas in season 1 her relationship with Trish was full of strife, and she pushed away everyone else, throughout the first episodes of season 2, she’s building bridges and trying to learn how to play nice. While Matt’s relationships become strained as his past comes into his life in the shape of Elektra, Jessica’s past forces her to reach out. She can’t investigate IGH fully without Trish and Malcom’s support, and she can’t continue to investigate at all without having Jeri on her side, or reaching out to her antagonistic superintendent.
On the whole, this approach plays out in a much more satisfying way than Daredevil’s. While Jessica is extremely flawed and often takes two steps backward for every step forward, it’s clear that she’s actively growing with each episode.
And we like seeing characters who are trying to be better with the help of those around them. Season 2 of Daredevil had its own strengths — it was great to get some insight into Matt’s past, and the Punisher’s storyline was fascinating — but it felt like Matt was sabotaging himself at every turn. Jessica’s journey to figure out her past works out to be a lot more enjoyable to watch than that.
Even though the villains in the second seasons of both shows were less remarkable than those of the first seasons — and both Kilgrave and Wilson Fisk are difficult villains to follow — both seasons deal with the protagonists’ past and the demons that still haunt them. Both IGH and the Hand have little presence throughout the first episodes, upstaged by more conflicted villains that we end up feeling some level of sympathy for.
But both Matt and Jessica can see themselves in some of the characters they’re up against, and find themselves questioning their values and how far they’re willing to go in the name of justice. In the end, the real danger to their lives is their own nature — will they alienate those around them, or use their relationships to bring out the best in their flawed characters?
It’s interesting that Marvel chose to have Matt and Jessica’s character arcs move firmly in opposite directions for their second seasons, placing them as stark opposites from the kind of people they used to be in the beginning of their shows. They both spent a great part of their lives alone and have taken upon themselves burdens that might be too heavy to bear, but their success and failure depends on how committed they are to connecting with those around them.
The final decisions they both make end up having a lifechanging impact on them and the people around them. And they set up interesting possibilities for season 3 of both shows. If there’s anything Marvel is telling us, it’s that no matter how powerful both Matt and Jessica are, they can never reach their potential alone.