Our favorite punch-happy detective returns in Jessica Jones season 2. How does Jessica fare in her sophomore outing?
The first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones smashed its way into fans’ hearts with a cocked fist, drunken grin, and sizzling wit. Appallingly violent and unapologetically grim at times, Jessica Jones season 1 rarely faltered in its relentless forward motion. Purposeful and often ferocious, the show drew its power from a keen awareness of its own thematic principles and a heroine who spun toward true north in spite of herself.
Jessica Jones season 2 aims admirably, but doesn’t quite reach those heights (at least in the five episodes made available for critics). The familiar staples are all in place — Jessica drinks her way through Alias Investigations, razor-tongued as ever. Trish stands by, implacably supportive as she wavers between ambition and yearning need. Malcolm is still much more generous than Jessica deserves, and Jerri Hogarth begins to show a few cracks in her white marble soul.
The problem is, at least for the first five episodes, Jessica Jones season 2 lacks a defining idea. In her second solo trip, Jessica is on the hunt for IGH, the people who brought her back from the brink of death with super strength and an attitude problem. (Although that might have been there to begin with.) Secretive and dangerous (naturally), the shifting face of IGH morphs into a character whose abilities directly challenge Jessica’s… though nothing else about the antagonist is particularly interesting.
She is a creative killer, though.
Even with this critique, it would be too simplistic to say that Jessica Jones season 2 was doomed to suffer without Kilgrave. The cast is more than dynamic enough, and their relationships firmly grounded enough, to surge past even such a defining villain.
But along with the horror, gore, and outrage that he provided in spades, Kilgrave was also the vehicle for the first season’s foundational themes. Agency, power, consent, sacrifice — all of these ideas radiated outward from the Purple Man like physical heat, defining Jessica’s journey, those of her allies, and the artistic structure of the entire first season.
Absent Kilgrave’s perversely grounding presence, Jessica’s demons sprout in a hundred different places in season 2. It’s clear almost immediately that her focus needs to turn inward, but her attention (and therefore, the audience’s attention) is frustratingly divided by each new threat that struggles to surface. Her memories are a labyrinth of psychological violence, but for its opening acts, Jessica Jones season 2 keeps its protagonist on the outer edge of the real fight.
It’s hard to know where to look — Jessica’s hot and infuriating new super? Trish’s secretive new boyfriend? The rival detective who turns up at the most bewildering moments to hurl invective at our superstrong protagonist? So far, all of these pieces seem strung together, but are unlinked by thematic tissue.
The effect is dampening, an unfortunate blunting of season one’s brutally efficient edges. Jessica’s classic barbs land, but more softly. The violence left behind by the mysterious new antagonist is every bit as brutal as Kilgrave’s reign of terror, but the impact is more performative than visceral.
It’s still refreshing to watch Jessica Jones stomp around Manhattan without a single f*ck to give — until, of course, she does. It’s intriguing (in an ugly way) to watch as Trish’s insecurities lead her down dangerous paths, often unnoticed by her best friend. It’s powerful to see Malcolm assert his own agency and skills, and it’s tantalizing to wait for Kilgrave’s promised return, in whatever form that may take.
And certainly, there’s still time for Jessica Jones season 2 to to settle into its grooves and roar to the kind of brutal intelligence that characterized the first season. But if I may channel Jessica’s own perpetual frustrations, it would be nice if we we didn’t have to hurry up and wait.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones season 2 hits Netflix on Thursday, March 8.