Henceforth are set the immutable laws of Superhero Supertrope Logic:
1) The Superhero can save just about anyone but herself.
2) External demons are real, but in the end, it’s the internal ones that cause most of the ruckus.
3) There’s a Super thin line between Gifted and Cursed.
4) If you are Super’d, do not ever let anyone help you. Not in a solo show. Wait for your network to come up with an ensemble show for that. In the meantime, nothing—not logic, not need, not love, not confidence—should shake you out of the illusion that you are protecting the people you care about by pushing them away more and more cruelly.
5) When in doubt, brood.
Y’all with me? Good.
The first round of solo shows in the Marvel Netflix Universe, culminating in the headache-inducing The Defenders had its ups and downs. The biggest thing in the “yes” column was Jessica Jones, largely due to Krysten Ritter’s excellent performance in the title role.
Ritter is still killing it in Season Two. And this season’s considerably darker than the first one, and that’s saying a mouthful. But as it turns out, her stellar turn as the PI whose superpowers include enhanced strength, binge-drinking and sarcasm might have obscured something else that made Season One hum. That something was Kilgrave (David Tennant), Jessica’s personal Dr. Moriarty. In the second season, Jessica’s clearly still on the express bus to PTSD City courtesy of her mind-controlling nemesis, but without him, the show loses something that as it turns out was key to its logic and primary themes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really good. But it meanders more.
Post-Kilgrave, Jessica’s friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) is on a hell-bent mission to get serious—in essence to become the hero Jessica wishes she didn’t have to be, only Trish’s superpowers are celebrity, money, and a microphone. Oh, and possibly some leftover meds she nicked from her super-soldier ex. She’s trying to move out of her spot as a popular lifestyle radio host and into a serious investigative journo gig (she’s shacking up with a serious journalist named Griffin). Sadly, Trish has decided to give Jessica a little kick in the pants as far as finding out what really happened to her after that car crash, and she’s doing it by calling out a certain shady medical company on-air, which brings a variety of weirdos out of the woodwork.
There’s plenty of good material here. With Personal Nemesis Number One sporting an irresolvable chiropractic situation and out of Jessica’s life, she’s left with two choices. The first is to distract herself with trivial cases, because everyone wants a piece of the “vigilante superhero”—even though everyone’s also increasingly terrified of “supers.” (Speaking of which, there’s a new super, played by J.R. Ramirez, in Jessica’s building, a single dad with a cute kid and an intriguing panic response to the sight of cops.) The second is to stop trying to block Trish from digging up dirt on her past and actually enlist her help in understanding how she got her powers. Only problem is, that’s more traumatizing than breaking necks. Malcolm (Eka Darville, in a fine performance despite not a lot to work with), now clean and sober and relentlessly good-natured, gets hired and fired by Jessica on an almost daily basis, fills his time with a string of interchangeable one-night stands, and waits to be noticed. Jeri (Carrie-Anne Moss) has had the tables turned on her bigtime, with her job, her money, and her health all about to be stripped away. A competing PI (Terry Chen), a rapey film director, an unregistered “enhanced person” with an axe to grind, and the evil monster who adopted Jessica (Trish’s hideous stage-mommy, played by Rebecca deMornay) are more than enough competition for Jessica’s inner demons. So what does she do?
She ups her Super-Alienating game until no one wants anything to do with her. And that just gets annoying, because as much as it’s understandable for traumatized people who happen to be able to pick up a car and lob it at you to isolate themselves when things get rough, it’s so obvious from the viewer’s perspective that she’s putting everyone (including herself) in more danger that it’s just exasperating.
Thematically, the season’s spot on, digging deeper into the issues that made Season One interesting—in particular, power, control, and female anger. Season Two doubles down on that in a way that feels extremely of the moment (and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg saw to it that, among other things, all the episodes were directed by women). As a treatise on the complexities of female road-rage in all its varied facets, it’s an excellent season, at least through the five episodes I was able to see. It also makes the wise choice to deepen Jessica and Trish’s complicated relationship, digging into their shared past. That was definitely the least fleshed-out aspect of the first season and it’s a much-needed asset here.
But just as Sherlock Holmes needs Moriarty and Batman needs the Joker, Jessica’s a little at sea without Kilgrave. The character brought a certain specific focus and emotional punch to the first season. Now that he’s dead, there’s kind of a hole in the emotional center of the narrative. I’m sure they can get it back; there’s a ton of material to work with. But all that rage and trauma still feels like it’s looking for somewhere to land.
Season Two of Jessica Jones is now streaming on Netflix.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.