The first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones was something of a miracle for superhero television programming. Jessica is not your typical superhero — in fact, she rejects the label altogether. She drunkenly stumbles her way through one night stand after one night stand as a distraction from the trauma she experienced under the hands of Kilgrave. David Tennant’s unsettling villain repeatedly raped Jessica and forced her to follow his bidding with his mind control powers. The show’s first season was one of the most compelling pieces of television as an honest depiction of the psychological pain that comes with rape and abuse, coloured by the accessible premise of a pseudo-noir superhero tale.
The bar was set high for season two, which only set itself up for disappointment. With Kilgrave dead, Jessica has to deal with demons coming at her from all sides: while a starstruck Hell’s Kitchen sees Jessica’s actions as the work of a vigilante hero, Jessica sees it as the crimes of a murderer. Reluctantly accepting her neighbour Malcolm as a PI-in-training, Jessica revives Alias Investigations while a rival investigator attempts to shut her down. Jessica Jones’s sophomore season starts off, for lack of a better word, boring. Like every other Marvel property on Netflix’s roster, Jessica Jones has the problem of not enough plot for too many episodes. Lying on my couch after a tiresome 13 hour binge, I felt like I had wasted a few of those hours on episodes I couldn’t even remember. The pacing in the first half is severely affected by unnecessary set-ups for even more unnecessary subplots.
What the show gets right, it gets it right spectacularly well. Jessica’s partner-in-crime (and love interest in our dreams) finds the hospital records from the car accident which killed Jessica’s parents and left her with superhuman strength, only to discover that 20 days are missing. The journey towards learning about her own past reminds us why Jessica Jones is what the world needs, as Jessica grapples with the notion that Jessica’s life was changed without her consent long before Kilgrave came into the picture.
For a sort-of-detective story though, the final destination — in which Jessica is finally confronted with her past — is much more interesting than everything that precedes it. In fact, when the show deals with Jessica’s past, it’s powerful and moving — adjectives I wish I could apply to the entire show, but it only shines in short, temporary bursts. A stand-alone episode towards the end of the season is simply outstanding and jumps out as one of the few truly memorable moments from those 13 hours. In this episode, we discover how Jessica became the Jessica we know who drinks and fucks her way through the life she is indifferent to. The scenes in which we learn where the name Alias Investigations came from and where she got that iconic leather jacket are fun, but one devastating moment which I won’t dare spoil is the real reason why the show is so powerful.
Krysten Ritter is an absolute powerhouse, emotionally conveying how difficult she finds it to keep moving on when it feels like the world only wants to chew her up and spit her out. Jessica Jones is at its most compelling when it explores the toxicity of men who wield too much power. The way in which the show deals with abuse at the hands of men is both sensitive and confrontational — and all the better for it. “I never take no for an answer,” the rival PI says. “How very rapey of you,” Jessica replies. In the climate of #MeToo and Time’s Up — the world needs Jessica Jones.