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TV Review: Jessica Jones, Season 2

Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones

After the high bar set in its freshman outing, Jessica Jones has a nigh impossible challenge ahead of it if Netflix and Marvel have any hopes of matching the quality and intensity of the sarcastic heroine's PTSD-afflicted confrontation with the terrifying Kilgrave. As such, it is perhaps inevitable that the second season will disappoint viewers. While the first season certainly isn't flawless--it has some significant pacing issues along with an overeliance on narrative convenience--it is still one of Netflix's best seasons of a Marvel property, if not the best. The second season, on the other hand, is not.

On the plus side, this isn't as big a misstep as Iron Fist or The Defenders. It is well-produced, adeptly written, and continues to showcase some incredible acting talent. Krysten Ritter again brings her A-game as the titular detective, as do Carrie-Anne Moss (Jeri Hogarth), Eka Darville (Malcolm Ducasse), Rebecca De Mornay (Dorothy Walker), and Rachel Taylor (Trish Walker) in their respective roles. Rounding out this season's cast are some good new additions in Janet McTeer and the always-notable Callum Keith Rennie as the main antagonists, alongside J.R. Ramirez as a new potential love interest and Terry Chen as a rival P.I.

Unfortunately, these actors aren't given nearly enough to do throughout the season. Without spoiling anything beyond the first episode, the main arc concerns someone or something that is tied to Jessica's superpowered origin story apparently murdering other superpowered individuals. As the first and most successful season of ABC's Heroes proved over a decade ago, this could be a compelling storyline, but if there is one word I could use to describe it here, it would be "boring." That is because, instead of moving along its main plot, the story goes on long detours with Jeri Hogarth having problems at her law firm, with Trish Walker descending into an addiction spiral because she's jealous of Jessica, and with another private detective trying to buy out Alias Investigations.

Jessica Jones
If you thought the show spent too much time with Hogarth in the first season...

This season becomes the sort of soapy, sentimental melodrama that the first season so wonderfully subverted, if not openly mocked. Instead of focusing on Jessica as a broken woman dealing with her PTSD, the story takes a less focused approach this time around, and there are long, multiple-episode-long stretches where it isn't readily apparent where the plot is going, if anywhere. Jessica is given very little to do, too, and we don't get a sense of any other cases she's working on after a singular opening sequence involving a typical infidelity. There's a new super in her building who seems to be prejudiced against superpowered people but who is obviously set up to be a love interest, but his combative romantic relationship is nowhere near as interesting as the one Luke Cage has with her in season one (not to mention the fact that the actor, J.R. Ramirez, doesn't have the chemistry with Ritter that Mike Colter has). Much ink has been spilled concerning the absence of Kilgrave--and I'll get to that in a moment--but I think the absence of Cage is just as damaging to the series as a whole.

While she does face a difficult dilemma in the final episodes, Jessica's character doesn't have a well-defined arc of any kind. The show wastes a staggering amount of time getting to the root of her completely predictable origin story--which boils down to "she was experimented on after a car accident," which we already knew--and she gets into abrasive arguments with her closest allies, but not much is done to grow the character in new or interesting ways. If anything, it feels like the second season version of Jessica is less developed than the first season's Jessica, as though she's actively gone backwards and forgotten everything she learned. Also, her voice-over narration is far less pithy and clever than it used to be.

Jessica Jones
She reflects on her past, because if there's one thing Marvel doesn't have enough of, it's origin stories

When it comes to weighing down the narrative, though, nothing can match the concrete shoes of Jeri Hogarth's extended subplot. Hogarth is an abrasive, cynical character who is nearly impossible to sympathize with, even when horrible things are happening to her, and this season spends about a third of its runtime with her on screen. Her storyline is almost entirely disconnected from the main plot, and despite its earnest attempts to make us care about her, I for one never did. At least the first season's inordinate focus on her pays off when she releases Kilgrave from captivity, but--spoiler alert--in this season, such a payoff never occurs, and her character, in the end, hasn't changed at all.

Probably the biggest and most impactful arc given to any character is the one given to Trish, and though it does pay off in a big way, it makes her character far less likeable as a person. She's a strong but vulnerable ally in the first season, but this time around, she becomes pathetic and unpleasant to be around while actively working against her adoptive sister multiple times. There's a definite point where she makes a major, out-of-character decision that was clearly forced upon her by writers who want her to get to a certain point by the end, and it's deeply unsatisfying. Something has gone terribly awry when it's easier to sympathize with her horrible mother (and I want to again stress how great De Mornay is in the role) than it is a legitimate victim of emotional abuse, childhood sexual assault, and drug addiction.

Jessica Jones
McTeer's character has some interesting moments, but she's no Kilgrave

Still, most of these problems could be overlooked if the season had a compelling antagonist, and the early episodes of the season seem to hint that we'll get one. Unfortunately, things get really muddled by the midpoint of the story, and a true antagonist never appears, despite the reveal of a villain in Janet McTeer's character (whose identity I won't spoil--don't even look up her name if you don't want to know). I appreciate the moral ambiguity the story is going for, but the lack of a horrifying presence bearing down on the main characters makes it much harder to care about them. In other words, the absence of Kilgrave has an enormous, detrimental impact on the show. The initial season's story works because it has very strong ties to psychological horror, and Kilgrave is hands-down the most frightening thing in the entire MCU. Janet McTeer's villain, unfortunately, isn't scary (unless you're a piano). She's just a broken woman with super strength, making her a mirrored version of the hero, a trope that is far too cliché for a show that prides itself on being a unique spin on the superhero genre.

In the end, that is ultimately what feels so disappointing about the second season: it's predictably standard. No, it's not narratively incoherent like Iron Fist or as poorly handled as The Defenders, but at least those shows managed to be entertaining and different in their own rights, which is why I was so obviously forgiving in my reviews. The second season of Jessica Jones, on the other hand, has lost what made the series so special. It feels like any other superhero show--and a dull one at that--and that's not what fans of the property are looking for.

FINAL SCORE:

Despite good production values and excellent acting, Jessica Jones' second outing is too boring and pointless to live up to the first.


-e. magill 3/15/2018

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