Jessica Jones‘ second season isn’t nearly as good as its first season, which should serve more as praise for the series’ debut than condemnation for the sophomoric outing. But it’s also a good barometer for what went wrong since all the complaints dragging it down are antithetical to the prior success. It’s less focused, it’s less personal, and it’s infinitely less compelling, but it’s still some of the better of what Netflix + Marvel have to offer.
Its largest source of faults is the premise of the entire season with Jessica (Krysten Ritter) continuing to rebuff her hero label following the takedown of the mind-controlling Kilgrave (David Tennant). Despite her Alias Investigations picking up and having her neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville) under her private eye wing, she still can’t shake her demons, some of which come to physically haunt her instead of just emotionally. Case in point: she isn’t the only one to escape from the place that created her.
There is just such a tremendous overlap in the superficial arc between this season and the first one. It may be a completely different facet of her personal history, but it’s still at attempt at filling in a gap in her past and discovering how it formed the Jessica Jones of today. And because of that, it feels unfortunately familiar. All the way through until about halfway through the season, this causes a stagnant sensation, and not just because of the first four episodes are an absolute slog.
On paper, it’s doing a followup right. If the show isn’t going to upend the entire operation, then it needs to hew close to where the original left off and then complicate from there. But instead of that, the plot more just plods around until some unknown metric is met and the show decides to move forward. Worse than that, it completely lacks one of the great successes that it had previously nailed down.
There is no central antagonist, and I do mean that in the conceptual sense. There are plenty of villains, but there is absolutely nothing resembling the tremendously seductive and terrifying Kilgrave and what he represents. The goal seems to continually move for Jessica, which is fine if the story could support it. We don’t always need a Kilgrave to succeed. It instead just assumes that the Unknown Past is substantial enough of an objective to carry forward the entire season when it one hundred percent it isn’t.
It’s exacerbated by the fact that while we know Jessica to be an exemplary private investigator despite her permanently drunken state and without a reliance on her superhuman strength, here she just sort of…does it. There’s no swirling intrigue that is essential to even neo-noir-adjacent stories like this. It has the hardboiled voice-over and some shots of hard shadows and flat frames, but it’s missing that critical part of mystery. She could be anyone when we need her to be Jessica Jones.
The real meat is in the side stories, however. Malcolm is working his damnedest to learn everything he can from Jessica and her aforementioned investigative skills. But his cracks begin to show. It may not be drugs, but he’s an addict to whatever he can get his hands on, and it’s a scary thought. He is the only good person in a show full of bad people doing what he can to not be dragged down by them, and it’s tragic.
We also get to see Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) get the depth she’s deserved after serving as a bare mechanism in so much of Netflix’s MCU chicanery. We discover her drive and how it crashes up against her newly unearthed tragedy. It plays out as an ancillary component to Jessica’s thread but it could easily stand on its own as it takes turn after turn for the dark and darker corners of desperation. And it’s all driven home by Moss’ immense performance, a raw and unfettered and sexual turn for what is otherwise an indefatigably reserved character.
Then there’s Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and her own revelatory addiction. I suppose we’ve always seen flashes of her needs, but it really comes to the forefront in this season. Her addiction manifests as simple mind-rending jollies and a thirst for power, but it eventually reveals itself as an addition to being a hero. It’s a twisted notion and one that deserves to be explored further, but here it’s just tremendously weird. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. (It’s always fun to see Taylor portray the unhinging of this uptown persona.) But mostly it’s just brow-furrowing.
But the weird is also where the season gets good. It becomes incredibly taut and weaves into itself to where you can only wonder how it all gets wrapped up by the end of the 13-episode run. The, uh, character (no spoilers!) that Janet McTeer plays is deliriously warped and tender that as her story unfolds, you can only be enthralled by the turns the season has taken to get her involved such as she is. She gratefully adds some long-missing texture to the powered half of Jessica’s existence.
It’s hard to describe this season as anything other than uneven, but if you’ve stuck with Netflix’s Marvel endeavors this long, you know that’s just how they operate. This second outing for Jessica Jones is less volatile than the rest, but it’s also missing the higher highs that they and its previous season had. If you can stomach the idea of committing to a rough start, then you will probably find something worthwhile by the end of this dark, dank tunnel of bad people and dire needs.
Final Score: 7 out of 10