By Jim Sabataso
The first season of “Jessica Jones” stands out as one of Marvel’s strongest television series to date. Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg created an unsettling psychological thriller that took on issues of consent and domestic violence with a rawness seldom seen in genre shows. In season two, Rosenberg opts for a smaller story as she digs into Jessica’s past, and explores the characters and relationships around her.
To catch you up, Jessica Jones is a New York private investigator, who gained super strength after a car accident as a teen in which the rest of her family was killed. Since then, Jessica has been coping with that trauma through hard drinking and maintaining a cynical outlook on life.
Season one saw Jessica breaking free from the thrall of Kilgrave, a manipulative villain with the ability to control people’s behavior. After killing her tormentor in a very public fashion, Jessica has outed herself as a super. Doing her best to keep a low profile, she digs into her next big case: investigating IGH, the shadowy company that saved her life and gave her her powers.
The investigation makes for a much more personal story. This season is all about family — the biological family Jessica once had and the new one she has built with her friends and allies. As such, there is no singular villain plotting against Jessica so much as there’s a succession of conflicts and confrontations in which allegiances shift as Jessica gets closer to the truth.
Rosenberg smartly ignores the events of “Defenders,” last year’s major crossover miniseries that brought together all the characters from Marvel’s four Netflix series. That omission frees the series to keep telling its own story without the clutter of larger Marvel continuity.
The season does, however, suffer from pacing issues. The first few episodes are a slow burn, as the story takes its time to zero in on the primary IGH plot line. Once it gets there, the story does move at a slightly brisker pace. But, as with the rest of the Marvel Netflix series, I can’t help but think these shows would be better served by shorter seasons; the 13-episode order just feels like too much.
And, while the dive into Jessica’s past succeeds in deepening her character, the lack of the main villain makes the conflict feel amorphous. That’s largely due to the series’ unenviable task of attempting to top David Tennant’s charismatic and terrifying performance as Kilgrave last season.
Tennant aside, strong performances abound this season. Krysten Ritter remains a delight as Jessica. Ritter’s got a great handle on the character, and brings her to life with the requisite gruff and no-bull attitude. Jessica’s brokenness is a defining trait. Ritter makes that pain feel real as it peers through the cracks in Jessica’s hardened emotional armor.
Rachael Taylor gets a lot to work with this season as Trish Walker, Jessica’s best friend and a radio talk-show personality who gets mixed up in Jessica’s drama. This time out, Trish struggles with her past demons of addiction as she begins taking a drug that grants users temporary enhanced senses and strength. It’s a strong arc that puts Trish on a perilous path that could see her finally embracing her Hellcat alter ego from the comics in season three.
Eka Darville’s Malcolm Ducasse also plays a bigger role as he backs up Jessica on the P.I. beat. Malcolm brings heart to the series, playing the conscience and voice of reason for both Jessica and Trish throughout the season.
Less enjoyable is Carrie-Anne Moss’ preternaturally talented litigator Jeri Hogarth. Jeri has been a consistent presence in the Netflix series. She is a formidable personality who inhabits a moral grey area — at times self-serving, but ultimately doing the right thing when it counts. However, a subplot involving Jeri confronting a personal health crisis feels like an unnecessary detour, even as it somewhat intersects with the main story.
All this adds up to a second season that falls short of its thrilling first installment. “Jessica Jones” remains a cut above the rest of Marvel’s Netflix fare, trading on big action set pieces for more nuanced and emotional storytelling. And while I can appreciate Rosenberg’s preference for grounded, personal stories, the comic book fan in me can’t help but hope there are a more superheroics in store for season three.
CHECK IT OUT
Season two of “Jessica Jones” is now streaming on Netflix.