Five episodes were provided for review.
The Netflix branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may not be nearly as ubiquitous as its big screen counterpart — including the current record-breaking run of Black Panther — but it certainly offers the darkest and more morally complicated take on the current superhero craze. Yet, while the relative quality of shows like Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist varies wildly, perhaps none of the Marvel Netflix shows encapsulates what makes this particular corner of the MCU so distinctive and rewarding as well as Jessica Jones. The character, as played by Krysten Ritter, is the smartass, guilt-ridden, hard-drinking antithesis to her more righteous counterparts, and after exorcising some major demons in season 1, she’s back in action with another batch of episodes scheduled to hit Netflix just in time for International Women’s Day on March 8.
Fresh from her standout role as the most reluctant member of the titular team in The Defenders season 1, Jessica is still paying the price both for killing Kilgrave (David Tennant) in last season’s finale and outing herself as a “vigilante superhero.” Of all the street-level heroes, Jessica is by far the most reticent about acknowledging her own altruism or accepting any kind of admiration for the good she does. Consider it a byproduct of her tragic backstory and self-destructive path. Nevertheless, she’s a hero in dire need of redemption, especially in her own eyes. And, by the looks of it, Jessica Jones season 2 is on the path to granting it to her.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that this season centers largely on Jessica’s most deep-rooted demons. If season 1 focused on her reclaiming her life from the oppression of Kilgrave, then season 2 digs further down to a previous trauma, uncovering the very secrets of Jessica’s past. In both cases, the show’s allegory for PTSD and abuse continues, even if it’s yet to nail down a principal villain as compelling as last season’s to embody those themes. Jessica Jones even features a subplot involving sexual assault, no doubt in part as a commentary on recent events in Hollywood.
The storyline this season feels, in many ways, like more of an origin story for Jessica than even season 1. While it’s clearly inevitable that this narrative ground would be uprooted at some point, to do so now does feel like a bit of a step backward for a character who seemed so ripe for some progress, especially after teaming with a group of super-friends to save New York City.
Rather than feel even the slightest bit liberated by Kilgrave’s death, Jessica seems to be suffering more than ever. In order for the character to grow and evolve in the years to come, Jessica Jones needs to plow through the untold elements of its protagonist’s story. It’s simply unfortunate that this tale has to follow so much previous development, despite the fact that much of what fans love about the show remains intact in season 2.
Most of all, Ritter continues to demonstrate her range as an actress, pulling off the many facets of Jessica with apparent ease. This is a character who herself has no clue how she’ll react or what she’ll say or do at any given moment. Ritter conveys that inner struggle and manages to capture Jessica’s sarcastic wit and raw vulnerability in equal measure. No wonder she proved to be the standout even in the ensemble cast of The Defenders. That same appeal works even better with Jessica returning to her own domain and the Alias Investigations she left behind for that temporary detour into a world of mysticism.
Along for the ride, of course, are supporting players like Eka Darville, Rachael Taylor and Carrie-Anne Moss. While all three were understandably underserved in The Defenders, they receive a ton of screen time here. As Jessica’s put-upon assistant/neighbor, Darville has the chance to get more hands-on with the story than he did in much of season 1, and Taylor continues to serve as Jessica’s ostensible partner in cracking her latest case. Most intriguing of all is the story earmarked for Moss’s Jeri Hogarth, though. Her journey (and the revelations it sheds lights on) wind up being strangely parallel to Jessica’s own downward spiral, paving the way for greater developments to come.
While not quite as transcendent as its first outing, Jessica Jones season 2 continues to prove that its lead character is one of the most complex and fascinating figures in the MCU, both on film and television. The series’ penchant for leaning into its noir elements — hard-boiled narration and all — lends it a tone and spirit completely distinct from the sea of superhero stories currently out there.
Moreover, its willingness to tackle current feminist issues through the lens of comic book storytelling allows it to fulfill a necessary role in our culture right now. Rarely do we get a female hero as fully realized, and while that’s a real shame, at least we have Jessica Jones.
Jessica Jones season 2 delves deeper into the past of its hero than ever before, propelled by Krysten Ritter's brooding but compelling lead performance.