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Josh Reviews Jessica Jones Season Two!

May 23rd, 2018
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I have been a fan of the character of Jessica Jones ever since picking up the very first issue of her first comic book series, Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, back in 2001.  Jessica is a special creation, and I was excited and nervous when I heard that she’d be one of the characters brought to life by Netflix’s first batch of Marvel TV shows.  To my great relief, I loved the first season of Jessica Jones when it was released on Netflix back in 2015.  It’s been a hell of a long wait for a second season (though Jessica did appear in last year’s Defenders crossover series), but our long national nightmare is finally over and season two of Jessica Jones is out in the world.

Jessica Jones season two doesn’t equal the heights of season one (primarily because the dynamic with David Tennant’s villain Killgrave was so compelling that, try as it might, the show can’t quite overcome his absence here in season two), but it’s still a terrific season of superhero storytelling, and the strongest Netflix season since Daredevil season two in 2016.  The show remains a delight, filled with complex characters and a sophisticated, adult tone that leans far more to character drama than superhero fisticuffs.

I will comment that the season was hamstrung somewhat for me, at least at first, by the decision to investigate Jessica’s origin, which is a story I didn’t think needed telling.  Maybe it’s because I am such a long-time comic book fan, but I have no problem accepting superheroes as-is and don’t feel I always need to know exactly how they got that way.  The lengthy digression into Luke Cage’s origin in the second half of his show’s first season bored me, and I was at first disappointed that Jessica Jones season two was going in that same direction.  In the end, though, as the season unfolded and I understood the story the writers were trying to tell, I enjoyed the places the show went, even if this wasn’t the story I was looking for.

I have read some reviewers describe this season as a “slow build,” with the first batch of episodes being somewhat boring, but I didn’t feel that way.  Right away from the first episode I was happy to be back in the world of Jessica Jones, and I was impressed by the level of craft on display right from minute one.  It’s true that it takes several episodes for the story being told this season to come into focus.  But the strength of that approach is that the storytelling this season escalates in intensity from episode to episode, reaching a peek in the final four episodes.  Jessica Jones season two avoids the sag that has afflicted many of these thirteen-episode Netflix shows, with the sense that there wasn’t quite enough story for those thirteen episodes, and some narrative wheel-spinning around episode nine or ten.  But Jessica Jones season two is at its best once episode ten arrives, and those final episodes are a real roller-coaster.

Here in season two, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg made the groundbreaking decision to hire only female directors to helm all thirteen episodes of the season.  I love this choice, and all thirteen of these directors acquitted themselves well, as the show looks terrific from start to finish this year.

Krysten Ritter is again fantastic as Jessica.  Like the Marvel cinematic universe films, the key ingredient in these Marvel Netflix shows has been the perfect casting of their lead characters (with the notable exception of Iron Fist).  Ms. Ritter is terrific as the hard-living Jessica.  She is so much fun to watch, even when poor Jessica is suffering terribly (which she is for most of this season).

To replace David Tennant’s Killgrave (who was killed by Jessica at the end of season one), the show introduces the secret character played by Janet McTeer.  The show takes its time in revealing who this character is and what her connection is to Jessica, but once that comes into the light this relationship takes its place as the core of this second season.  I love the idea of another strong female character being introduced into this show to give Jessica a run for her money, and Ms. McTeer is great, allowing the audience to hate and also have sympathy for her character at varying points in the season.

Rachael Taylor steps even more to the forefront this season as Trish Walker, though boy, the show takes her down some dark paths this year.  As a fan of the show, I was disappointed that the show had Trish and Jessica at odds for so much of this season, because I’d loved their friendship and partnership in season one.  (I felt the same disappointment with the way Daredevil season two split apart Matt and Foggy.  I understand the need for drama, but I’m just happier when we see our main characters working as a team rather than fractured.)  That being said, the show did a great job show’s Trish’s spiral back into addiction.  I love that they have really fleshed out this character.  Trish isn’t just Jessica’s sidekick, she’s a fully-realized character of her own, with her own desires and weaknesses.  She’s a great character and I am eager to see what’s next for her in the next season.  (Though I’ll comment that I wasn’t thrilled by the last-second “twist” in the finale — I put twist in quotation marks because this development had been telegraphed all season long — that Trish has developed superpowers.  I rather liked that Trish in the show was just a normal person, unlike her superpowered counterpart in the comics, and I’m not thrilled to see that changed now.)

Eka Darville’s Malcolm also gets more attention here in season two, and like Ms. Taylor Mr. Darville takes full advantage and really shines.  Poor Malcolm, like almost all of the characters on this show, is struggling to find a way out of the dark aspects of his past, but the world is not making it easy for him.  I enjoyed seeing Malcolm and Trish pair up briefly this year, and I hope future seasons explore that dynamic further.

I loved Carrie-Ann Moss’ Jeri Hogarth in Jessica Jones season one, and I have enjoyed seeing her pop up in the other Netflix Marvel shows.  I was delighted by the meaty storyline Jeri was given here in Jessica Jones season two, as — like everyone else this season!! — poor Jeri is really put through the wringer.  The moment in which Jeri walks into her cleaned-out apartment late in the season, and realizes the magnitude of her miscalculation about something which I won’t spoil, was absolutely wrenching and one of the most memorable moments of the season.  Ms. Moss is killing it with this character.

Early photos from Jessica Jones season two revealed that David Tennant would somehow be reappearing as Killgrave this year, despite his demise at the end of season one.  The show makes us wait a good long while for this reappearance to happen, but when it finally does I was so happy.  The way they used Killgrave was perfect — it twisted the screws on Jessica at exactly the right moment in the season, and in exactly the right way.  I’d love to see Mr. Tennant return in a similar fashion in future seasons.

Callum Keith Rennie was great on Battlestar Galactica as the Cylon Leoben, and I enjoyed him here as the doctor with ties to Jessica’s past.

Though it’s not looking likely that another full-blown Defenders crossover will be happening anytime soon, I was pleased that we got a few nods to the larger continuity of these Marvel Netflix shows this season.  I was so happy when Foggy popped up briefly in a scene with Jeri… and I was tickled when Jeri mentioned “Rand” (from Iron Fist) as her most important client late in the year.

One connection that didn’t happen?  Mike Colter’s Luke Cage was entirely absent, and Luke wasn’t even mentioned, which was a bummer.  Ever since Brian Michael Bendis’ earliest Jessica stories, Luke has been an important part of Jessica’s life.  I loved that Luke was a big part of Jessica Jones season one, but now that the individual Netflix shows seem to be doing their own thing, I’m bummed that Luke was ignored this season.  I hope that he will be back involved with future seasons.

I loved that this season was focused on exploring the lingering trauma within Jessica of her (very justified) killing of Killgrave in the season one finale.  Jessica Jones has, from the beginning, been a show about the repercussions of trauma, and while the end of season one felt like a victory, I was pleased that here in season two the show was willing to explore the messy after-effects of that “victory.”  One might have thought that Jessica’s main story had ended with the death of Killgrave, but this exploration of Jessica’s guilt and self-doubt, and her continued resistance to considering herself a hero, was a great direction for season two.

But the end of this season left a huge dangling story-thread: the shocking turn at the end of episode ten, in which Jessica killed the prison officer who had been torturing her mother.  Jessica didn’t mean to kill him, and he was attacking her, but still, wow, I was shocked when the show took this twist, and then showed us Jessica’s efforts to cover up the crime just like a real villain.  It was a shocking and compelling development, and a fascinating turn in the season-long exploration of Jessica’s struggles with her power, her anger, and her murder of Killgrave… that the show then seemed to forget about for the remainder of the season.  That was very weird to me and a huge missed opportunity.  Will this be picked up in season three?  It’s hard to tell if we’re meant to forget about this or if the writers are planning on getting back to this in the future.

Speaking of the future: I certainly hope we don’t have to wait as long for season three as we did for season two!  This is a fantastic show and I am eager for more.

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