Warning: This contains spoilers for Jessica Jones Season 1. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of the first season here.
After the emotional trauma of Jessica Jones Season 1 and the apocalyptic stakes of debut Marvel TV team-up The Defenders, Jessica Jones Season 2 has a lot to live up to. Refreshingly, creator Melissa Rosenberg chooses to follow them with more low-key, personal conflicts that allow the strong ensemble cast to develop from under Jessica’s shadow.
The events of Season 1 and The Defenders are rarely referenced directly, but they have clearly left their mark, placing Jessica (Krysten Ritter) in a fragile position. Everyone wants a piece of this superhero vigilante after she helped save New York, but she’s still as prickly and isolated as ever, and still wracked by the guilt of murdering Kilgrave, however justified it was.
She begins the season forcing herself back into the rhythm of day-to-day detective work, but the thread left hanging at the end of the first season keeps coming loose. Best friend and adopted sister Trish (Rachael Taylor) found a clue to how Jessica got her powers, and she pursues it on Jessica’s behalf, taking a journalistic interest in the possible experiments conducted by the shady IGH organisation.
Jessica is still one of Marvel’s most interesting characters in any medium, and Ritter slides back into the role with ease. You can’t help but feel sorry for Jessica despite her rough edges. She’s always refusing herself love or help, out of a fear that it will lead to more pain. She may have a burning desire to find out who tortured her and gave her powers, but she’s equally afraid of exposing that open wound once more. In Season 1, her solution was to run and hide from her problems, but now, she’s finally trying to change. She’s been passive her whole life – in the accident that killed her family, in the surgery that turned her into a superhero, and to Kilgrave, who robbed her of so much of her life. The question now is how to use her agency and her abilities, free from the control of other people.
Just like Season 1, control is a major theme, and it’s related implicitly to the female-oriented nature of the show. Women are so often expected to be passive and subordinate to men, but Jessica Jones features a lead and two major supporting characters, Trish and Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), who emphatically buck that status quo. Many of the greatest character moments of this season’s first four episodes are when these strong women must allow themselves to be weak, which here most often means being emotionally open and asking for help. At its heart, this repeated dilemma questions the notion of what it means to be a strong woman in a world that equates that identity with traditionally masculine traits.
Beyond the show’s exploration of female power and control, Rosenberg has built a world that creates new meaning from old stories and tropes. The writers never make a fanfare about it, but the show’s diversity should be applauded anyway. Just count, for example, the number of white men in the first few episodes. You’ll still have fingers to spare. Maybe that’s why Jessica Jones feels so refreshing and unusual, even when it’s telling a fairly familiar noir superhero story of lost identities, shady corporations and tortured souls.
Although the season’s low-key start is refreshing after the hokey ninja nonsense of The Defenders, it’s hard not to miss the ferocious camp of David Tennant as Kilgrave. He built such a memorable villain that in the opening episodes, nothing Season 2 offers comes close. The show also still suffers from that eternal Marvel TV problem of dragging out tight stories into baggy 13-episode seasons. Even a third of the way through there’s a sense that the story won’t be able to match the space it’s been given.
Nevertheless, it’s a delight to have the no-nonsense Jessica Jones back on our screens. So far, this second run may not live up to its predecessor, but when that was arguably the best thing Marvel has put on TV, who’s complaining?
Watch along with our spoiler-filled binge reviews of Jessica Jones Season 2.
Jessica Jones: Season 1 and 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.