Warning: This contains spoilers for Jessica Jones Season 2. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
If Season 1 of Jessica Jones was about a lonely woman fighting for control over her own life, then Season 2 is about what put her in that situation in the first place, and what she does with her new-found independence.
Superheroes are always concerned with their own origins, and if Jessica’s parents are long-dead, then she can instead search for meaning in the skeleton of the IGH corporation that empowered her and cursed her, all at the same time. The trail was lukewarm in the season’s opening episodes, leading to an underwhelming start to the story. Thankfully, things kick up a notch in the middle chunk of the season in a way that feels truly surprising but still authentic. Hot on the heels of Dr Karl Malus (a compelling Callum Keith Rennie), the man who helped make Jessica Jones who she is today, Jessica, Trish and Malcolm cross paths with another super-powered woman. In what is rapidly becoming a cliché, she brutally murders some of rival PD Pryce Cheng’s associates and leaves scapegoat Jessica to stumble into a crime scene.
Jessica trades information to free herself from that sticky situation and soon catches up with Melissa, her super-powered shadow. What comes next is a twist providing a new angle to the show, which it never seemed to be missing: Melissa is Jessica’s mother. She didn’t die along with her husband and son, but was saved and, like her daughter, turned into a super-human being.
Threads were never dangled to suggest Jessica’s parents were alive, so viewers never suspected. With this revelation at the end of Episode 6, the following episode flips Jessica’s past on its head, revealing how her mother’s absence and unknown presence has changed her life and made her the person she is today.
We see, in a mischievous alternate fashion, Jessica’s origin story in brief snapshots. We see when the word ‘Alias’ was introduced to her life, we see the infamous leather jacket, and we see the person she used to be. Jessica in her early 20s is still unmistakably the Jessica Jones we know and love, but with all the hard edges smoothed over. It’s her in a good mood, more full of generosity and forgiveness.
For once, her powers can’t be blamed for how she has changed over the years, but instead, the presence of superpowers in general. Her mother’s unknown influence on her life, such as murdering a promising boyfriend, alongside Kilgrave’s more obvious impact, have scarred her more comprehensively than any isolation her own powers caused. It proves once and for all that Jessica is fundamentally a kind and decent person, dragged into a world she never asked for.
The surrounding subplots are less compelling, but still add the depth that make Jessica Jones one of the most interesting TV shows around – super-powered or not. Trish suffers most in her unconvincing work vs. romance B-plot with her British boyfriend Griffin Sinclair, and her addiction to IGH’s combat steroid in a later arc is hardly more believable. Rachael Taylor is still an integral part of the show, but she isn’t given much to work with here. Eka Darville is as great as ever as Malcolm, showing some real character growth from his anonymous junkie origins, and learning a little too much from Jessica along the way.
The arc where Jessica explores her past alongside her mother is one of the show’s strongest ever, digging deep into the emotional core of the character. It feels reductive to tag these as women’s stories, but the show is so fundamentally built around gendered issues it would be equally remiss to ignore. Through Jessica, her mother, Trish, Jeri and Inez (the IGH nurse she is sheltering) showrunner Melissa Rosenberg has woven a tapestry of female stories of power, control, abuse and surrender, culminating in a powerful statement on what it means to be a modern woman and how far there is still to go.
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 an £8.99 monthly subscription.