The following contains spoilers for Jessica Jones Season 2.
In the scheme of things, Marvel’s various Netflix series have had their fair share of highs and lows. Luke Cage’s first season placed a strong emphasis on blackness in America but suffered from a plot that dragged in its second half, largely because it got rid of its most compelling villain, Cottonmouth, halfway through the season. Daredevil Season 2 became bogged down in battling mystical ninjas while losing any compelling villain, and Iron Fist was famously the worst of all of Marvel’s series, suffering from a spoiled, naive, and unlikable protagonist whose supporting cast outshone him.
Other shows have fared better. The Punisher, given his owns series after an outstanding performance on Daredevil Season 2, had a mostly strong season dealing with shady government dealings and the consequences of war. The first season of Daredevil was mostly strong and featured the diverse residents of New York City alongside a humanized protagonist and a delightful supporting cast, not to mention a compelling villain in Kingpin.
Of all the Marvel series though, the first season of Jessica Jones may be the best. If not,then it is tied with the first season of Daredevil for that title. Jessica Jones had many of the same traits that made Daredevil Season 1 so compelling: a humanized protagonist, a rich supporting cast, and an outstanding villain in Kilmonger that made almost every episode a must-watch. It also had a mystery through-plot that ran throughout the season,teasing viewers with the mystery of what happened to Jessica, why she was so tormented, and why she had such an antagonistic yet fearful relationship to Kilgrave.
The first season also didn’t shy away from the fact that the relationship between Kilgrave and Jessica was largely a metaphor for rape and reclaiming power over one’s own life. In that first season, Kilgrave mentally took control over her and used her to commit a murder. He also controlled her life using her powers while also feigning affection for her in what could only be described as a metaphor for an abusive relationship.
Jessica Jones‘ first season succeeded because its metaphors for abuse and rape were cloaked by compelling characters and plot lines that made every episode a must-watch. Not only was the plot powerful, but the metaphors were anguishing. To this day, I can remember the moment when, while watching, I said aloud, “This is about rape.” Of course, as a man, I’m less likely to be victimized by rape and so I’m sure women saw the metaphor much more quickly. However, the power of that first season was that it could dress its metaphors so well that one could enjoy the show on just a plot level without necessarily digesting the deeper layers of the show. It could easily be enjoyed on multiple levels by a wide audience.
All of this is a long prologue to say that the second season of Jessica Jones simply does not live up to its predecessor. Sadly, it doesn’t even come close. The second season of the show is far more concerned with discussing drug abuse and mother-daughter relationships, fine topics that could be explored with finesse to create a powerful second season. That just doesn’t happen to and, quite frankly, Jessica Jones Season 2 commits the ultimate crime of simply being boring.
To summarize briefly, the second season is concerned with Jessica’s past, again. In this second season, she explores the mystery of what happened to her mother, who shows back in her life after decades of being missing. As it turns out, the same accident that gave Jessica her power gave her mother even greater raw strength as well as a healthy dose of psychosis. Jone’s mother is full of raw power and persistently shown to be mentally unhealthy, willing to kill to keep her secret and preserve her relationship with her daughter.
There are also some intriguing subplots. Jessica’s boss, Jeri Hogarth, suffers from a terminal disease that could kill her within months. That disease pushes her to embrace her most scandalous and indulgent side in a parade of prostitutes and libations. Jones’ best friend Trish, meanwhile, undergoes a midlife crisis and relapse into drug addiction that sees her enter into an unhealthy pursuit of her career while distancing herself from her friends and ending her relationship with her fiancée.
Quite frankly, the stories involving Trish and Jeryn are more compelling than Jessica’s storyline. Jeri’s battle with terminal cancer and her attempts to bargain with her fate, one of the stages of grief, is among the most human of experiences. Trish’s relapse into drug addiction may not be something everyone can identify with, but most of us have seen friends or family fall apart. Trish’s downfall isn’t solely because of her drug addiction, but also because of an unhealthy obsession that sees her prioritize her career to an unhealthy degree.
Also, to be clear, Trish’s ongoing insanity throughout the show and Jeri’s various indulgences just make for good entertainment.
In the creation of fiction, it’s important to balance storylines. Jessica Jones is busy balancing three, with Jones and Trish getting the bulk of the attention, but Jessica’s story simply lacks a compelling reason to stay tuned in. One of the crimes of the narrative is that the writers simply repeat the same conflicts and arguments repeatedly throughout the show. Jessica arguing with Trish about why she doesn’t want to pursue a killer happens enough that it becomes noticeable. Audiences simply start to ask themselves, “This again?” The show does this with several characters, repeating the same conflicts without adding anything new or compelling to those conflicts.
On the point of repetition, it also feels as if Jessica Jones Season 2 is trying to relive what made the first season so great: an exploration of Jones’ past. However, it simply comes across as a less interesting retread. The first season also explored Jones’ past but featured a compelling villain who repeatedly demanded the viewer’s attention. The ongoing bickering between Jones and her mother is, to be honest, uninteresting. The repeated arguments about how her mother is unsafe are obvious. This is a woman with psychological problems that we’re never given a reason to entirely root for or against. Neither is her story tragic enough to earn any sort of emotional attachment to her outcome. She is an uncompelling villain for whom most sense little more than apathy.
Also, one way in which the writers undermined the compelling nature of the show was by making Jones less of a detective and more of a superhero. Her investigations amounted to little more than google searches in a show that defined its character by its detective lead. This served to make the show less distinct from its peers and made it yet one more super hero show on Netflix with none of the compelling mystery and investigation and that made the first show so unique.
Jessica Jones fails to live up to its first season by introducing a mystery that pales in comparison to the first, retreading the same plot structure, lessening the distinct identify of its character, reducing the energy of the show, and providing an uncompelling villain. Plenty of elements of the show make this worth watching, including watching Jeri become increasingly indulgent, but the show focused too much on metaphors and too little on creating a compelling plot. Jones’ mother is a victim and in turns becomes a monster, an interesting concept, but portrayed poorly. Writers have to be bold in their decisions, retaining the core of what defines their work while also branching on bold new paths. As it stands, Jessica Jones Season 2 is timid in its writing and too focused on the past to justify its own future.
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