Previously on Jessica Jones
If (and, hopefully, when) Jessica Jones is renewed for a third season, a smaller episode count should be seriously considered. All of the Netflix Marvel shows, in fact, could stand to be a bit shorter, to avoid the seemingly inevitable plot padding they all suffer from. In the case of Jessica Jones, season two improves significantly around the halfway mark, but the damage of the too-slow beginning couldn’t be reversed. Had the season been 8-10 episodes, there’s no doubt we would have been given a much tighter, far more engaging narrative overall.
As discussed in the review for this season’s first five episodes, a certain level of emotional stakes was sorely absent. The notion that Jessica was about to delve into the well-tread territory of origin story wasn’t very intriguing; even with the understanding that Jessica was about to learn the truth of her past, the storyline lacked a real personal investment on the part of her character. Fast-forward to episode 7, “AKA I Want Your Cray Cray,” and all of that had changed. While it became increasingly predictable the IGH monster would turn out to be someone from Jessica’s family, the reveal of her mother, Alisa, was still highly effective. For episode 7 to then give the origin story treatment to Alisa, while giving us different insights into Jessica’s past, only added to its success.
Episode 7 wasn’t without flaws. Rachael Taylor simply could not pull off a younger Trish – Krysten Ritter at least offered Jessica a softer voice and a touch more vulnerability, which was effective enough – and it certainly couldn’t have been the starting point for the season, as a fair bit of buildup would be required. However, episode 7 is where season two’s story finally got the jump-start it needed and carried us into far more exciting territory. Kilgrave remains one of the best villains in Marvel’s cinematic history, but Alisa quickly proved to be a more than worthy follow-up, and brought with her the emotional and personal investment previously lacking. While plenty of viewers could relate to the trauma and abuse narratives explored in season one, damn near everyone on Earth can identify with a parent-child theme.
Here’s a look at what worked and what didn’t in season two, and what we can hope for from the future of the show.
Worked: Jessica and Alisa
Janet McTeer and Krysten Ritter have a chemistry that rivals what Ritter had with David Tennant. McTeer must have done her homework, because, despite Alisa looking nothing like Jessica, it’s clear almost instantly the two are closely related thanks to their similar mannerisms and speech rhythms. Apparently both nature and nurture can be attributed to Jessica’s cynicism. As captivating as last season’s hero/villain duo was, this year’s came with an entirely distinct set of layers to explore.
Narratives about heroes who fear they’re just killers in better lighting is about as trite as origin stories, but sprinkle in a little mother-daughter dynamic and it starts to draw you in. Add to that the fact most viewers will relate to the anxiety of inheriting the worst traits from our parents, layer in the characteristic that Jessica has spent her entire life grieving a mother who was never really gone, and you’ve got a plot with some serious depth and weight. As fantastic as season one was, Jessica would never have compromised herself for the sake of Kilgrave, but she would, and does so several times for her mother, which only adds to the complexity of the entire situation.
Where season one sometimes had to use a bit of fancy footwork to keep Kilgrave around until the end – it’s always been hard to believe Jessica’s annoying upstairs neighbor was responsible for the uprising in the support group – Jessica’s back-and-forth feelings on whether or not to turn Alisa over to the police, go on the run with her, etc., was a natural, plausible way to delay the inevitable. And those unavoidable final moments were quite compelling, as Alisa came to terms with the idea that being amazing wasn’t her legacy, Jessica is. What wound up being the best moment between the two women, though, was their very on the nose rescue of the family in a car crash. Seeing Jessica urgently embrace her mother, after believing she’d lost her all over again, was a total gut-punch in all the most rewarding ways.
Didn’t Work: Jeri’s Arc
There’s a big difference between characters who are unlikeable and those who are just plain uninteresting. Unlikeable characters can still be very enjoyable to watch, and sometimes even root for. Jessica herself can be unlikeable at times, but she’s always interesting. Jeri, however, has gone from unpleasant yet intriguing, to unpleasant and boring. The majority of her storyline could have been lifted from the season without making much difference. Carrie Anne Moss is good, but not good enough to justify all the time we spent with Jeri. The only real change her character experienced during the entire 13 episodes was in opening her own legal practice, and that didn’t happen until the very end.
One could argue Jeri went through several emotional changes throughout the season, but they all felt so transparently manipulative. The ALS, Shane’s “cure,” and her seeming interest in turning over a slightly new leaf, were all intricately arranged so that viewers might find themselves softened towards Jeri by the time she discovered her apartment ransacked by Inez and Shane. If you caught yourself feeling for Jeri in that moment, I’m sure you weren’t alone. Yet while disliking the actions of Shane and Inez, and still finding Jeri repulsive aren’t mutually exclusive feelings, Jeri ultimately remains unchanged by these events. None of this left any lasting impact on the character, and, as mentioned, the only real change it made to the world of Jessica Jones is that Jeri now has her own practice. Again, Jeri’s unlikable character isn’t the problem; it’s the generally uninteresting plot that surrounded her all season long.
Perhaps the worst part is that it’s frustrating to see Jessica Jones waste time with one of its few characters that offer diversity to the show. I’m not looking for likability simply because Jeri is a lesbian, but at least give her something engaging. Perhaps the time with Jeri would have been better spent introducing some new faces to the ensemble. Women of color, in particular, would be a welcomed addition. Jessica Jones is consistently applauded for its feminist qualities, but has yet to demonstrate it truly understands how important intersectionality is.
Worked: Kilgrave’s Comeback
Fans of the show knew David Tennant would be reprising his role as Kilgrave this season, we just weren’t sure how. His return as a delusion of Jessica’s spiraling mind was done perfectly, and episode 11, “AKA Three Lives and Counting,” was certainly a highlight for the season overall. To have Kilgrave come back from the dead would have been a surefire way to undercut both the impact of his death and the show’s realism, especially within the same season where Jessica’s mom had just (essentially) done the same thing. There had to be some restraint involved in keeping his reappearance until so close to the end – I have to assume that when you have access to David Tennant, you want to use him as much as possible. Waiting ensured Kilgrave never overshadowed the relationship developing between Jessica and Alisa, though. What’s more, waiting until that specific moment – right after Jessica had killed the corrections officer who’d been torturing her mother – made his return highly believable.
Jessica’s season-long struggle had been figuring out what makes her any better than her mother. Up to that point, she’d been able to make just enough of a distinction to be comfortable, but killing the C.O. was undoubtedly different than killing Reva or Kilgrave. Unlike with Reva, she wasn’t mind-controlled, and unlike with Kilgrave, there was nothing heroic about the action. As horrible as he may have been, killing the C.O. wasn’t the only option. So, Jessica’s fear of becoming her mother kicked into high gear, and it’s almost too perfect that her self-loathing and self-doubt would manifest as Kilgrave; the only other person she murdered willingly.
As usual, Tennant and Ritter have an appealing dynamic. Their banter is enjoyable on an entirely different, somewhat less unsettling level this time too, since we know Kilgrave is now just an extension of Jessica. While his presence makes it clear she is still dealing with the damage he caused her, Jessica’s internal struggle allows her to make some cathartic assertions by the episode’s end: “I can control myself, which means I’m more powerful than you ever were.” With that, the Kilgrave figment is gone, though not before letting her know he’ll “be around if you need me.” If the writers can devise similarly useful ways for the Kilgrave delusion to reappear once or twice a season, I’m here for all the David Tennant we can get.
Mixed Bag: Trish & Malcolm
Something else I was so here for: a romance between Trish and Malcolm. The actors had chemistry and all the right anticipation was built, but Trish being high really soured the whole thing. It felt sleazy, like Trish was only using Malcolm for the thrill of the moment because she knew about his feelings for her. When she came clean to Malcolm about the inhaler and still wanted some kind of relationship, I was almost back on board. Then she pressured him into trying the inhaler, and when he still helped her go after Karl, all he got was stuffed into a trunk at gunpoint. Malcolm deserves so much better than Trish. In fact, he deserves better than what any of the people on this show can offer him. Working with Jessica is still better than the alternative of Pryce and Jeri though, so we can only hope that, after receiving several apologies, he’ll go back to working for Alias Investigations.
As for Trish, her character had a strong start to the season, which sadly wound up quickly veering off course. Her obsession with heroism was actually really interesting, particularly for a character with a combination of addiction issues and a desire to make a positive impact on the world. Unfortunately, her priorities became muddied, with her own selfish needs for power obscuring her judgment of what’s best for the greater good. Trish got so caught up in her warped view of what a hero should be, she wound up killing her best friend’s mother. The moment was shocking and heartbreaking, and, most importantly, very narratively satisfying. In taking away Jessica’s choice of what should be done to Alisa, Trish’s storyline accomplished exactly what Jeri’s couldn’t by offering viewers a severely unlikable character who was still extremely interesting. I hope to see Trish, with her newly manifested cat-like powers, become the next villain of the show. Not only does it feel like the natural path at this point, it would allow Jessica Jones to keep telling the deeply personal stories it has become so adept at.
What’s Hopeful: Oscar & Vido
As predicted, Jessica feels slightly more balanced by the end of this season. She’s still drinking, but at least she’s not drinking alone. Jessica has never come off as the chatty type, but during the final scene of episode 13, she seems genuinely happy to talk about her day with Vido and Oscar. She appears more open than ever to considering an alternative path in life, or at least one that involves healthier, family-type relationships. Her connection to Oscar became increasingly enjoyable as the season progressed. It feels like he actually understands her in a way that both Sterling and Luke couldn’t – Sterling because he was too young and fearful, and Luke because their entire relationship was clouded in mistrust.
It’s a shame Jessica Jones had to stumble through its beginning before reaching such a strong middle and finish. It’s not that I want to spend less time with Jessica et al., but if fewer episodes allowed the show to produce a better overall season, I’m sure most viewers would happily choose quality over quantity. Although Jessica has found some measure of peace by the season’s end, at least one return to this world feels necessary for her to find closure with Trish and Malcolm. Melissa Rosenberg and her team have managed to prove once again that Jessica is a Marvel character worth further exploration; here’s hoping they can do so with a little more focus in the future.
Jessica Jones S2E6-S2E13 Review Score
Starring: Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, J.R. Ramirez, Carrie-Anne Moss, Janet McTeer