The Buzz: ‘Jessica Jones: Season Two’ Is An Underwhelming Return
Netflix’s Marvel branch has hit some rough terrain lately. The first seasons of Daredevil and Luke Cage were released to critical acclaim in 2015 and 2017, respectively, but the shows that have followed, namely Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher, have received mixed to negative response. The gritty aesthetic that initially made them stand out has became a source of derision, a predictable crutch that seems to weaken with each new outing.
Jessica Jones, which debuted in 2015, was one of the few Netflix/Marvel shows that used its grittiness as a dramatic strength rather than a cool facade. The titular hero (Krysten Ritter), a private detective with superhuman strength, was refreshingly upfront about her cynicisms, and the result was a season that remains one of the studio’s best to date. Expectations were consequently high heading into season two, with many believing it would be a return to form after the disappointing turnout of the aforementioned titles.
It is, and it isn’t. Jessica Jones season two is certainly a stronger outing than Iron Fist or The Punisher (which squandered a game Jon Bernthal), but it falls noticeably short of its first season. It retreads on many of the same themes and narrative threads, only without the neo-noir sheen or the memorable villain that made it so appealing to begin with. The result is a season that’s intermittently entertaining-- a fussier, less concise serving of what we’ve come to know and love.
The first episode opens with Jessica returning to work as a private eye, struggling with her addictions to alcohol, and turning to meaningless sex to cope with her inner-demons. It's a classic noir status, forcing the character to examine whether she’s a hero or she’s just like the killers she pursues. Unfortunately, the season does little to remedy this or explore this in any meaningful way. While it's compelling to see Jessica alienate everyone around her, and lean into her vices, the showrunners take way too long to capitalize on it, making her eventual recovery feel half-hearted. One never gets the sense that Jessica actually learned anything, or grew as a person in any way.
Further hindering the show’s watchability is the absence of a central villain. The first season stood out thanks to David Tennant’s chilling portrayal of Kilgrave, a who could control people’s minds. He was a worthy foe to Jessica, forcing her to confront ugly truths about herself while posing a threat that she couldn’t remedy through sheer strength. Here, no such character exists. The default villain, who we don’t meet until halfway through the season, is a less dynamic presence than Kilgrave in nearly every facet. Their main contribution to the story is to force Jessica into revisiting her troubled past, but even then, it’s something Kilgrave did first and more threateningly in season one. If the show wishes to move forward with a season three, they would be wise to dispel any stock villains and go for someone who could pose a legitimate threat to Jones.
Ritter is as sassy and charismatic as ever in the title role, bringing a genuine sense of gravitas to even the silliest of scenes. This is ultimately bittersweet, however, seeing as the show forgoes much of its trademark grittiness for a lighter, presumably more accessible tone. Suddenly, we have to contend with episodes that have little interest in the art of detecting, and lines that would’ve been turned down by the likes of Veronica Mars (“Where there’s an ex, there’s always a way.”) Smaller characters like Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Trish Walker (Rachel Taylor) continue to shine, though their wattage would have had a more impact had the writers given them less cartoonish subplots to act out. Walker suffers in particular, as she becomes addicted to acts of heroism, and plays the entire thing with jittery, awkward comedic timing.
Much has been made of Jessica Jones’ willingness to tackle serious topics, and hire only female directors for the second season, but I’m sorry to report that it hasn’t made for great television. Instead, we’re handed an uneven, occasionally bad collection of episodes that tread on what came before. I hope that it does well enough to land a season three, if for no other reason, the opportunity to make corrections and give us all the Jessica Jones that we (and Ritter, for that matter) deserve.
All thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones season two are available for streaming on Netflix.