Following on from the events of Season 1 (and last year’s The Defenders, barely referenced), life goes on for Marvel’s resident superpowered private sleuth, the titular Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). Of course, the past is never too far away in this series, which makes the processing of trauma its key concern, and so the hard-drinking, poor-life-choice-making Jones must now deal not only with the ongoing PTSD born out of her enslavement by the horrifically evil Kilgrave (David Tennant), but fresh mental wounds opened up by her breaking his damn neck in last season’s climax.
She does, however, have plenty to distract her, thanks to her messy life and career. Indeed, the first few episodes of JJS2 throw out a number of seemingly disparate plot threads and character arcs that will doubtless cohere by the final episode in true hard boiled/film noir fashion (this season really leans into its noir influences, up to and including dry voice-over narration and moody sax on the soundtrack). A paranoid, overweight speedster wants protection from mysterious forces that may or may not be threatening him (he knows he’s not well – “With great power comes great mental illness,” he quips). An arrogant, high class PI (Terry Chen) wants to buy out Alias Investigations for the prestige of having a superhuman on his staff. Neighbour-turned-assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville) is bucking for more responsibility, while bestie Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) deals with a multitude of issues, from professional ambition to romantic drama to the continued oppressive presence of her toxic AF mother (a deliciously vile Rebecca de Mornay).
There are a lot of balls in the air to keep track of, but in terms of plot the season is definitely canting in the direction of the past, specifically what would be termed Jessica’s “super hero origin story” in a lighter series that could stand including such a trite descriptor. It turns out her powers are the result of being experimented upon by a shadowy black science outfit called IGH in the aftermath of the car accident that killed her parents. She has no memory of the period, but events conspire to force her to look inwards and backwards.
Not something she’s particularly good at – what sets Jones apart as a female protagonist is how incredibly flawed she’s allowed to be. She’s a self-destructive alcoholic who engages in dangerous sex and is absolutely loathe to turn her incredible powers of insight and deduction inwards – so, of course, that’s exactly what the series forces her to do. Krysten Ritter has really settled into the role since her first outing back in 2015. With a character like this, whose demeanour is predicated in prickly abrasiveness and snarky patter, there’s always a risk of drifting into affectation. Ritter give her layers, and it can;t be easy portraying the inner life of a character whose standard operating procedure is to pretend that inner life doesn’t exist.
Incredibly, Ritter isn’t the MVP in the acting stakes thus far – that honour goes to Carrie-Ann Moss, whose icy lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, has been a frequent flyer in the Netflix MCU properties but here really gets to shine. A medical and professional crisis shakes Hogarth’s normally rigid self-control and, what do you know, it tuns out that she can be just as self-annihilating and reckless as our eponymous heroine – she’s just normally better at hiding it. Moss is flat-out fantastic as a woman coming to terms with the fact that, for all her wealth, power, intelligence and sheer will, she’s vulnerable to things completely outside of control.
Understanding the limits of control is one of – if not the – major thematic concern of Season 2. For all that it deals with PTSD, abuse, addiction (Oh, Trish), the casting couch (Trish again), common across the board is the notion that characters are grappling with their frustration over their lack of control over their lives, or else learning to draw strength from understanding what they do have influence over. It’s all very Stoic. The past is set, the actions of others are difficult to change without conflict, scars are permanent, diseases are indifferent, and entrenched power structures and covert conspiracies alike grind ordinary people to dust, but knowledge and mastery of the self is a goal worth fighting for – and the only real goal attainable. It’s a smart and logical extension of the first season’s explorations – don’t forget, what made Kilgrave such a compelling and terrifying villain was his ability to take away that self-mastery from anyone.
So far (the first five episodes were released to critics for review purposes) season 2 lacks a singular villain of such narrative power, but this is, let us not forget, a mystery, and some confusion and murkiness in the early stages is to be expected. What makes Jessica Jones great television is its thematic coherence – it knows what its about, more so than any other Marvel series on Netflix or off. If the new season manages to carry that forward through to the final episode, it’ll be one for the books.