Note: This is a generally spoiler-free review of Jessica Jones Season 2, intended to be safe for those who have not yet begun or finished all 13 episodes of the season. If you’d like to read our thoughts on specific episodes or plot points, please check out our individual Season 2 episode reviews, which include full spoilers.
There’s no other superhero series that grapples with the true cost of being a hero the way Jessica Jones does, and in Season 2, that introspection remains the show’s greatest strength, while also contributing to some of the story’s weaknesses.
When a character observes early on that “with great power comes great mental illness,” it rings true — most comic book adaptations don’t have the narrative real-estate (or desire) to explore just how deeply messed up a person has to be to commit to this kind of life, at least not with any nuance. (Daredevil comes the closest, despite choosing to focus more on Matt’s physical self-flagellation than his mental torture.)
It’s telling that Jessica has now spent two seasons of her own show and pretty much the entirety of The Defenders running away from her heroism, and it’s probably why Jessica and Matt had the most unexpectedly compelling dynamic in The Defenders; they’re funhouse mirror inversions of each other: one seeking violence to assuage his feelings of guilt, the other so guilty about her violence that she distances herself from everything she feels. Matt wallows (like a true Catholic), while Jessica numbs.
But just as Matt was forced to face his damage in Daredevil Season 2 after seeing the slippery slope taken by Frank Castle and Elektra, Jessica Jones’ second season brings all of her baggage right to her doorstep, creating a story that, as I noted in my episode 13 review, is even more personal than Season 1 — albeit one that suffers from the same bloated episode count that afflicts all of Marvel’s Netflix shows, which should all be at least three installments shorter than they are. (This time around, the bloat is frontloaded to the beginning of the season, which may frustrate some viewers into bailing out early — but persevere if you’re bored in the early going; episode 5 is when things get good, and it’s worth the wait.)
Yes, in a lot of ways, Jessica is a victim of circumstance who has had heinous things done to her without her consent, and that kind of trauma leaves scars, even if they’re not outwardly visible. But Jessica also makes choices — and a lot of times they’re the wrong ones — about how to react to that trauma, who to help, and who to blame, and one of the most satisfying aspects of Season 2 is how it forces her to reckon with the many shades of grey that occupy the spectrum of morality. Villains can also be victims, good people are capable of bad things, bad people are capable of good, and maybe there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” in the first place, just a bunch of people trying to survive through any means necessary.
These ethical dilemmas permeate every inch of Jessica’s world; even those closest to her — Trish, Malcolm, and Jeri — are all faced with temptation, fear, and a loss of control throughout the season, making equally damaging decisions even while shifting the responsibility to others.
Jeri’s arc is probably the most incidental to the plot, given that it really only affects how she sees herself, but it’s saved from feeling expendable thanks to Carrie-Anne Moss’ nuanced performance. Malcolm (Eka Darville) has more to do here than he did in Season 1, but his plot alternates between forgettable and downright irritating, given that he spends half of it acting like a bratty kid brother seeking attention from his big sister. And Trish, despite a valiant effort from Rachael Taylor, is stuck in a thankless storyline that relies too heavily on overused tropes and plot contrivances to create drama. While we get a much better sense of why Trish is as much of a trainwreck as she is, the ultimate payoff makes it hard to care, although it does set up a potentially fascinating dynamic between her and Jessica for Season 3.
But the reason the show succeeds despite its creakier elements is, as always, Krysten Ritter’s magnetic performance, navigating the minefield of Jessica’s bruised psyche with a deft hand and always reminding us that under that badass leather jacket and her equally tough skin, there’s a wounded child — one who was robbed of any chance of normalcy long before Kilgrave came along.
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and her team of writers and directors (the latter of which are all women — which shouldn’t be remarkable, since they’re uniformly excellent and no mere gimmick) have assembled a story that treats Jessica’s journey, and the superhero genre in general, with the respect it deserves, giving it the weight, resonance and poeticism afforded to countless male antiheroes, from Tony Soprano to Don Draper.
And much like the many prestige dramas anchored by “difficult” men over the past two decades, it’s also dense, often self-indulgent, and occasionally silly, but thankfully never undermines the validity of its heroine’s experience or her pain. While it lacks the righteous fury of Season 1 and Jessica’s vendetta against Kilgrave, Season 2 nevertheless delivers a vital and bitingly honest examination of our ability to hurt the ones we love the most, and the many ways in which trauma is a loop, doomed to repeat and reverberate outwards, destabilizing everything it touches if we don’t confront it.
Jessica Jones may not have the idealism of Steve Rogers or the showmanship of Tony Stark, but in so many ways, she’s the most relatable hero we’ll ever meet, a sardonic reminder that doing the right thing often sucks, and may even hurt more than you can bear, but you’ll probably still do it anyway, because the alternative is so much worse. Choosing to act when she’d rather not doesn’t necessarily make Jessica heroic or right or perfect, but it definitely makes her real.