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I loved season one of Jessica Jones, even though it dragged a bit in the middle (a problem that has plagued all of the Netflix/Marvel series). So, I had very high hopes for its second season. After the debacle that was The Defenders, I was looking forward to seeing Jessica Jones and company back in their own world, with their normal writers, being just as awesome and complicated as they were in season one. Instead, I was left disappointed at how disjointed season two of Jessica Jones ended up being. Let’s get deeper into exactly what worked (and yes, there were some great moments to season two) and what didn’t.
A large part of the problem with season two was that there wasn’t enough story to fill all thirteen episodes (despite having a year and a half to write a serialized story, Melissa Rosenberg and her team still couldn’t get enough plot to make each episode matter). The first five episodes had the central characters spinning their wheels in exposition, waiting for the sixth episode reveal that Alisa Jones was actually alive- and the potential villain of the season. All of the action in those early episodes could have easily been condensed into two episodes, taking the time to set-up where each character is, mentally and emotionally, before launching into the major season arcs.
And after the momentous revelation? Well, more wheel-spinning until episode eleven (I found myself so bored in that stretch that even the promise of a Carrie-Ann Moss lesbian love scene wasn’t enough to entice me to keep churning through the episodes), which saw the return of Kilgrave (the perfect use of David Tennant’s deliciously terrifying villain, reminding us just how great of an adversary he was in season one, but not pulling focus from the current season arc) and set-off the season’s excellent final arc. Those final three episodes were spectacular, easily hitting the heights of season one, as the show finally decided to focus on advancing the season’s three central arcs (the Jones family reunion, Trish’s desire to become a hero, and Jeri’s need to gain control over her life) rather than padding the story with unnecessary deviations.
I’ve made this argument before with the Marvel/Netflix properties, but I’m going to make it again: condense the seasons to eight episodes. This season would have been narratively sound with a shortened episode order, allowing the focus to remain on driving the arcs to their conclusion. And if Netflix insisted on a full thirteen episodes, well, Jessica Jones is uniquely suited to have the occasional standalone episode. She’s a PI. She can take a case that lasts an episode or two. No one is going to complain about watching Krysten Ritter sarcastically handle a case for 45 minutes, I promise. But these shows need to stop thinking that padding a season with relatively pointless episodes that don’t propel the season arc forward is no big deal. Especially a show like Jessica Jones. The writing staff can and should do better.
While season one focused on the mental, physical, and emotional trauma of rape and PTSD, season two tackled another complicated issue: the relationship between a mother and daughter. We saw it in the early episodes as Trish and Dorothy reconciled (a reunion that foreshadowed Trish’s eventually complete breakdown), and we saw it in the Jones family reunion from episode six onward. Now, both relationships were complicated and messy, but remained true to the characters. Trish spent years being manipulated by her mother, and rightfully cut her out of her life in season one. So, to see them back in each other’s orbit was distressing, if understandable. You don’t have to have superpowers to pull an abuse victim back into your orbit, and Dorothy appears to be an absolute master at getting Trish to give her another chance (not so for Jessica, who was always able to see through the bullshit and find the truth).
Likewise, it was easy to see how Jessica would be willing to ignore any and all warnings about Alisa’s mental state, and continually give her chances to prove she has the capacity to live as a normal person. Alisa’s own manipulations of Jessica (appealing to her desire to help people as a reason to help her mother, and knowing that Jessica is, on a deep level, still that young girl in desperate need of unconditional love) aren’t as blatant as Dorothy’s, but they’re crystal clear by the season finale. It’s clear Alisa loves Jessica, but we know there’s only on way this story can end. As for Dorothy, we know she loves Trish’s earning potential more than she cares for her daughter.
Seeing these similar, yet different, relationships highlighted alongside each other helped focus much of the season’s action. Janet McTeer and Ritter had strong chemistry once the story allowed them to work one-on-one (that scene in the Ferris wheel contained some of the finest acting I’ve seen on this series to date, making Alisa’s demise heartbreaking rather than another throwaway death), and the toxic relation between Trish and Dorothy was expertly navigated by Rachael Taylor and Rebecca De Mornay. If only the rest of the storylines from the season were as deeply felt and clearly paced, this could have been a really special season.
Now, on paper, both of these stories seem like winners. Trish, who experienced fame as a child and who continues to have some level of recognition as an adult, is tired of the vapid world she lives in. She wants to make a real difference after seeing her ex-boyfriend and adopted sister deal with things that matter. And, after seeing Jessica’s continued apathy toward becoming the hero she could be (with great power comes great responsibility, etc.), it’s not a stretch to imagine Trish would want to obtain powers from Karl. I totally buy that. What I don’t buy is that Trish would spent several episodes high on Simpson’s magical inhaler, and that getting a taste for being strong was the impetus for her desire to risk her life to gain super powers.
Yes, I understand that addicts can fall back into addictions like Trish did with the inhaler. I understand that the writers were trying to show how this addiction to power led her to make the seemingly poor choice to get a radical procedure that almost killed her (but, which also appears to have given her super powers…so, perhaps it wasn’t such a poor choice?). But it was just so incredibly out of character. Trish was always very clear about her sobriety and how important it was to her that she pulled herself out of that darkness. There was a way to get Trish to trusting Karl that didn’t involve her spending a series of episodes roid raging out of her mind, after making an incredibly idiotic choice that made little sense for what we know about Trish. If the season hadn’t needed story to pad the extra episodes, I suspect this arc would have worked a great deal better.
As for Jeri, her arc ran into similar issues. I liked the decision to put Jeri, the series’s most controlled and focused character, into complete free fall with her ALS diagnosis. I’m also intrigued to see how the progression of the disease plays out in future seasons (giving Carrie-Ann Moss something like this to wrestle with should pay major dividends to the story moving forward). But we didn’t need to see Jeri essentially cycle through the same story loop twice in one season. We needed to see Jeri lost and floundering, making uncharacteristic and potentially dangerous choices whilst struggling to come to terms with her mortality. Having her party with the hookers and then get hoodwinked by Inez’s honey trap was overkill. Both show us the same thing: Jeri is out of control of her life. The point would have been stronger with Jeri only dealing with Inez’s betrayal. Layering Inez and Shane’s machinations on top of Jeri nearly blowing up a client relationship by having a room full of hookers laid things on a bit too thick. Jeri blindly trusting someone because she knows she has destroyed all personal relationships makes sense. Making that same foolish choice twice in a row (after clearly realizing her mistake the first time), I don’t buy it.
Jessica Jones is at its best when Jessica is front and center on the screen. She’s far and away the show’s most complex and interesting character, largely due to Ritter’s spectacular performance, and when supporting characters are involved in a story that doesn’t directly involve Jessica, the show drags. Which is why ending the season focusing on Jessica’s individual relationships with the other characters was so smart. We care about the supporting cast, but we really care about how they relate to Jessica (just think about how much more fun it was to watch Jeri and Jessica trying to get Alisa to agree to a plea deal compared to watching Alisa alone in prison or Jeri dealing with Inez in her apartment).
Malcolm, who was a bit of a tool throughout the season, leaving Jessica won’t make him more interesting, but it adds another layer of betrayal to Jessica’s already dark world view. The shattering of Jessica and Trish’s relationship (coupled with Trish’s burgeoning powers) should create a spectacular central arc for season three. That relationship has been so central to the series, it was incredibly difficult to watch it come crashing down (again, that whole sequence at the amusement park was so incredibly good, it almost made up for the problems that came before- almost). And, while Jeri and Jessica have always maintained a symbiotic relationship without much need for interpersonal discussions, Jeri’s choice to use Pryce’s firm over Jessica’s was a troubling development. I’m sure Jeri will be utilizing Jessica’s unique skill set come season three, but the knowledge that she’s trusting someone who tried to kill Jessica’s mother won’t go unnoticed.
Jessica is, at her heart, a lone wolf. She’s broken and trying to pick up the pieces. And she does that by pushing people she loves away and lashing out. She’s also eschewed the mantle of hero pretty fervently, often pushing against the wants of those same people who wanted her to become something more than just a PI who occasionally saves someone. And, perhaps without those people around her, she’ll realize she wants to become something more (her conversation with Vido certainly hinted that she might want to become an actual hero at some point down the line). Removing Jessica’s support system is an interesting choice, and one that can really allow the character to grow in a new way. Despite being disappointed with season two, I still have high hopes for season three.