Out of all the superhero shows not just on Netflix but anywhere, Jessica Jones feels like the most essential. Beloved by both critics and audiences alike, she’s also the most compulsively watchable. Even if the second season doesn’t quite pack an emotional punch like the first one, it still has quite a bit to say, making full use of its Netflix format. It means it has the room to address a whole lot of things women are angry about in the #MeToo era without becoming overwhelmed by the issues it addresses or coming off as preachy.
It starts off a bit too much like a rehash of the first season, where Jessica (Krysten Ritter) sees a problem and tries ignoring it, then realizes she has to face it. Last time it was Kilgrave (David Tennant). This time it’s a whole other ghost from her past, as in how she got her abilities in the first place. It was even less pretty than indicated, and she discovers she wasn’t the only one. Netflix superhero offerings have made a point of delving into just how superhuman powers can wreak havoc on the mind, body, and soul for those without access to Tony Stark’s billions or the resources of agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D., and this season kicks it up a notch.
It does it mostly very effectively by fusing the personal with the political, one where the Big Bad created by the scientists who also made Jessica may be one even she isn’t equipped to handle. Kilgrave was a threat she could hate and eliminate. But the (female) monster here has a very personal, emotional tie to Jessica that will complicate things. She’s part Frankenstein monster, part Jane Eyre’s madwoman in the attic. She’s deeply sympathetic in that she was very much made, not born, by those who were more concerned with using vulnerable people rather than helping them, despite all claims to the contrary. She has all of Jessica’s strength and more, amplified by the rage women are never supposed to feel, as well as a complete inability to control that rage.
Such compassion stems from the fact that women are the majority behind the scenes. The character may have had male creators in the comics from whence she sprung, but now it’s women who are bringing Jessica to a wider audience and taken control of the narrative. They know we have a lot to be angry about, and they allow everyone, male and female, to be messy and imperfect as they navigate a world that mostly regards them as disposable. In the process, Jessica risks losing the small family and support network she’s reluctantly built, but she also may gain a new one. In many ways, Jessica Jones resembles another, very different Netflix offering, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which also had a similar question after its freshman season. After you take your tormentor out of the picture, what comes next? Both shows have an answer: a life. But can you even truly heal and rebuild after such trauma?
Both series ultimately say we can, even if that affirmation is somewhat tentative. They don’t sugarcoat the difficulties involved. In Jessica’s case, delving so deeply into what made her special proves more isolating than ever. Even the normally stalwart Trish (Rachael Taylor), who has always been Jessica’s rock, gives in to her addictions and becomes obsessed with the need to be anything but ordinary. As we delve into her past in the entertainment industry as well, we discover that this is her true addiction, the driving force behind all the others. And people have taken advantage of that desperation and need in a fashion that is all too familiar in an era where Time’s Up isn’t just a phrase, it’s a movement.
Perhaps all this emotional devastation is the reason the show can’t quite seem to place its heroine and those around her in the very real, physical danger that was always present last season. The people who die are strictly unlikable, or paying for their past or present sins. Jessica fears she’s becoming a monster, but the series never gives us enough fuel to really fear for her. However, it doesn’t fall into the trap of other female-centric projects and get too attached to its characters to really put them through the wringer. Jessica goes through plenty without losing her trademark sarcasm, dark humor, and badass style. Even her leather jacket gets a tragic backstory. The journey may not be a perfect one, but the most charismatic Defender makes it worth taking.