A lot's changed since the first season of Marvel's Jessica Jones aired, in November of 2015. At the time, Harvey Weinstein was wrapping up work on Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood-soaked cinematic spectacle, The Hateful Eight. Brock Turner was awaiting trial, hoping for a lenient judge to serve him a lax sentence. And Hillary Clinton was putting in 12-hour days on the campaign trail, fighting to become the first female president of the United States.
Women, in other words, had as much to be angry about then as they do now, but their concerns weren’t taking up nearly as many column inches—or Netflix series. And greenlighting a show about a foul-mouthed female gumshoe punching through walls and smashing up cars while chasing her abuser through the streets of New York City must have felt like a real gamble, especially to Marvel Studios execs (who still haven’t produced a female-fronted superhero movie). As Emily Nussbaum wrote in an early New Yorker review of the show, “In the world of Marvel Comics, a female antihero—a female anything—is a step forward. But a rape survivor, struggling with P.T.S.D., is a genuine leap.”
For better and worse, Jessica Jones no longer seems ahead of its time. Its overarching themes—about facing your demons, about learning to live with trauma—seem tailor-made for 2018, and Jessica’s unapologetic anger and commitment to calling out (and correcting) injustices are as good an embodiment of the #MeToo movement as anything. It’s probably not a coincidence that the second season aired on International Women’s Day.
The first episode, “AKA Start at the Beginning,” opens with Jessica (Krysten Ritter) tailing a philandering pizza delivery guy whose girlfriend, Mave, wants him dead: “He’s a bad guy,” Mave says. “You’re a vigilante hero.”
Jessica winces at the woman’s choice of words, and we see in an instant that she still struggling to come to terms with how her powers have shaped her, that she’s still unsure whether she’s a hero or a victim or both or neither. “A hero would have you locked up for soliciting murder, a vigilante would beat the shit out of you,” she snarls. “Which one am I?”
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg could have spent the entire season answering this question, delving deeper and deeper into Jessica’s character each episode. Instead, she pulls the camera away from her hard-drinking protagonist increasingly often, to bring Trish and Hogarth (and, to a lesser extent, Malcolm) into the frame. In the first two episodes alone, we learn that Trish is fighting to maintain her journalistic credibility while also—literally—fighting with a former abuser of her own, and that Hogarth must fend off a coup at her her firm while still reeling from an upsetting medical diagnosis.
Both characters are interesting enough to warrant subplots of their own—Carrie-Ann Moss’ swaggering, icy-hearted Hogarth continues to be one of the best things about the show—but their stories too often detract from Jessica’s own storyline. And the season occasionally seems scattered because of it, especially during the first few episodes.
The problem is thrown into sharper relief by the lack of a central villian. For much of the first season, Jessica struggled to come to terms with the trauma of being abducted and abused by Kilgrave (David Tenant), while attempting to save other innocents from the same fate. The show’s plotting and sense of conflict flowed naturally from Jessica’s relationship with Kilgrave, which grounded the story and gave audiences a powerful character to root against (I can’t be the only one who cheered when she finally snapped his neck in the finale). This season, though, an enemy doesn’t emerge until the third episode, and even then it’s far from clear who she is or what she wants.
That being said, the show does pick up momentum as it progresses, gaining speed around episode nine and eventually barreling toward a finale nearly as satisfying—and maybe even more promising—than the one we saw in 2015. By the end of the season, Jessica is once again at the center of the storyline, and we get the sense that she may have finally found some closure, that she’s learned a little more about who she is and what she wants, that she’s ready to put her past behind her and step out to meet what lies ahead.
And, with a little luck, we won’t have to wait another two and a half years to find out what she’s going to get up to next.
top photo: Netflix/Jessica Jones
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Lindsey B. Anderson is an Ohio-born, Wisconsin-based journalist who covers art and culture in her adopted state. She was once a semi-professional burlesque dancer and roller derby skater; she's long since thrown away the tassels but has kept the skates. Her writing appears in Eater, Artslant, The Clyde Fitch Report, Milwaukee Magazine, and Isthmus. Follow her on Instagram @lindsey.b.anderson and on Twitter @LindseyAnders0n.