WARNING! POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Season one of Jessica Jones was amazing, but season two seems to hit the typical sophomore slump. With anticipation riding high after a fantastic season one, Marvel’s Jessica Jones dropped on International Women’s Day to high expectations. DoYouEvenComicBook?’s Carolyn Breton and Cheryl Gustafson binged the season, hoping for a feast as delicious as season 1. Once finished, the two sat down to discuss the meatiest chunks, for good or evil, of the first half of the season.
Whizzer: With great power comes great mental illness
Welcome back, Jessica, I guess.
As season 2 opens, we see Jessica firmly cemented in her 3B behaviors: boys, booze, and bad clients. Compartmentalizing as a coping strategy no longer works for Jessica when bodies connected to her accident, and IGH, start to fall. This seems a realistic entry point to a post-Defenders world. Does it successfully grab the audience?
Carolyn: I don’t really feel it grabbed the audience. In fact, I paused the first episode and spent 20 minutes researching the Whizzer. I felt no urgency to see what happened next.
Cheryl: I found it realistic, but not engaging. Like you said, the urgency wasn’t there. It’s like we dropped in on Jessica on a regular post-Defenders week. The drudgery of her life, because that’s how it came off, wasn’t the best way to launch such a highly anticipated season.
Villains shouldn’t be just meh, right?
Season 1 of Jessica Jones featured a superior villain, Kilgrave, played deliciously by David Tennant. His abusive, twisted charmer gave all of season 1 a very sharp focus. Audiences easily connected to him and the conflict since he was so magnetic. In season 2, though, the villain isn’t as easy to divine. Jessica Jones always keeps the conflict on Jessica vs. her trauma, and this season is no different. The conflict arises when she’s forced to discover how she became the way she is, and the villain behind that is not as clear-cut as a monster like Kilgrave. Is the shift from an obvious villain to one(s) with murkier motives, conflicting approaches, a good fit for where Jessica is as a person?
Carolyn: The conflict was a good fit for where Jessica is at this point, but the villain is weak. I feel Nuke would have sustained the story more, while still giving Jessica motive to explore her past.
Cheryl: Talk more about that….
Carolyn: Simpson has already been built up in season 1, and his experiment was already tied to Jessica’s. Because of this, and because he’s targeting others who had been experimented on, we can have a clear motive from the beginning. Jessica could focus on stopping him. To do so, she would need to learn about her past, his past, and the experiments performed on both of them. This was six episodes on not really knowing why anything is happening, along with a vague, unformed villain.
Cheryl: I completely agree. I was excited to see Simpson, but then to have him sidelined so quickly felt like a bait and switch. Add that to an ambiguous introduction of the villain(s) it made for a soft start to what should have been a seriously strong (Jessica strong) punch.
One of the draws to a character like Jessica is that she allows her anger out for the world to see. As women, we’ve historically been conditioned to keep our stronger emotions in check. “Smile, Jessica,” to quote Kilgrave. Jessica, like a breath of fresh air, does not do this. It costs her and it liberates her. That said, where’s the line between being frank, honest, and open and needing professional help? We find out when Jessica gets court-ordered anger management. It’s an interesting twist: a powered individual with a past like hers, being mixed in with regular folk. Although the scenes played for a few laughs, they did reveal quite a bit about the depth of Jessica’s issues and her general refusal to face them.
Jessica: My whole family was killed in a car accident. Someone did horrific experiments on me. I was abducted, raped, and forced to kill someone. And now some maniac says that I am here for a reason, like some sick destiny. She’s out killing people and I’m in here bouncing a goddamn ball.
Carolyn: Jessica doesn’t cope with her issues, doesn’t face them. Instead, she buries them down deep and allows them to fester. When something triggers her, the anger would be something to reckon with, even without powers. With powers, it’s downright scary. This was a great example of the dangers of denying your problems.
Cheryl: The combo of not facing her problems and the drinking makes it too easy for her to snap and fall to the anger. Do you think it’s possible, if she started coping in healthy ways, maybe reduce the drinking a little, that Jess could get a better handle on her anger? Or is that too far for this character?
Carolyn: I don’t see her as coping that quickly. At the very least, the bitterness and disillusionment with the world won’t go away. As a PI, she sees the darker side of humanity. Add to that her adopted mother’s money-hungry career climbing and Kilgrave’s lack of understanding that he ever did anything wrong and you have an inherent hatred of humanity.
Cheryl: It seems like its a two steps forward and three steps backward type situation for Jessica. She makes some progress, but like you said since her life wades in the muck of humanity’s worst impulses, there will always be something/someone bringing her back down. “Being a hero sucks,” to steal a line from later in the season; if Jessica ever lost her anger I think she’d no longer be a hero. People who don’t care at all never really have a reason to be angry.
Art too beautiful for this world?
Oscar, the artist, paints beautiful watercolor types along with his side job as a forger. Fans of the comic will recognize David Mack’s work immediately as he did most of the covers for Brian Michael Bendis’s Jessica Jones run. Oscar gifts Jessica with a hauntingly beautiful portrait of herself, asleep. To be portrayed so vulnerably rattles Jessica, which explains why the painting faces the bookshelf most of the time. She cannot see that side of herself, cannot accept that someone else would see her in that way. Or she just never wants to be vulnerable again, which is realistic given her past. Other than revealing the depth of Jessica’s issues, what purpose does Oscar and his art play in the season? Does it do it effectively?
Carolyn: Jessica Jones is a very visual show. Oscar’s art showcases this and reminds us that a major ingredient in comics is the art. This reminder made me look closer at the other visuals this season, from the title card to the lighting and how that aided in telling Jessica’s story.
Cheryl: If I remember correctly, each of the Marvel Netflix shows has a certain color that dominates, usually in the opening credits. Daredevil is red. Luke Cage is yellow. Iron Fist is stupid—I mean green. Jessica Jones is purple. As Jessica is a private eye, and her world is quite noir, the purple lends itself to the shadows of her black and white world. The art stood out in this season, in a way I’m not sure if I like or not. The soft watercolors, so open emotionally, seem out of place for a character so closed off from those who love her, even from herself. If the paintings were meant to be symbolic, they may have been too heavy handed.
Carolyn: I love the character of Jessica Jones. This season really showed the love of sisters. I don’t like what you’re doing. I’m mad at you. I’m not speaking to you. What?! My sister is in danger? I’m there. I liked the look of the new characters introduced, three very nice looking males. Solving the mystery did keep moving the plot forward, I just feel it could have been done better. I didn’t feel as though the show really related as well as it did in season one. Jeri Hogarth’s story, her illness and being forced out of her law firm, while keeping with the theme of denying one’s problems, didn’t connect very well to Jessica’s story. Trish’s relationship was predictable. The misdirect of Griffin being a spy left me feeling disappointed when it only turned out he was proposing. For the most part, season two of Jessica Jones held my interest, but the story wasn’t as compelling as season one. With the bar set really high after an amazing season one, I felt a little let down.
Cheryl: First, I find Jessica, as a woman, refreshing. She’s direct and unapologetic, two traits I wish I’d have in abundance in my own life. Season two Jessica struggles with carrying the burdens of her past, those she knows and those that she refuses to see. As I get older, I can respect her journey and that doing the right thing, all the damn time, is scary and exhausting. As a compartmentalizer myself, I don’t think Jessica’s behaviors are that bad, considering all the shit she’s endured. Second, a lot of people are down on Trish this season. Not me. I hate most of her choices all the time but I can see why she feels justified. Ambition, in a man or woman, can lead to unintended consequences. Just because I’m conditioned to see ambitious men as exciting and ambitious women as bitches doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing the women try. Both Trish and Jeri found their ambitions and plans challenged, and both used whatever means available to get where they wanted to go. Can’t blame ’em for it. I wouldn’t ever want to be friends with either of these women, though.
By six episodes in, one should have a strong grasp on the villain. Obviously, season 2’s villain(s) could never measure up to season one’s Kilgrave. Tennant’s portrayal was so on point, his chemistry with Ritter so sharp and magnetic, that to have a mysterious villain with a soft start that took the entire show down a peg or two. A stronger showing on the first half of this season might have kept me from wandering off to Twitter in the middle of an episode, usually not a good sign for me.
The first half of season 2 is weaker than the back half, and that’s not saying much. It pains me to give Jessica Jones a low-ish score. Season one bewitched me. I binged the entire thing over two days while on vacation at Disney World. That’s commitment when you spend 15+ hours a day at the theme park and the rest huddled over the laptop in the dark while everyone else sleeps. Season two did not have that power over me.
Compared to the delicious buffet served up by Jessica Jones’s freshman season, the first half of season two fell short, particularly in development of the villain. It’s still decent, worth your time if you are a fan of Marvel, Jessica as a character, or the genre. It has valid points and commentary on modern life, especially for women. Give it a chance–you may find yourself more forgiving.
Carolyn’s Score: 3.5 out of 5
Cheryl’s Score: 3 out of 5
Read about Jessica Jones s2e7-13 here
Whizzer – U.S.A. Comics #1 (They changed his last name)
Ringmaster – Incredible Hulk #3
Carolyn is the TV/Movie Coordinator for DoYouEvenComicBook.com. In addition to being a die-hard Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan, Carolyn loves the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Earth-199999). When not engrossed in the MCU, Carolyn can be found binging old school wrestling and living on Twitter. She subscribes to the philosophy “Music is life”.