The Female, the Flawed, the Ferocious: A Review of Season Two of Jessica Jones

A review by guest author, Desiree Wallen.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD

After three days of binging in between work and life in general, the lesson that Jessica learns in the final episode (and arguably, the season before) rang true, that it is exhaustingly easy to lose yourself in what happens to you. While I have already heard someone musing that there is not a “big bad” in this season, that’s never been what Jessica Jones has been about, nor is it what the show is renowned for (and Krysten Ritter nails it again, especially when Jessica is shaken out of the safety of her off-putting monotone and sarcasm). Watching the first season was cathartic for me, and I imagine anyone else who had been taken for a fool by a charming sociopath (and while the one-episode appearance by David Tennant in this season was electric, I wish it was more consistent with subsequent episodes since he is supposed to be the archetypal devil on her shoulder). Weirdly like a show opposite in its tone, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this season of Jessica Jones casts its titular character as someone who strives for the utilitarianism approach to solving her problems, even at the cost of personal stability. So to paraphrase what her detective noir narration sums up in the final moments of the season, it took her past literally clawing out of death for her to realize that the person she is had been dead for a long time. As someone who, for a long time, had dealt with viewing herself as what she does or what she’s lived through  instead of who she is, I think that is an important note to end on for a character’s journey, at least for now.

 

Mothers and Daughters, Amirite?

The relationship between Trish and Dorothy did not budge too much from last season to this season (although Rachael Taylor and Rebecca De Mornay nailed the complexity of one needing the other to thrive), but it did underscore one of the major themes to come out of the show, and that is the influence of mothers on women. The scene where Dorothy takes off her proverbial mask and tells Jessica she doesn’t blame her for Trish’s laying in a hospital bed was a quietly powerful one that may go overlooked when the importance of the season is looked at. While Trish may take from her mother’s qualities of determination and “driving the narrative”, there’s proof she will never be her mother (and I feel like with her new reflexes, the slap that she showed remorse for despite it being deserved may have only been the beginning of Dorothy’s comeuppance). The theme of there not being a relationship like a mother’s to a daughter’s is one that smacks you in the face here, but it works for the development of the main characters.

That being said, the appearance of Alisa was an interesting turn of events, and certainly something that could have derailed the season (much like the mid-season appearance of Elektra in Daredevil Season 2 and Matt Murdock’s eventual self-destruction from it in The Defenders, but the less said about how that was presented that the better), but it didn’t here. I would very much make the argument that the “big bad” isn’t Alisa, but Jessica’s concept of morality in the face of yet another destructive force with personal ties. While that reveal was possibly introduced too early in the season (but what is modern-day Marvel media without pacing issues?) I appreciated that it allowed time for us to see the fears Jessica has manifest in loss, i.e., she fears that her mother will choose a man over her, or she fears she will lose Trish to her mother’s destructive powers, or most importantly, she fears she will lose herself to becoming the worst parts of her mother (which is a very universally applicable fear and one my mind has put me through a lot). This season handles Jessica’s adjustments to constant change quite well, in that there’s no time for self-reflection and she inevitably begins to choose to save and accompany the mother she thought she lost once before. Janet McTeer is amazing as the uncontrollable and insatiable Alisa, who shows us where Jessica gets her problem-solving skills and disdain for stupid people (along with the genetics that reacted to medical experimentation in much the same way). It makes sense that Alisa falls for a man that not only saves her, but finds a kinship in the mind she had (which she felt was not respected before in her marriage to Jessica’s father), but I like the dynamic that whom Alisa sees as a savior, Jessica sees as a destroyer. In the end, though, Alisa differs from Dorothy in that she ultimately chooses to protect her daughter from making more mistakes for her daughter’s sake, not for self, and I think that’s important in examining how Alisa ultimately dies (interrupted, at the hands of someone seeking to rectify her own mistakes). I think it says a lot that even through all the abuse Dorothy dished out to Trish (even though the angle with the director and Jessica’s ex-boyfriend/Trish’s singing career felt shoehorned in), Jessica never truly thought once about outright killing Dorothy, but Trish felt it to be her duty to kill Alisa in order to resolve her own sense of heroism.

 

Death and Desperation Are Partners in Crime

This being a superhero-tinged homage to detective serials, there is a lot of dark humor to be found in the macabre, such as carrying a charred human head in a purse or sharing a body bag as a means of escape, and quipping about the absurdism of it all. That being said, I was quite intrigued by Jeri Hogarth’s path of semi-indestructibility (again). Carrie Anne-Moss is so good in this role and yet, I fail to see why anyone roots for Hogarth. She is cunning, and beautifully  complex, but a lesson learned would be nice. I understand the folly in taking any “miracle” that comes one’s way, but manipulating someone who chose wrong given certain circumstances in her eyes to a life of murder and being locked up for life feels off-putting for some reason. Just as with last season, Hogarth feels like some inverse version of Clarie, a plot device to occupy a purpose, and that’s okay, but I don’t know (again) what her storyline actually served (well, beyond showing that being a “strong, badass female” often comes with flaws as it should, and to subvert more tropes). However, taking Malcolm and setting him up as an antagonist under her wing may prove to make for an interesting third season arc. It sure looks like Jessica will have a match in investigative perusal skills, as well as another “powered person” in Trish, which makes for even more exciting conflict (at the expense of Jessica’s trauma, but that is the foundation of this show.)

Even though death and superheroes famously do not mix, I appreciate this season for equating death with finality. I was grateful they did not bring back Kilgrave from the dead for some convoluted reason, and that equation does explain a lot of turnabout choices (some of which I had problems with, like Simpson’s weirdly resolved redemption; I knew he would be a foil to Trish and the cause of what is likely to be her ultimate transition to Hellcat, but I didn’t understand why his appearance was so limited given the events of the first season). The finality of death also did not factor into there being a lack of mention of the events of The Defenders (unless you count Jessica’s mention of someone dying the last time she teamed up with someone, but if that’s the case, where is the Iron Fist? He also had the strength to stop Alisa and took over Daredevil’s position as protector of Hell’s Kitchen, unless they plan on setting this round of individual seasons concurrently). I get that if Danny Rand came in to save the day, some of the themes regarding womanhood would have suffered, but an explanation would separate the oft-mocked ridiculousness of continuity in comic-based properties.

I still don’t know how I feel about the whole Oscar storyline (and the silly ex-wife-who-spends-all-her-money-on-herself side quest for Jessica to help resolve), but I do appreciate that they bond over the fear of loss. It makes sense for Jessica to find someone that is willing to do anything for his child and values her quiet strengths in choosing goodness (also, that scene with the paint was hot). However, I only see a season three leverage for her to suffer more loss, even if the romance didn’t overshadow the rest of the season as I (depressingly) expected it to.  

 

Inadequacy and the Impostor

Another interwoven theme between Jessica, Trish, and to a lesser extent, Malcolm, over the course of this season, is exhibiting the fear of not being enough. They are all inherent do-gooders with addictive personalities, but that is shown to be driven by that fear. Of course, that does intersect between Malcolm and Trish this season, and does drive Malcolm (Eka Darville, thriving in the obligatory fed-up-with-my-powered-friends role, and rightfully so) to a path where he’ll be even more manipulated, but I digress. It is Trish’s feelings of inadequacy that drives her to toss away all the tools that allowed her to do good in the first place (and her trajectory is a great critique of people with wide-reaching voices flinging them at causes where they may be misplaced or misguided). There is a bit of hearkening back to Greek tragedy where the do-gooders do more harm than good with their purposefully limited information, and it works.

Jessica, of course, is told she is a hero because she has the power to kill anyone who crosses her path and still chooses to control herself, and that at least places her on a pedestal of not becoming her mother, as she muses to her vision of Kilgrave. We don’t want Jessica to be perfect, and in the company of a world in which superheroes exist, she tries to make every justification as to why she isn’t one, and that’s okay. The big picture for her is actually baby steps, in that she is realizing she doesn’t deserve to be regarded the way Oscar’s son sees her (like a Captain America, which yes, #TeamCap), but that she does deserve to be regarded as someone who is capable of owning her own life and her own humanity and her own feelings, and still living and still doing good in her own way. Being honest with herself, about herself is not something that Jessica Jones will ever ask for, but it is what she needs to truly close the door on her past.

Score: 8.5 / 10