The question that was always going to be posed towards Jessica Jones’ second series was “how the hell do you follow a villain like Killgrave?”. The short answer, as it turns out, is that you don’t.
Netflix’s continuity of Marvel super hero shows has consistently been of a grittier tone, dealing with darker subject matter than the comparatively light and fluffy movies won’t go near. Stepping away from the bright, larger than life threats the movie heroes deal with and taking a heavier focus on more mature themes. Themes such as race, obsession, addiction, PTSD and morality. None of the shows delves deeper into these themes than Jessica Jones did. After The Punisher returned to the strengths of these series following a wobble, Jessica Jones doubles down on them.
As gritty as Daredevil and The Punisher got, Jessica Jones’ first season felt totally black compared to their very dark shades of grey. The first series was a fantastic one, having a strong leading cast and a gripping story, all elevated by the terrifying charm and charisma of David Tennant playing Killgrave, possibly the best villain the MCU has produced. Stealing every scene he was in, Killgrave was effortlessly charming, and yet his actions were horrific. Actions he himself hardly batted an eye at. The series ending with Jessica needing to break her own moral code in order to finally put an end to him.
The second series picks up in a similar fashion to the beginning of the first, disregarding the events of Defenders for the most part. Jessica is continuing her work as a PI, drinking most of her profits and trying to avoid the many complexities of life, such as human interaction and experiencing things like empathy. The only difference now is that people are aware of her status as a powered individual. Approaching her in the contexts of both a hero and a murder, two labels she wants no association with.
Jessica is a fascinating lead. On the surface she is a wholly unlikable functioning alcoholic. Dripping with sarcasm and incredibly antagonistic towards pretty much everyone she meets, and yet people are still attracted towards her. It’s the thing that redeems her as a character and a person, despite her attitude, she does care, much to her own irritation. It’s why she’s a P.I. it’s her own way of sticking up for the little guy, despite what she would tell you. She ultimately does want people in her life despite the fact she so often tries to push them away.
The first half of the show gives us a Jessica in a (relatively) healthy place, working together with ex-junkie, Malcom Ducasse to actively work at her P.I. job, she is on better terms with her adoptive sister, Trish and things seem to be going pretty well by Jessica’s low standards. It’s this better place that allows the plot to pursue Jessica’s origins, looking into the lab that gave her superpowers after the accident that killed her family. Why she can somewhat deal with an issue she has been rejecting for the past 20 years.
The first half embroils the audience into a mystery thriller, Jessica chasing down leads while a unknown, powered killed races her to cover any tracks. It’s a good start, but where the show distinguishes itself is when the identity of the killer is revealed. The killer is Jessica’s mother, a move that initially feels pandering for the sake of quick and easy emotional stakes, however it’s from this point that the show actually begins to delve into the darker themes of the series: One of morals and just how far you’re willing to go for what you want/need. This theme extends to most of the main cast, not just focusing on the dilemma placed in front of Jessica.
What makes the inclusion of Jessica’s mother work so well as a major plot device is their relationship remains antagonistic for most of the show. What could have easily been a cheap emotional ploy is subverted fantastically, as Jessica’s initial reaction is to fight back and reject everything she is being told, despite the fact that she comes to believe it pretty quickly.
Jessica begins their relationship adamant she will put her mother away while doggedly refusing to kill her, not because she is her mother, but because of the lingering guilt that stays with her after being forced to put an end to Killgrave. As she spends more time with her mother though, they reconnect and Jessica begins to crave the relationship. The two are more alike than she’d expected and she begins to push for a situation that allows her a relationship with her mother while also still doing the “right” thing. A outcome that she openly admits is fantasy.
As the show progresses, her plan complicates over and over, meaning Jessica suddenly finds herself crossing lines she once would have never dreamt of. One that puts her at odds with the likes of the Police and Trish. The way that this season managed to avoid the need for another villain was to not really include one. Instead the situation puts the characters at odds with one another. The bait and switch is well executed, it takes a look at the loose definition of what “heroes” and “villains” already are in this show and plays with them even more.
Jessica’s connection with her mother strengthens as they spent more time together, to the point that their roles somehow switch places by the time the series is over. While Jessica’s mother is shown to be both dangerously powerful and always on the edge of uncontrollable rage, she isn’t an evil person when she’s in control, her morals have just become very loose over the years. The things she has done while not in control of herself have forced her to accept this part of herself, and is why she avoided contact with her daughter until the situation was forced.
As the situation continues to spiral out of Jessica’s control, and the prospect of a continuing relationship with her mother seems increasingly bleak, Jessica finds herself responsible for a man’s death (however inadvertently) and eventually willing to become a fugitive if that’s what it takes for her to be with her original family again. Even willing to throw her relationship with Trish away, the closest thing she has had to family since the accident.
Meanwhile, her mother is shown that, given the opportunity, she can be as heroic as the rest of them, saving a family from a dangerous car accident with no concern for herself. On top of this, it is ultimately her that decides to give herself up, after realising her daughter is throwing everything away for her sake. Leaving Jessica with the line. “Hero isn’t a bad word, it’s just someone who gives a shit and does something about it.” While a killer, she does care for her daughter deeply, and shows that the world is much more than black and white when it comes to family.
Shortly before getting shot and killed by a misguided Trish. Jessica, despite her change, shows that she isn’t her mother and controls her rage by telling Trish to leave before she loses control. She stays with the body and is, once again, hailed a hero by the police for something she feels is the furthest thing from being deemed heroic.
The second series did an amazing job of toying with the concepts of heroism as well as mortality itself. The character who started out as a clear murderer and criminal ends up dying as a result of what some would deem a moment of heroic sacrifice, while the rest of the main cast all end the series by committing either acts of betrayal or varying degrees of murder.
Jessica Jones’ second series was a fantastic followup that managed to be something completed different, rather than carbon copy follow up of the first. It deepens Jessica’s status as the most complex and morally conflicted of the Neflix titular characters. It also leaves all the characters in a limbo where none of them are on good terms with one another, and could quite possibly be working against one another come their next appearance.
While Iron Fist and the Defenders were a definite lull in quality and depth of character, this series brought back those best aspects of this mini-connected universe in a strong way and sets a very high bar for the upcoming Luke Cage and Daredevil series later this year.