Slow-going moral complexity in 'Jessica Jones' season two
In its attempt to get to the root of why “Jessica Jones” is so special, season two of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” takes way too long to actually kick into high gear. It’s only after the first half of the 13 episodes where the show’s momentum finally starts to take hold – and the season then becomes a tense, complicated experience that’s actually interesting.
The second season presents a traumatized, burdened and emotionally broken Jessica (Krysten Ritter) attempting to come to terms with everything she had to do to stop Zebediah Killgrave (David Tennant), the manipulative villain from season one.
Now that she is more prominent in the public eye, Jessica’s reputation is that of a strong, violent vigilante. As a result of her actions in season one, as well as the events of “The Defenders,” people see Jessica as a “tool” rather than an actual investigator.
The prevailing theme of this second season is ethical inequity and how the lead character is forced to deal with these morally ambiguous scenarios. Elements of impulse, temptation, fear, distress and lack of control force Jessica and company to make tough choices. The question of right versus wrong is asked constantly, showing that good people are capable of bad things, and vice versa.
The first six or so episodes trudge on through the Industrial Garments & Handling (IGH) story, a villain-less plot dump that just feels like endless setup and wasted time. IGH is set up to be a crucial part of Jessica’s past, supposedly being the medical research lab that experimented on Jessica and her family after their fatal car accident that resulted in her receiving special powers.
What’s way more impactful is the introduction of Alisa (Miriam Shor). Not necessarily a villain for plot reasons, she is an adversary to Jessica. Alisa is a dark reflection of Jessica; she also has great strength, but succumbs to uncontrollable fits of rage. It’s revealed that Alisa has been interrupting Jessica’s investigation into IGH by killing many of the sources of information Jessica was attempting to contact.
Avoiding major spoilers, Alisa reveals that she and Jessica are connected on a much deeper level than Jessica knows, so they reluctantly team up. Despite their uneasy alliance, Jessica has to accept the fact that Alisa has killed numerous innocent people due to her uncontrollable fits of rage.
This is where season two truly excels. The dichotomy between these two characters is complex and ugly – and therefore a joy to watch. Their connection forces Jessica into a tough spot, so her choices in scenarios between them are believably weighted and debated. Choices aren’t right or wrong for Jessica throughout the second act – they’re complicated and especially difficult.
While Jessica’s storyline exemplifies the difficulty of choice expertly, many of the supporting cast fall flat when attempting the same. Trish’s (Rachael Taylor) storyline feels annoying to a fault, because in the end it seems she hasn’t learned anything. Despite some great backstory in a flashback episode about Trish’s addiction, she ultimately slips into the same situation and doesn’t truly learn anything.
Malcolm (Eka Darville) spends most – if not all – of season two trying to ingratiate himself to Jessica, having little to no shining moments on his own as he attempts to hone his private investigator skills. Jeri has a surprisingly involved role during this season, although her story is incredibly self-involved and doesn’t carry any particular weight with the rest of the season’s exposition. It almost doesn’t make sense why her story was featured so prominently throughout the entire season.
“Jessica Jones” season two had many shining moments throughout the latter episodes, but much of the filler that leads up to its second act feels aimless and long. If viewers can stick around long enough through the plot buildup and extraneous subplots, they’ll be pleasantly surprised.