Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: If you thought that the team-up of The Defenders would have any bearing on the individual character seasons of Marvel’s Netflix heroes, think again. As has been the pattern, each Defender is kept in their own sandbox until it’s time to play together, but then they are swiftly sequestered again. It can be a little disappointing, although when it comes to Jessica Jones, it’s actually a good thing. The only one of the Marvel heroes to share her first solo season (with Luke Cage), her connection to Cage was then abandoned during his origin season, and remained frosty during The Defenders. And while it’s sad in a way that this universe hasn’t sought to connect them further (yet), now Jessica (the excellent Krysten Ritter) is fully on her own. While there are a few cameos from Marvel side-characters here and there, for the most part, Jessica Jones Season 2 starts out as if The Defenders never happened. That’s just fine.
That is not to say, though, that Jessica Jones’ second season comes out of the gate as strong as it should, given how well we know the character and the major players in her life. The first episode (out of five sent for review) is clunky, both in its dialogue and its pacing (more on that in a minute). But what it does achieve is a new investigation for Jessica that keeps things personal. One of the great triumphs of the show’s first season was how we watched her deal — or not deal — with her PTSD from the abuses of Kilgrave (David Tennant), an evil she defeated in the finale. The show is certainly missing him as a driving force, but there’s still a lot for Jessica to process, going back to the death of her family as well as her abduction and torture during the illegal experiments that gave her powers. She’s a cool girl who doesn’t care, until she has to — and then she does, deeply.
The show also takes on a little bit of an X-Men vibe in Season 2. We meet another “super” (one with powers we haven’t seen on any of the shows yet, which is both weird and a relief) and then another, just as the population seems to be waking up to the fact that superheroes really do walk among us — which should have been obvious since New York City has been almost destroyed and then bombastically saved by superheroes over and over again. The denizens react as they always do in these stories, with mistrust for supers as “freaks,” and “one of them.” But if we ignore the Marvel movies and The Defenders to just stay within the context of Jessica Jones then it makes a little more sense. Kilgrave’s death made the news cycle because he had been terrorizing New York before Jessica killed him. She’s both a hero and a vigilante in that regard, and it’s that dichotomy that she struggles with in Season 2.
The season really starts to kick into gear, though, once we’re introduced to the central mystery: the truth behind IGH, the shadowy organization that performed the experiments on Jessica and others, and what its connection is to a string of recent deaths. Jessica is embroiled in several different battles, though, including against a cocky rival PI who wants to steal her clients, and in reconnecting with Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) who needs a very personal favor. And maybe it is the influence of The Defenders, but Jessica is now more willing to receive assistance both from the gun-toting and increasingly off-balance Trish (Rachael Taylor) as well as the angelic PI-in-training Malcolm (Eka Darville). It helps give the show some space from just focusing on Jessica which, as outstanding as Ritter is, it needs in order to sustain its episode count and deepen the characters around her from just being plot props.
It wouldn’t be a review of a Marvel-Netflix collaboration, though, without mentioning pace. The show is still too slow, with a minimal or non-existent score, scenes that go on for too long, and a limited number of edits that add up to everything feeling like it’s happening in real time. It’s not as bad as any other Marvel series on Netflix in this regard — not even close — but it’s still a problem, and one that has unbelievably still not been addressed in terms of episode count (or shorter runtimes within episodes).
Still, there is a lot of good here, and the season gets better and better as it goes along. The introduction of a new Big Bad works, and is exceptionally creepy (there are many aspects of Season 2 that feel like it’s leaning into horror, which is a good choice). Jessica learns “it takes a monster to stop a monster,” right alongside her own fears that she herself is turning into a killer. But what this real monster shows her is that that is not her — it’s stronger, meaner, angrier, and it holds a mirror up to how Jessica views herself in that context. It’s part of the well-considered character work that the show is so good at, especially when it comes to Jessica confronting her past through a bottle, fists, or occasionally tears. As she gets close to her building’s new superintendent and his family, though, she starts to see an alternative to the life she’s living. Not one that she’s willing to let down her guard for yet, but it’s something (in terms of character growth).
More than anything, Alias Investigations once again provide a nice noir framework for the show’s central mystery this season, one that is interesting to unravel and certainly feels more grounded than anything we’ve seen in the past with villains like The Hand. The show is also wisely taking the time to give those around Jessica more to do, while keeping everyone connected. There’s certainly room for more humor (especially for someone besides Jessica to try and wield) and the episodes could be a lot tighter, but Jessica Jones once again puts character first over super-heroics. It makes all of the difference.
Jessica Jones Season 2 premieres Thursday, March 8th on Netflix.