For better or worse, the most apparent quality of the first season of Jessica Jones was how out-of-place it felt amongst the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity. If you’re accustomed to (or numbed by) Marvel’s breezy stories of superpowered do-gooders quipping their way to a city-leveling, CGI-fueled finale, then the first thing you notice about Jessica Jones has to be how unconcerned this superpowered character seems to be with doing any do-gooding at all. Maybe that’s the second thing you notice. First, you probably notice that the Jessica Jones theme song starts off as a pretty cool slinky-smooth avant-garde noir-jazz piece before veering off inexplicably to become a prog-rock dumpster fire. The thing’s an absolute mess. I happen to like both John Coltrane and Steve Vai, but not in the same span of two minutes.
Anyway, here’s a somewhat interesting quote from our review of the first season of Jessica Jones:
The latest entry in Marvel’s grand scheme has more inherent push/pull to the interconnectedness thing than any other installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that includes the Netflix predecessor Daredevil. On one hand Jessica is about as far away as you’re going to get from Captain America, and maybe that marks trouble for an inevitable crossing-of-paths — either the dark tone of Jones would be compromised to accommodate Cap or the other way around.
In the time elapsed since putting those concerns down on paper, we’ve had a few more introductory seasons in the world of Marvel’s street-level Netflix heroes — Luke Cage, Iron First, and The Punisher — as well as a sophomore outing for Daredevil and the all-hallowed team-up of The Defenders. More importantly, in the real world, we’ve had the Weinstein scandal, #MeToo, #TimesUp, and a distinct push in the drive for inclusion in the entertainment industry and in every industry. Consider that in any other new installment of the MCU the focus would be on the in-universe happenings rather than the real-universe happenings (with the exception of Black Panther, which miraculously managed to focus on both).
So with everything that’s gone down since that initial review, was Jessica Jones indeed “compromised” by The Defenders, or by the narrative paving-stones leading to Avengers: Infinity War? Hardly. Chalk it up to the inherent lone-wolf qualities of the hero in question, or chalk it up to the fact that The Defenders turned out to be something close to unwatchable, or chalk it up to the fact that these Netflix Marvelites don’t actually seem destined to meet up with the Avengers at all — whatever the case, Jessica Jones is still a wholly standalone venture. Seeing as how the second season left out the lengthy Luke Cage cameo and the obligatory appearance from Rosario Dawson’s Night Nurse — both used in the first season to hammer home the fact that, yes, these are all in the same universe — you might argue that Jessica is more alone than she’s ever been.
Which is of course one of the major themes of the second season, and maybe of the series on the whole. After killing her tormentor Kilgrave at the end of the first season and jaunting around with the Defenders doing…whatever they were doing, we catch up with Jessica as she attempts to move on with her life. People seem to know about these past adventures, though, and so by turns they label her a killer and a hero. Unsurprisingly, Jessica isn’t exactly interested in adopting either title. Maybe that was always going to be the logline for the second season — “Jessica wrestles with her new identity as a Defender” — but it was still refreshing to see her win that battle so resoundingly. As if to put a cap on that thought, real-universe Jessica (Krysten Ritter) recently mentioned in passing that there would not, in fact, be a second season of The Defenders. Good riddance.
Where Jones falters in the follow-up season is twofold, and the first point is a familiar one: thirteen hour-long episodes is too damn long for the story at hand. The narrative is stretched thin and feels delayed for the first few episodes at the outset, dancing around a potential mystery storyline before pivoting to become a fairly traditional origin narrative. And that’s the second major qualm, mostly because Jessica Jones didn’t feel like it needed to sift through the experimentation-gone-wrong backstory. At the beginning of the first season, it was just an accepted fact that Jessica has some badass powers; twenty-six episodes later, the character doesn’t feel greatly improved now that we know about how she first got those powers.
We did a mental exercise in our review of Daredevil‘s second season in which we flipped the script, literally: starting with the Elektra storyline and working up to the Punisher storyline might have made for a more effective arc, rather than the strong start/weak finish we actually got. The same might be said of Jessica Jones, which churned out the obligatory origin story after a more-exciting psychological game of cat-and-mouse with Kilgrave. Not only would shuffling these season-long storylines make for a more sensible arc, but the debut season’s themes of control between a man and a woman would resonate more loudly now that #MeToo and #TimesUp provide some more tangible real-world parallels.
But, still, Jessica Jones is undoubtedly on the better end of the Marvel Netflix shows. Ritter’s made the role her own, spitting out takedowns and comebacks like they’re sunflower seeds (on Trish’s proposal to bring along a machine gun: “We’re not going grocery shopping in Texas”). Carrie-Anne Moss delivers the most watchable performance of the season as the ruthless Hogarth, even if her storyline had absolutely nothing to do with Jessica’s storyline. And Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker, while also sort of shoehorned into Jessica’s story, might be showing some potential if she’s to become a villain in a future outing (as the final moments of the season suggest).
Jones is at its best when it feels inextricable from the ongoing conversation on female empowerment, largely because it understands more about female rage than any other show you care to name. As a viewer, maybe it’s easier to tap into and identify with that theme in the first season, because Kilgrave stood in for every domineering male. While the origins tale of the most recent season avoided a retread of that same territory while still allowing Jessica to be Jessica, I hope the future of Jones dispenses with the urge to fill in the background details and instead chooses to keep moving forward.