There’s often a moment in Marvel’s hugely successful Netflix series where the titular character looks at other people and you can see her trying hard not to be snarky misanthrope. There’s a certain look in her eyes, brilliantly pulled off by actress Krysten Ritter, that shows that struggle. You see her thinking: “Man, I know you are just trying and I don’t need to be angry with you, but it’s just easier?!”
This review contains spoilers
When season 2 newcomer Oscar confronts her with it, she awkwardly denies “I’m not a misanthrope..!” but her eyes say: “Oh wait, shit, yes I am.” Jessica Jones is not a deeply rooted cynic or irredeemable nihilist like Watchmen’s Rorschach for example, although she shows a lot of similarities with Walter Kovacs’ vigilante persona. Jessica is a ultimately a likeable, relatable character because she is not unwilling to be a nice and social person; she just is not very good at it. Being snarky and not giving a damn is her comfort zone, and retiring to one’s comfort zone is something we can all relate to.
Who Can I Trust?
Whereas the debut season focused predominantly on one villain and Jessica’s journey towards reconciling with the past and facing something she wanted to forget, the second round is more multifaceted. With more character arcs and subplots to resolve, it becomes a little less creepily tense than the Kilgrave-arc, but retains the unpredictability that makes you want to binge-watch the entire thing. Criticism of season 2 revolves around the lack of a good villain (and let’s be honest, it’s hard to come up with something as brilliantly menacing as Killgrave), but in my opinion we’re getting a similar sinister feeling in asking ourselves who the villain actually is this time round. Who can we trust? Who is going to be loyal? Are we suppose to root for this character or are they actually being evil?
This choice of story results in a set of characters that are even more morally grey than in the previous season, and in that way endlessly intriguing. There’s not a single person in Jessica Jones that you will feel consistently the same about through the course of the season. That can be perceived negatively as needlessly flip-flopping with characterization, or overuse of the false alliance plot device (like Prison Break did so much in its fourth season). But I perceived it mostly as a way to show people’s weaknesses and difficulty making choices, reacting impulsively and pragmatic one time, and making well thought-out, morally tested decisions the other. Just as situational conditions often make us do.
As is becoming more common in this day and age, Jessica Jones also contains its fair share of political commentary. It does so in varying ways and with varying success. Some nods are subtle, like Trish Walker’s boyfriend snapping at paparazzi that he has “some alternative facts for them”, or a pizza box with a logo of the American flag on the cover, thus showing the stars and stripes upside down when a character opens the box to eat the pizza. Then there’s references to mass incarceration, police brutality and immigration. But often presented from neutral viewpoint, as if the series wants to say: “These are things that happen, and how people react to it or deal with it, up to you what you want to do with that.” One subplot though had a bit of a questionable tone to it: seeking information, Trish Walker decides to confront a television producer and confront him about inappropriate behavior from her Patsy-days. This blows up into another young actress opening up about the guy’s predatory behavior, making an obvious resemblance to Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement. However, in the end it remains something that Trish uses as leverage to get information from the culprit, instead of actually getting him to be exposed. It might not have been intended as such, but it came off as an awkward use of a big and serious real-life issue.
Most important though, Jessica Jones remains an example of a production that really does well for representation of women. Whereas a lot of times we count our blessings if a film or series passes the Bechdeltest with just a single scene; Jessica Jones passes it continuously and to a point where it often doesn’t stop passing it well into an entire episode. Additionally it doesn’t just feature a lot of female characters, it allows its characters to be everything: women can be strong, weak, funny, flawed, dirty, complicated, sympathetic or cantankerous without needing excuses. Especially the deeply complex Jeri Hogarth, again brilliantly performed by Carrie-Anne Moss, deserves applause. That’s a thing a lot of popular media can learn a thing or two from.
When the credits for final episode role, we are left with a group of characters that all went through their own personal struggles and development during the course of the season. It leaves me optimistic about the third year of Jessica’s adventures and the stories that are going to come out of this newly established dynamic. How is Trish going to continue her path towards becoming Hellcat? Did Oscar really tap into a softer side of Jessica? How will Jeri fare in her new solo career? Without dramatic deaths or hamfisted plot turns, the series set itself up for a lot of fresh and interesting things to come.