Major spoilers for Season 2 ahead
There are three things that are guaranteed to happen in any Marvel-Netflix show: someone who is presumed dead will turn out to very much alive; people will go into the hospital, where violent altercations rather than healing will take place; and someone, the villain, or the companions, or even the hero, will break out of jail. Season 2 of Jessica Jones hits all three points, and then some.
That’s not to say that the season is predictable. Far from it. Characters that we thought we knew behave in surprising, fascinating ways. To be honest, I found myself far more intrigued by the old faithfuls: Jessica, Jeri, Trish, than any of the newer entrants. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Plenty of time for dissection later.
Season 2 opens very shortly after the horrors of Season 1 and The Defenders. Though the show doesn’t make too much of the events that took place in the latter, Season 1’s ghosts literally linger into the present, with one episode bringing back Kilgrave as an annoying, sadistic voice in Jessica’s head. It’s clear right at the outset that it will take more than a team-up with a bunch of other heroes to put Jessica’s demons to rest, and the events of these 13 episodes make it seem like that ‘rest’ will be a long time coming.
While Jessica is trying to move past her trauma, Trish is doing all she can to dig deeper into the secrets behind her friend’s superpowers, openly going after the mysterious ‘IGH’ on her talk show. Her journalistic ambition, however, ends up ruffling some powerful feathers, and it’s not long before a ruthless killer is on the loose, determined to shut her up. Jessica, the best friend, rushes in to protect her, and finds that far from the monster she had imagined, she is confronted with a disturbingly familiar figure: her mother.
This, really, is the heart of Season 2, the reckoning with one’s past, the sins of the mother, and the manner in which they shadow our character’s lives. Jessica’s mother, Alyssa, is the recipient of the same mysterious treatment that saved her own life, and gave her her powers. Alyssa’s powers are far stronger than her daughter’s, but unlike Jessica, she cannot control herself. Subject to horrifying, murderous rages, Alyssa lashes out at Trish, and those she sees as threatening her survival, hers and that of her partner, the Frankenstein-like Dr. Karl Malus.
In this season, Jessica comes face to face with her maker(s), the scientific one, and the biological. While she struggles to handle the dilemma posed by her mother—-a mass murderer who represents, to Jessica at least, her one chance at family—Trish falls down a rabbit hole of her own. Growing up as a victim of abuse, both from her domineering, driving mother and various men she encountered in showbiz, Trish has long felt helpless, and sees IGH as her one path to salvation. We watch her spin herself into deeper and deeper holes, putting her relationship with Jessica at risk. Indeed, by the end of the season we’re not even sure if they can ever be friends, let alone sisters, again.
Darkness hangs over the indomitable Jeryn Hogarth as well, who receives a diagnosis of ALS early on in the season. This launches her on a quest to find a cure, which brings us in contact with my favourite new entrant: Inez, a nurse who once worked with IGH. This being the Marvel-verse, nobody is as trustworthy as they seem, and victories do not come easily, if they come at all. In this world of superpowered beings, it seems easy enough for Jeri to believe in Inez’s stories of a ‘healer’, another patient of IGH who can heal sick persons with his touch. A desperate Jeri clings to this story, but of course, it meanders to a bitter end.
Season 2 was written and presumably put into production long before the flood of stories that form the #MeToo movement, and the resounding echoes of the same in Hollywood. Maybe it’s because those stories, and that anger, is still so present that it was impossible to watch this season without thinking about it, seeing anger in all its forms distilled into and played through these female characters. Whether it’s Trish’s anger over her helplessness at the hands of an inherently hostile, bullying world, Jessica’s anger at herself for her seeming failures, Alyssa’s much more violent rage that was, tellingly, the result of a man’s botched experiments, or Jeri’s colder, existential fury at having the life she’s worked so hard at taken away—all of these are powerful, telling illustrations of what happens to a dream too long deferred. The male characters, Malcolm, Karl, other new entrants Oscar and an investigator named Pryce Chang, are frequently stunned by the force of this anger, and the achievements and actions it can give rise to. Often, they are left helpless in the face of it, tied up in bathtubs, driven to suicide, or defecting to rival organisations. The only exception seems to be Oscar, who presents the one pleasant thing for Jessica this entire season.
Because of the jagged theme, the season itself seems to move in a halting fashion, and it takes a while for it to find its stride. That being said, though, there’s a lot to unpack in these 13 episodes, and I’m sure that those who watch it will end up thinking about it for a long while. We cover a long trail, from the opening shots, that follow Jessica about her tawdry tasks of stalking cheating spouses, to the close, which sees her, somewhat hesitantly, embracing if not the fact, then the idea of happiness. Earlier in that same episode, Jessica had recalled how she felt ‘dead’, alone ever since the loss of her family. At the end, she seems to have opened herself to the notion that ‘death’ in her case is a choice, and taking steps to face the other way. Whether Oscar and the relief he offers will prove permanent is a question that remains; for now, it looks as though she might finally, finally, be working towards some sort of peace.
The peace that comes after a storm, or before one? Only time, and Season 3, will tell.