For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to Netflix’s addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the name Jessica Jones will mean nothing. Before her television debut, she was all but unknown outside of comic-book circles. Since the release of the much-lauded first season of Jessica Jones (with Krysten Ritter in the title role), the name now has much greater star power – and with good reason.
Firstly, as far as superhero shows go, it is the most grounded one I can think of. The usual complaints of thin characters, derivative plots and ridiculously used CGI mostly don’t apply here.
Jessica has powers, but for her television incarnation these are limited to super strength and durability – which means she can get shot in the shoulder without lasting effect and rip car doors from their hinges. All of these things are achieved via practical, in-camera effects, meaning viewers don’t constantly need to test their suspension of disbelief. If the overblown CGI-fest that was Avengers: Infinity War really isn’t your thing, Jessica Jones is the drama-first salve to that superhero shaped itch.
Indeed, the real strength on display is the story-telling, with Season One focusing on Jessica’s PTSD after being brainwashed into killing for the villain Kilgrave, creepily portrayed by David Tennant. At the start of Season Two, Kilgrave may be gone, but Jessica is still self-medicating to the point that she is never sober.
Convinced to dig into her murky past by her adopted sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), and aided by her neighbour/associate (and recovering addict) Malcolm (Eka Darville), Jessica begins to piece together the blanks she has in her memory and painfully discovers the source of her own superpowers. This comes at a high cost as the distant past finally catches up with her – I’m being deliberately vague as Netflix managed to keep a significant spoiler from spilling, so I’ll do the same.
Once SPOILER reveals themself the show kicks into high gear with the plot unfolding, twisting and subverting conventions with almost every scene.
Jessica still takes centre stage here, but a handful of subplots help drive the pathos, with Carrie-Ann Moss’s Jeri Hogarth at a crossroads professionally and personally, Malcolm taking investigations into his own hands and Trish Walker finally on the road to becoming the hellion the comic-books have made her.
Season One made waves for its brutal and unflinching unpacking of systematic abuse through the lens of a survivor, Jessica herself. Season Two perhaps lacks such a lightning rod as its focus but by season’s end I was no less affected.
With a third season confirmed, I am genuinely intrigued to see where Netflix takes these characters. Certainly after the disaster that was Iron Fist’s first season and the so-so action of The Defenders mini-series, that can only be a good thing, as I was utterly relieved that Marvel’s drunken first lady of ass kicking was in fine form.
Ultimately, this show is shaping up to be about monsters in all their forms. Jessica faced down Kilgrave, continues to drink herself into new and more monstrous actions and arguably creates three actual monsters by the time the final credits roll. It’s no Game Of Thrones but fortunately it’s not trying to be, and crucially doesn’t need to be. It’s a show with (mostly) believable characters, wonderful character work and an engaging story.
The only fault I have with the entire show as it stands is the silly science behind Jessica’s powers which involve illegal experiments and a certain aquatic sea creature that may or may not be alien.
Season Two of Jessica Jones is the perfect marriage of comic-book nerd, action and surprisingly feminist leanings, plus it gets two thumbs up for unashamedly putting women in the majority of the behind-the-scenes roles. It has set a pretty high bar – are you paying attention, Iron Fist?