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Jessica Jones Manages to Benefit and Suffer from Working Outside the Box

In tackling Jessica's origin story, the show remains compelling if slow going

Kaitlin Thomas

The greatest accomplishment of Marvel's Jessica Jones' first season was that it didn't feel much like a Marvel series at all. The series gave power and voice to those frequently without both by simply being true to the comic book character created by Brian Michael Bendis. The result was a layered and powerful survivor's story that just happened to also be wrapped in Marvel packaging. Now, as the Netflix series heads into its long-awaited sophomore season -- it's been more than two years since Jessica (Krysten Ritter) defeated her tormenter and rapist Kilgrave (David Tennant) -- the show's decision to buck traditional superhero trends while somehow operating within them continues to be its most compelling feature.

The new season, directed entirely by women and debuting on International Women's Day on March 8, tackles Jessica's origin story, something usually covered in freshman outings but was only hinted at near the end of the show's first season. The delay in digging into the character's background makes sense within the context of her story -- Jessica doesn't know how she came by her super-strength powers, only that she woke up with them after barely surviving the car accident that killed the rest of her family -- but by waiting to tell this particular chapter of Jessica's story until after the Kilgrave arc, the series benefits from working within a fully-formed, fully-realized world.

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The most obvious example of this is Jessica herself: the series isn't burdened with trying to introduce viewers to her character at the same time it's revealing that she underwent involuntary experimentation by mysterious doctors in an even more mysterious lab. Having already spent 13 episodes with Jessica as she ran toward and away from one version of evil, viewers are well acquainted with the angry, stubborn and impulsive (but ultimately good) person she is by the time she gets back into the ring to go up against another villain. This means the show is able to focus solely on how the knowledge of the events that took place at IGH all those years ago affect Jessica and why we're able to understand how this new information might push her into action after stagnating, without care or regret, for years.


Krysten Ritter, Marvel's Jessica Jones

David Giesbrecht/Netflix

Still, even if we think we know who Jessica is, there's even more we don't know; Jessica frequently refuses to engage with the part of her that has powers because it would mean facing demons she's packed away into a corner of her mind. She isn't interested in dredging up this part of her past out of self-preservation, but what happened to her after the car accident is as much to blame for her current state as Kilgrave's actions were in Season 1. If Jessica wants to have any chance of moving forward without the weight of this baggage, she has to deal with what happened to her then through the lens of what's happening to her now.

In the time since Kilgrave's death, Jessica has become known around Hell's Kitchen and the rest of New York as a super-powered killer. It's a description she's fighting against, but even if we know it isn't true, and even if Jessica knows it isn't true, she hasn't necessarily done enough to stop the rumors and help herself. It's a common theme explored in superhero comics -- can anyone with powers actually be good? Why is one person with powers worse than another? These are all essentially questions of morality. Even if we can see the difference between Jessica having super-strength and Kilgrave controlling people and forcing them to do what he wants, from an outsider's perspective Jessica is a super-powered killer. She's used her powers, out in the open, in such a way that she can be seen as a threat. And that's what Season 2, based on the first five episodes screened for critics, seems to want to explore and address. Even though we've seen Jessica use her powers to help herself and the victims of Kilgrave in the past, this season Jessica may come into her own, even just a little bit, as a more traditional sort of hero who has to deal with the fact she does have these powers and thus potentially has a greater responsibility as a result.

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But the series still operates very much from a position of being a private detective series, with an expanded job for Malcolm (Eka Darville) at Alias Investigations and Jessica using her detective skills to further her own agenda. Whether or not this all comes together and ultimately makes for good television is another matter altogether; without the sparkling chemistry of a villain like Kilgrave as played by someone with as much innate charisma as David Tennant and without being able to see its final destination, the show's second season is thus far much flatter and less thrilling overall. The pacing, as is the case with nearly every single Netflix series, continues to be a hurdle that the show simply cannot clear. But even when the show moves as slowly as it does here, at the beginning of Jessica's origin story, there remains at least one bright spot: the relationship between Jessica and Trish (Rachael Taylor). Their bond, and the friction that is sometimes caused because of it, is still one of the show's strongest elements and is actually one of two things that forces Jessica forward.


Rachael Taylor, Marvel's Jessica Jones

David Giesbrecht/Netflix

After surprising many fans in Season 1, Trish takes on an even more central and active role in the overall narrative of Season 2. It's Trish who is responsible for pushing Jessica to confront her past and the accident that killed her family. It's Trish who goes out on a limb and threatens to expose her own shameful secrets in order to get long-buried information on IGH. And in this way, Season 2 ends up becoming as much of an origin story for Trish, who is struggling to come to terms with the truth of her own life and what she she wants, as it is for Jessica. But if much of the show is about how Trish can help and push Jessica to search for the truth, it feels like the show is also priming itself to flip the switch and allow Jessica to eventually come to the rescue of her longest and closest friend, something that will no doubt push her into the hero role that's so familiar now.

And so although the show's second season may not reach the same heights or resonate on the same levels as the Kilgrave arc did in Season 1 -- something that was probably always unavoidable -- that the series continues to exist and operate both outside of and yet within the more traditional boundaries of superhero sagas is what allows it to be a compelling series even as the show overall seems to fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. The fact that Jessica Jones has never been and is never going to be a traditional superhero is what still makes her and her story worth watching.

All 13 episodes of Marvel's Jessica Jones' second season will debut Thursday, March 8 on Netflix.