Facing The Past to Fight for the Future on Season 2 of ‘Jessica Jones’

There is perhaps no more relatable character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than Jessica Jones. Expectations for the second season of Netflix’s series have been high. Thankfully, it does not disappoint.

There’s a line in one episode that perfectly encapsulates everything that is great about this show: “With great power, comes serious mental illness.” Being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when your powers don’t solve your problems. Killgrave may be gone forever—and dispatched by Jessica’s own hands, no less—but that doesn’t mean the demons plaguing Jessica are gone, too. In many ways they seem more threatening than ever. Mild Spoilers Ahead!

In Season Two, Jessica struggles with being someone who has killed, but who doesn’t want to be defined as a killer. That sounds like a stretch, but in a larger sense it speaks to how we define ourselves and how we are defined by others. Those who have suffered from trauma are victims, yes, but they can also be survivors. That’s Jessica Jones in a nutshell.

Jessica is a superhero who possesses great strength, even though she doesn’t look strong. There are more layers to this than perhaps first meet the eye. Being physically strong isn’t always about looking cut or swole, just like being emotionally strong isn’t always about being likeable.

Let’s be honest here: Jessica can be a pain in the ass. But that’s also why we love her. Some people watch reality TV shows about the mega-rich because they want to aspire to that lifestyle; others enjoy witnessing a train wreck because it makes their own problems seem small by comparison. Jessica Jones makes us feel a different way: if a woman with superhuman strength is still drinking to take the edge off of things, then maybe we’re not doing so badly after all.

Forced to participate in an anger management therapy group, Jessica is frustrated. Yet, when the other members of the group hear the litany of trauma she has endured (and when they witness her shred a rubber ball to pieces after throwing it against a wall) they quickly realize that this woman’s problems are worse than they could imagine. She’s got a good reason (plenty of them, in fact) to be pissed off.

Part of what made Jessica Jones’ first season so exceptional was not just the relatable quality that Krysten Ritter brought to its titular character, but also the dynamic between Jessica and everyone around her. That dynamic is at the forefront of the first part of this new season. Unlike the brooding superhero destined to be forever alone, Jessica actually has people who care about her. Sure, she may scowl at them on a regular basis, but they are always there for her (and vice versa).

The relationship between Jessica and Trish (Rachael Taylor) is one of the best female friendships on TV (and the irony of a P.I. who is loath to investigate her own past isn’t lost on viewers). Trish wants Jessica to confront her issues; Jessica would rather forget them. Trish tries to dig up evidence from the past so that Jessica can heal and move forward; Jessica gets mad at Trish for trying to help. And the cycle continues. Yet that’s how friendships often play out. It’s not always fun and games and girl talk; sometimes it includes anger and shouting. And that’s ok, too.

Trish is another particularly relatable character. Her fame and fortune cannot insulate her from her manipulative mother, career woes, or past traumatic events. In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, women can certainly relate to her story of being raped by an older man when she was a young actress. We can relate to her wanting a career that gives her more satisfaction than celebrity gossip or fluffy lifestyle segments.

Season Two continues to show that even the nastiest people can often have some positive attributes. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), for example, is a shrewd businesswoman, but she’s also a selfish and frequently insufferable person, almost like an alternate universe version of Jessica herself. Viewers alternately pity her (no one wants to hear they’ve contracted an incurable disease) and want to slap her across the face (remember when she accidentally killed her wife?).

Jessica’s ongoing association with Hogarth is complicated by a new character, Pryce Cheng (Terry Chen), who exemplifies the kind of arrogant, know-it-all bro people hate. He’s a fellow private investigator who has outward charm, but it’s a poorly fitted mask for a man who’s actually bigoted and insecure.

While there may not be a Killgrave in Season Two to terrify viewers, there is another baddie. Janet McTeer’s Alisa Jones is tremendously frightening and unpredictable and gives the show that creeping sense of dread that helped make its first season so memorable.

In Jessica Jones, representation matters. This is why the women on the screen are as important as the ones behind the scenes. Jessica Jones’ executive producer and showrunner is Melissa Rosenberg and each of the season’s 13 episodes was directed by a different woman: Anna Foerster, Minkie Spiro, Mairzie Almas, Deborah Chow, Millicent Shelton, Jet Wilkinson, Jennifer Getzinger, Zetna Fuentes, Rosemary Rodrigues, Neasa Hardiman, Jennifer Lynch, Liz Friedlander, and Usa Briesewitz.

There’s a true grit to this new season, but it’s not the kind that people talk about when they talk about Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies (or the kind that is brought up disparagingly in critiques of the new DC movies). It’s the kind that comes from regular people who have been crushed by the system and are fighting tooth and nail not to stay downtrodden. No doubt that Ms. Jones would roll her eyes at such a description, but it’s true.

Jessica Jones is a super hero show for people who might say they don’t like superheroes. The film noir touchstones in the opening credits are no accident; the series continues to pay homage to the cynical, hard-drinking, hard-boiled detectives. Those who’ve fantasized about a female alternative to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe will find much to love about Jessica Jones. It’s a show for people living on the edge between success and despair, the wounded, the resilient, and the brave.

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