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Spoilers for Jessica Jones Season Two ahead. Content warning for discussion of violence—including sexual violence—and abuse.
I’ve just finished watching Jessica Jones season two, and, contrary to some of the negative buzz I heard anecdotally upon its launch, I think it’s a messy masterpiece. Or rather, it’s a masterpiece because it truly, fully embraces the messiness inherent in human relationships, especially ones damaged by violence, abuse, and other trauma.
In the first season of the show (which was also brilliant), there was a more traditional superhero structure: you had a super-powered protagonist—Jessica Jones, who is a super-strong PI with a serious drinking problem and knack for dirty work—and a super villain, Killgrave, who controls people’s minds and bodies on a whim. In the past, he used Jessica for his nefarious purposes, and raped her, repeatedly. The show was very much about PTSD, trauma, and making the way through the world carrying your demons on your back. There were superpowers, but it wasn’t the point of the show.
Season two makes the very bold decision to be a superhero show without a traditional villain, and it’s all the stronger for it. Instead, this is a series about trauma and being a damaged person making their way in the world imperfectly, and even the “bad” people go through hell.
This isn’t a bullshit “both sides” argument. It’s a tacit understanding that to be human is to hurt, that there are millions of complications in every life and that many people will hurt you to get what they need or want. Bad behavior is not excused or hand-waved away.
The best example of this, in one of the show’s best performances, is Carrie Ann-Moss as Jeri Hogarth, returning from season one as a badass queer lawyer who is a ruthless, selfish, awful person. She finds out early on that she is suffering from a terminal disease and only has a few years to live, sending her on a journey that is positively gut-wrenching at times. At first, she is upset. She bargains with her doctor to get her hands on illicit treatments. Then she escapes reality for a while, buying up half the cocaine in New York City and partying with sex workers in her deluxe apartment. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking scene, and lord, does it ever end poorly.
Then, finally, one of the most cutthroat lawyers in the city, becomes truly vulnerable. She seeks the company of a supposed “healer.” She falls in love. She gets fucked over.
The transformation of this character is so rooted in pain and terror that it’s mesmerizing to watch. This is one of the best, most intense performances I’ve seen in a series outside of The Americans, and the fact that it might go overlooked because it’s in a superhero series is criminal.
Rachel Taylor is especially good as well as Trish Walker, Jessica’s best friend/adopted sister who was a child star and current talk radio darling, champing at the bit to be a hero and save the damned world. She’s also a recovering addict who jumps at the chance to chase a super-powered existence, which leads, naturally, to dark places. Trish’s motivations are genuine, she really, really does want to do good in the world. She chafes when she has to pursue puff interviews instead of harder-hitting stories, and there’s more than a whiff of white feminism about her.
And she suffers too, under the arm of her abusive mother. She uses people, and she fucks up, royally culminating in a very, very controversial choice that she makes in the final episode that I’m still iffy on.
Krystyn Ritter is fantastic as Jessica Jones, another severely damaged human being who just tries to get through the day. She pursues a mystery that leads her to (MAJOR SPOILER HERE) her mother, thought dead, who survived and acquired the same super strength because of the efforts of the same rogue doctor who treated Jessica.
Alisa (Jessica’s mom) is damaged. She goes on murderous rampages when she senses her family—Jessica or the doctor, who she is in a relationship with—is in danger, the very definition of a raging mama bear. Some of her emotional damage stems from brain damage sustained in the accident that nearly killed her. She knows that she’s wrong. She knows that her violent outbursts are no excuse, but her love is genuine, and she so badly wants to use her gifts for good (in one scene, saving a family from a devastating car wreck). She wants to overcome her damage and be a hero. She wants it so bad that it’s palpable, just the same as the violence she performs on innocent victims who get in the way.
And that doctor who performed illegal experiments on Jessica and Anise, making them powerful—and supremely damaged? He just wanted to save people.
Again, it’s no excuse. The show never hand-waves. It simply presents some of those motivations in the massive sea of humanity that is the city—and by extension, the world. It posits that people will do the things they do. They will act heroically, and they will fuck up, and they will do evil, twisted, awful things.
If there’s hope in this world—and I think there is, if the final scene is any indication—it comes not from trite notions about heroes jumping around the city at night, but from people willing to do the very hard work of building trust with one another and making good on their promises. Every single person on this show is hurting, they have problems, and they’ve made mistakes. Everyone has trouble trusting others, for good reason.
But finding others willing to put in the time, to build healthy bonds with one another, to make things work? That’s the only way forward.
There are 12 other pieces I could write about this show, and I haven’t even touched on most of the male characters, or the show’s #MeToo moment, or its own very messy relationship to the cops. But I’ll leave it on that notion, which I think is the core thesis of the season. Life is an absolute, utter disaster. Relationships are messy and sometimes toxic. Doing the work with other people who are willing to work with you—that’s the only answer that has any weight.
Ok readers, how about you? Has there been a season of a show that really delivered for you lately? Let us know on the forums!
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/9k8nkd/jessica-jones-season-two-is-wonderful-because-its-messy