Review: JESSICA JONES, Season Two

The second season of Jessica Jones dropped on Thursday, March 8, 2018. International Women’s Day.  The date of release was almost certainly not a coincidence.  The Netflix Marvel series usually drop on Fridays, but this one came out a day earlier for obvious reasons.  Its return heralded the returns of almost all the cast members you’d expect from the first season (sorry, no Luke Cage sightings here) and a couple you wouldn’t.  This season also adds some new additions, including Oscar Arocho, the new building superintendant, played by the charismatic J.R. Ramirez.  The series continues with many of the themes that made the first season so compelling.  The death of Kilgrave could no more successfully fill the void in our heroine’s soul than could the bottle of Makers Mark she keeps on her desk.

This season tells a very different story, digging into the origin of Jessica Jones’ powers, the experiments that led to her metahuman strength and toughness, and the history of the death of her family and how she ended up living with Trish and her mother.  While that story provides twists and turns to give the series its hard-boiled detective vibe, I found just as compelling the more prosaic origin stories: where Jessica Jones got that black leather jacket, why she called her investigation service Alias, and how her hard-drinking lifestyle works with Trish’s life in recovery.

I will also point out that this show does a lot to satisfy my thirst for equity of representation in entertainment. The main and title character is a woman, one of the two most important supporting characters is a woman; the other a person of color.  Insofar as any character is simple enough to be called a villain, one of the villains is a woman, and a deeply interesting and conflicted character at that.  Jessica’s new love interest is a person of color.  And, less you think this is all some form of virtue signaling, each and every episode is directed by a woman.  Interestingly, each by a different woman, which may be part of what makes the second season so interesting. The various episodes each have a very different feel and tone.

At their best, the Marvel Television Universe series have each been about price. What is the price one pays to be superhuman? The reason why Daredevil was compelling was as much about watching Matt Murdock get sewn up between battles as for its phenomenal cinematic action sequences.  Luke Cage pays his price both in time and persons, losing loved ones to violence and years to prison.  In fact, part of the reason Iron Fist was so disappointing was precisely because it lacked that narrative.  We didn’t see Danny Rand lose anything.  Yes, he lost his family in a plane crash as a child, but his life as a hero in New York led only to gains, regaining his fortune, and gaining personal victories as well.

But that’s not what I found so compelling about the second season of Jessica Jones. I was really into this season because I really felt what Jessica was going through.  Within twenty-four hours of the first episode dropping, I was put on two weeks medical leave by my psychiatrist due to a series of episodes of self-destructive impulsive behavior brought on by work stress and anxiety.  So, as I’m watching a show about a character on the verge of an emotional breakdown, I’m dealing with one of my own.

I saw the signs and symptoms of what I’d been going through.  I saw a character drinking to regulate mood.  I saw a character engaging in self-destructive behavior.  I saw a character using sex to numb pain.  I saw a character isolate herself because she wasn’t comfortable asking for help.  I saw a character hide her feelings behind snark and rage.  I didn’t reach the point at any time where I saw the faces of dead people and heard their voices telling me things I didn’t want to hear, but I found myself talking to some people who’ve been long gone more than once.

It’s a rare thing to see a show that does such a perfect job of showing what you’re going through when you’re going through tough times.  I can only think of two shows that have ever moved me with that kind of immediate and jarring level of gut-punching power, and they’re both Netflix originals set in worlds not our own: Jessica Jones, season two, in its world of superheroes and Bojack Horseman in its world of talking animals.  I was watching one of the final episodes crying as I was sweating on a treadmill at the gym, and I’m not usually one to cry in public.

This season talks about grief, unflinchingly, a lot.  And it’s a funny thing about grief:  it never really goes away.  You learn to live with it as you get older, but it never passes, not entirely.  My mother has been dead for sixteen years this month, and I still find myself in times of crisis wishing I could call her for advice.  It brought up a question:  What would I be willing to sacrifice to see my mother again, to be able to spend time with her?   It’s a tough question.  We all value living life on our own terms.  We each like to think of ourselves as adults who make choices and no longer live in the shadows of our parents, but the death of a parent really does bring some perspective.  And I miss my mom and dad.  I miss them a lot.  And I hadn’t thought much about for quite some time.

You should watch Jessica Jones, season two.  You should watch it because it’s doing things nothing else in television does.  You should watch it because it’s great television, with compelling characters, well acted by charismatic performers.  You should watch it to support one of the most diverse and exciting productions in the history of American television.  It has been a very long time since I’ve seen television this good, and, I suspect, it will be a long time before I do.  And frankly I’m glad of that, because this was so good it gut-shot me.

It was so good, it made me miss my mom.