“With great power comes great mental illness.” That observation comes in episode two of Jessica Jones’ second season and it simply describes what the Marvel/Netflix shows do better than any other superhero TV (except Legion): these shows investigate the psychological damage that having powers and being a hero can do to people who used to be normal. The opening scene of this set of shows wasn’t Matt Murdoch taking down human traffickers, it was him confessing to his priest about the devil, the violence inside him that he gets from his murdered father, and the accident that has left him blind. Even the dreadful Iron Fist recognises Danny Rand’s training, and the plane crash that killed his parents are equally responsible for his PTSD.
No show does this as skilfully as Jessica Jones, with season one working just as ouch as a character study of its broken heroine alongside the cat and mouse nature of her relationship with the man that broke her. Unlike her male counterparts, Jessica’s story takes a different route in turning her into a hero. For a start, she doesn’t want anything to do with the tights and cape brigade. Compare the last scene from season one to Daredevil’s last scene of his first season. Matt is triumphant, fully costumed and victorious over the Kingpin. Jessica, after killing Killgrave, numbly deletes messages from prospective clients while opening a fresh bottle of booze. It’s not until Matt’s supposed death in The Defenders (Matt and Jessica’s back-and-forth being the best part of that flawed team-up) that Jessica honoured Matt by giving a shit and saving people.
Fast-forward to the beginning of season two and Jessica is back to old habits. Thanks to The Defenders she is something of a celebrity, and her adoptive sister Trish is on her to find out more about how she got her powers. This is where things get tricky, since someone has been murdering everyone that is connected to the company, IGH, that experimented on her after the car crash that killed her family 17 years ago.
What this amounts to is Jessica’s origin story which was wisely ignored in the first season in favour of Jessica vs Killgrave. The connections to IGH from the first season, the drugged-up Simpson being the main one, was arguably the weakest part of what is still the strongest season of any Defenders show so far. Unsurprisingly this season is weaker in the story department, with the usual argument that 13 episodes is way too long popping up yet again. The first half of season two is extremely slow, weakened further by the lack of momentum that Kilgrave helped avoid in season one, but after the halfway mark the season comes together, finishing strongly which is unusual for any other Defenders show.
Still, we come to Jessica Jones for the characters, and Krysten Ritter is tremendous once again as the superpowered private investigator. Season two widens its scope, giving Trish and Malcom more defined stories while exploring themes of addiction, and facing your past. Rachael Hunter as Trish is brilliant this season as we explore her own past of abuse in the entertainment industry that feels very prescient considering the controversies of today. It’s these two components, the themes and the characters, that carry weaker episodes and turn strong episodes into must-watch TV. While Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist tell more traditional, male-centred stories of heroism, Jessica Jones takes advantage of its reluctant female hero to tell stories that focus on trauma, addiction, depression, and consent, that just happens to be about a superhero.