When the first series of Jessica Jones was released on Netflix in 2015, we were living in a very different world. There were no new Star Wars films, Black Panther was a B-character no-one knew much about, and Jon Snow was definitely dead.
But perhaps most relevantly, we also lived in a world where all of Marvel’s TV output was a success. Agents of SHIELD was going strong, Agent Carter had enjoyed a critically-acclaimed first series, and Netflix series Daredevil had been a massive hit, redeeming the character after a disappointing 2003 movie and raising hopes that Marvel could replicate on the small screen what it had achieved in the cinema.
Today is, as I say, quite different.
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Marvel’s Agent Carter has been cancelled. Inhumans was a flop. Meanwhile, the various Netflix series – there have been five since Jessica Jones was last on air – have all been characterised by muddled storytelling, with interesting premises stretched to breaking point over too many episodes. It’s a plotting blight which can helpfully be described in three simple words: Too Many Ninjas.
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With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to report that the second season of Jessica Jones is a tremendous breath of fresh air compared to its recent stablemates.
The new series sees Jessica begin to investigate exactly how she gained her superheroic abilities – she has super-strength, though unlike her comic-book counterpart she can’t fly – leading her down a twisting path that sees her encounter other “enhanced” individuals and learn more about her own past. Meanwhile, she also has to contend with a rival PI trying to buy up her firm, a new neighbour who doesn’t take kindly to her vigilante ways and – perhaps most terrifyingly of all – compulsory anger management classes.
I’m not sure whether it’s the sheer boredom and disappointment I’ve felt over previous Marvel Netflix series or the quality of Jessica Jones season two itself, but either way, I was riveted by every minute of the five episodes made available for preview.
At the centre of it all is Krysten Ritter’s peerless performance, which is equal parts swagger, sarcasm and vulnerability as Jessica begins to recognise her own negative behaviours are pushing the ones she loves away (only emphasised when she meets an older woman who shares certain personality traits with her).
But she’s equally supported by an intriguing central mystery, which twists and turns through the opening episodes through to some genuinely exciting cliffhanger moments and finds something for all of Jess’s supporting players to contribute to. Rachael Taylor’s Trish and Eka Darville’s Malcolm are particular stand-outs, while Carrie-Anne Moss’s tough-as-nails lawyer Jeri attempts to overcome a more personal challenge.
There’s also an intriguing air of suspicion pervading the action in season two, with pretty much every character looking shady at times. Trish’s too-perfect boyfriend? Jeri when she gets some bad news? Jessica’s own friends as they try to protect her? Anyone could end up being a threat to Jessica, and as the series goes on it becomes hard not to share her inherent distrust of those around her.
Other reviewers have been quick to complain that the new series is too slow, lacking a strong central villain like psychic baddie Kilgrave and generally being a poor sibling to the first run, but I disagree.
Despite David Tennant’s terrific performance, I was a little disappointed that the first series focused so much on Kilgrave. The Alias comics that Jessica Jones is based on feature Jessica getting involved with all sorts of cases unrelated to her own trauma, but the Netflix adaptation did away with that narrative variety.
In season two, the gradual build-up of Jessica’s investigation seems infinitely more fascinating than any further clash with Kilgrave (he’s supposed to appear briefly later in the series, but there’s no sign of that in the early episodes). Meanwhile, Jessica’s powers are much better demonstrated and realised in the new episodes, from easily squishing a metal chair with one hand to effortlessly beating up an arrogant male attacker.
Overall, then, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg has overseen an impressive return to form in Jessica Jones season two, both for the series and Marvel’s TV offerings as a whole. Sure, a certain amount of that positivity probably comes from comparing it to all the hours spent slogging through Iron Fist et al – but it would also be a worthy follow-up even if those series hadn’t existed. Here’s hoping we don’t have to endure three more years of Marvel TV misfires before the next instalment.