‘Jessica Jones’ season 2 early review: No villains, no problem

No one quite knew what to expect when Netflix revealed that Jessica Jones would be one of the series spawned from its partnership with Marvel to produce gritty television shows based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s street-level superheroes. That uncertainty was swiftly dismissed, however, by the arrival of one of the best shows to come out of the MCU — and arguably one of the best first seasons of any show, regardless of platform or franchise.

Warning: Season 1 spoilers abound below. If you haven’t seen the first 13 episodes, proceed at your own risk.

It’s no surprise that her world feels very different in season 2.

The acclaim heaped on Jessica Jones season 1 — due in no small way to star Krysten Ritter’s performance as the hard-drinking hero, and David Tennant’s chilling portrayal of the mind-controlling villain Kilgrave — makes it a difficult act to follow. With Kilgrave essentially removed from Jessica’s world along with the first season’s appearances by none other than Luke Cage, the spotlight for season 2 appears to be concentrated much more on Ritter’s super-powered private investigator.

Fortunately, when it comes to carrying the series, Ritter’s portrayal of Jessica Jones has strength to spare in the second go around. Digital Trends received an early look at the first five episodes of the second season of Jessica Jones, and while the next story arc for the celebrated series is conspicuously absent some of the first season’s best attributes, it finds strength in a mix of elements both old and new.

A different vibe

Season 2 of Jessica Jones brings back showrunner Melissa Rosenberg for a story that kicks off in the aftermath of both the show’s first season and the events of The Defenders miniseries, which teamed the title character up with fellow street-level Marvel heroes Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Now in the public eye after murdering Kilgrave at the end of season 1, Jessica attempts to get her life back on track. As she struggles with her personal demons, Jessica soon finds herself investigating the secrets of her own past.

Given everything that’s happened in Jessica Jones’ life since the first season, it’s no surprise that her world feels very different in season 2 — and with that, Ritter’s portrayal has also evolved.

Ritter does well at conveying Jessica’s discomfort with her newfound celebrity — or infamy, depending on whom you ask — and the first five episodes smash all the conflicting elements of her character together in creative ways. It would have been easy for Rosenberg and the Jessica Jones creative team to simply keep doing what worked in the first season, but the early half of season 2 changes the status quo for Jessica’s life in ways that keep her — and the audience — uncertain of what’s to come.

A deeper dive

Jessica Jones also feels like a more fleshed-out character in the early episodes of the second season.

Ritter’s performance is good enough to carry the show on her shoulders over the first five episodes.

No longer positioned as a reactive element to Kilgrave or Luke Cage, the Jessica Jones of season 2 gives Ritter more freedom to shape the show’s super-powered protagonist, and the end result is a character that’s a little more unpredictable this season. Jones hits a little harder here, and spits insults that are just a little meaner. Ritter feels like she’s gone all-in on the character in the second season, and the gamble pays off — which is fortunate, given how much of the spotlight she commands in those early episodes.

After playing relatively minor roles in the show’s first season, many of the characters immediately surrounding Jessica also take a major step forward in season 2.

Rachael Taylor returns as Patricia “Trish” Walker, and her character gets a significant boost in screen time for the next chapter of Jessica Jones. Taylor’s performance holds up well with the elevated role, and anyone familiar with her counterpart in Marvel Comics lore (the hero known as “Hellcat”) will likely appreciate the path the first five episodes appears to put her on.

Also getting a bump in screen time is actor Eka Darville’s addict-turned-assistant Malcolm Ducasse, who goes from playing the victim in the show’s first season to an active participant in the events happening around him (and Jessica). Although his profile is raised significantly in the first five episodes, Malcolm seems like a character who still has a lot to offer, and deserves to see his role expanded even more in the remaining episodes.

Carrie-Anne Moss also returns as ice-cold attorney Jeri Hogarth, and while her character goes through some big changes in those early episodes, it’s too early to say whether the show is changing for the better in its handling of her.

Kilgrave, we presume?

Unfortunately, none of this season’s newcomers play much of a role in the first five episodes of season 2, so it’s difficult to judge what they bring to the series at this point.

Ritter’s performance is good enough to carry the show on her shoulders over the first five episodes.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the aforementioned Kilgrave, who has appeared in the second season’s promotional campaign and was confirmed to return in the second season.

The first five episodes don’t offer much opportunity to evaluate Tennant’s return to the role, and how the series handles one of its most memorable characters — some would argue that he’s the most memorable character in all of Marvel’s Netflix shows — could make or break the rest of the episodes, and even the season as a whole.

Much like the first season of The Punisher, season 2 of Jessica Jones opts to pit Jessica against a mystery — in this case, who gave her the abilities she was given, and why — instead of a traditional villain. Ritter’s performance is good enough to carry the show on her shoulders over the first five episodes, but whether she can do so over the remaining eight episodes (or will even need to) will likely play the biggest role in how the season is ultimately viewed by critics and audiences.

Jessica Jones season 2 premieres March 8 on Netflix.