'Jessica Jones': The new season doubles down on hard-boiled feminism

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones (Photo: Netflix)

Back for a second season, the Jessica Jones we’re reacquainted with in the new episodes of Netflix’s Jessica Jones is low-key and even more moody than we may have remembered. As embodied by Krysten Ritter, the superpowered private detective is cynical and morose, unwilling to cut anyone any slack. Last season, she killed a guy, and even if Kilgrave deserved it, one measure of Jessica’s superheroism is that she nevertheless feels the moral weight of having taken a life. This detail alone distinguishes Jessica, adapted for television by writer Melissa Rosenberg, from the majority of comic-book heroes, who snuff bad guys with nary a twinge of guilt.

But Jones’s guilt leads her to drink too much and snap too easily. She takes it out on clients, strangers, and those around her, including her pal Trish (Rachael Taylor), her assistant, Malcolm (Eka Darville), and her lawyer, Jeri (Carrie-Anne Moss). The new episodes have some amusing ideas, such as enrolling Jessica in a court-ordered anger-management class, but laughs are rare in Jessica Jones, which is a problem over the course of the first five episodes made available for review. These early episodes lack a villain as intriguing as David Tennant’s Kilgrave. Jessica’s foes are either ordinary criminals or new characters such as a smarmy rival investigator, Pryce Cheng (Terry Chen). Their byplay tells you a lot about the tone of the new season. When Cheng says, “I never take no for an answer,” Jessica snaps back, “How rape-y of you.” The exchange reminds you that Jessica Jones was a hero for the age of #TimesUp and #MeToo before those movements were born.

Ritter, with her leather jacket and combat boots, personifies righteous rage very well, but even she can’t overcome some of the stilted dialogue and dragging pace of the first few episodes. As conceived by comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis, Jessica is a hard-boiled detective in the tradition of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, flinty and quippy. In the Netflix show, however, Jessica and others frequently speak in a portentous, florid manner. Jessica intones in murmured voice-over narration, “Maybe I am a freak, but someone made me this way.” At another point, a guy asks Jessica, “What’s wrong with you?” and she says, “What isn’t?” People around her refer to her more than once as a “vigilante superhero,” as though the phrase were part of her name, and any time someone yelps, “You’re a ticking time bomb?” you know they’re trying too hard to convince you that something exciting is about to happen.

Once the opening hour catches us up on Jessica’s past and sets the stage for the new season, there are some good things here. We see more of the friendship between Jessica and Trish, and that’s good because female pals are still a TV rarity. The only silly thing about Trish is that she seems way-out-of-proportion popular for a radio-show host — she’s sort of a cross between NPR’s Terry Gross and AM-radio’s Rush Limbaugh in terms of fame (not politics).

The best moments of the new season are any scene that features the wonderful Janet McTeer as a mysterious new character. I totally buy McTeer as a badass and look forward to more scenes of Ritter and McTeer together: that may be one definition of the phrase “sisterhood is powerful.”

Jessica Jones is streaming now on Netflix.

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