Jessica Jones Season 2: It’s A Slow Burn

Netflix’s Marvel shows have been wildly inconsistent. If you use Jessica Jones Season 2’s first episode as a barometer for whether you should watch the rest of the season, you’re likely to be disappointed. But all you have to do is power through it to get back into the groove with Jessica Jones.

With The Hand finally defeated in last year’s The Defenders, there’s been some hope that Netflix’s Marvel shows will finally be able to move forward. The Punisher did, to a large degree. But Jessica Jones‘s first episode is mired in the character’s–and the show’s–pasts.

Jessica Jones Season 2 sees the titular character, played with a consistent, tired sourness by the still excellent Krysten Ritter, hunting down familiar demons. The opener leans heavily on a moody New York noir vibe that works well, but not much actually happens, and any momentum the show might have had slows to a crawl by the time the “Starting next episode in 5…” appears.

Jessica drinks her feelings and tries to not hit people while Trish (Rachael Taylor) chases leads. Trish wants Jessica to face her past; Jessica contends she already has, by snapping Kilgrave’s neck in Season 1. “Kilgrave isn’t the only ghost inside your head,” Trish replies.

Those ghosts are indeed plentiful. How exactly did Jessica get her powers? What did the mysterious organization IGH do to her? Is the metaphor of Jessica’s parents’ dusty ashes exploding in a violent cloud around her apartment a little too on the nose? The fact that Trish is right doesn’t stop all this naval-gazing from feeling tiresome.

Jessica sees a parade of increasingly ridiculous clients. Malcolm (Eka Darville) tries to keep her focused while she treats him like crap. Trish is stuck in a backward-gazing loop as well, literally donning her child star persona Patsy’s costume at one point. New characters like Terry Chen’s Cheng (a rival PI), J.R. Ramirez (Jess’s suspicious new superintendent), and Hal Ozsan’s Griffin (Trish’s journalist boyfriend) fail to make an impact.

Jessica’s quips still bite. “I never take no for an answer,” Cheng, who wants to absorb Alias Investigations into his larger firm, tells her. “How rapey of you,” Jessica replies. She–and by extension, the show–remains unafraid to push hot buttons. The tone is right, but the story just isn’t there.

Throughout the five episodes sent early to press, though, things steadily improve. A nice little mystery gradually takes shape: Someone is killing people related to IGH’s human experiments, and the danger ramps up as Jessica and Trish dig deeper. Carrie-Anne Moss’s Jeri Hogarth flits in and out of each episode, wrestling with intriguing personal drama (as usual). Jessica begins to experience some actual growth, even being chill to Malcolm toward the end of Season 2’s first five episodes.

Despite a slower opener, there is some momentum after all in Season 2. Jessica is forced to attend anger management. The show addresses prejudice against powered people head on; a black cop calls Jessica “you people” as she grudgingly removes restraining chains from around Jessica’s ankles and wrists. Jessica’s newest neighbor, on the other hand, is a young boy who’s totally enamored with the fantasy that Jessica is a bonafide superhero. Again, it’s not subtle, but it is effective.

If Jessica Jones Season 2 maintains the glacial pace of its first five episodes, it’s going to be tough to stick with it through the whole 13-episode run (please, please cut these seasons down, Netflix). And this season promises to keep looking backward, in Jessica’s story and elsewhere; Trish’s storyline sees her dragged down by her toxic relationship with her mother, the ghost of Patsy still haunting her, and even a sleazy producer from her past who she finally confronts. Other characters from Season 1 pop up here and there, and it’s well known that at least one more is coming later in the season.

Jessica Jones Season 2 doesn’t leap gracefully toward the future, even without the need to build up to The Defenders that previously dragged the entire Netflix Marvel universe down. Even across five whole episodes, it fails to present an intriguing new villain. The show is brooding, taking its time, and obsessing over the past–not unlike its protagonist. In doing so, it does eventually give the sense that it’s building toward something. Whether that culmination is worth the wait, we won’t know until the rest of Jessica Jones Season 2 arrives on Netflix on March 8.

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