Even without Kilgrave, Jessica still comes out swinging.
This is a spoiler-free review of Marvel’s Jessica Jones Season 2 premiere, titled “Start at the Beginning.” To see our reviews for every episode of Season 2 as we update them, follow along with our full season binge here.
How do you follow a villain like Kilgrave? David Tennant’s sociopathic Purple Man loomed so large in the freshman season of Jessica Jones, his gravitational pull occasionally left the series feeling as unbalanced as its heroine, holding us captive in anticipation of his next appearance.
So now that he’s gone (or is he?), you can’t help but feel his absence — the black hole at the center of everything, threatening to pull Jessica in. Surprisingly, this works in the show’s favor, at least in the first episode of Season 2. Kilgrave left a mark on Jessica, one that doesn’t disappear just because he’s dead. As Frank Castle had to learn in his own Netflix series a few months ago, vengeance isn’t a shortcut to freedom, it’s just another step down the rabbit hole, until you’re in so deep you forget who you are and what you’re fighting for.
Jessica certainly seems lost when Season 2 opens; she’s gone back to her PI roots because the familiarity of it is reassuring — it’s a role she can play to keep people at a distance, purposefully avoiding any cases that carry a whiff of sentimentality or a hint of the unhinged. She’s clearly still reeling from the fallout of her relationship with Luke, but while other characters namedrop Rand and make vague allusions to other vigilantes, everyone’s studiously avoiding mentioning the events of The Defenders, at least in the opening hour. (Probably for the best.)
In the absence of an immediate antagonist (although the premiere introduces a couple of candidates), Jessica’s main obstacle, as always, is herself — she has plenty of trauma to face and no inclination to face it, but as showrunner Melissa Rosenberg begins to lay out the breadcrumbs of this year’s overarching mystery, it seems like a safe bet that Season 2 will present a journey that’s every bit as personal, and potentially just as traumatic, as Jessica’s confrontation with Kilgrave last season.
Much like Daredevil Season 2 dug deeper into Matt Murdock’s backstory to help us understand the particular pathology of a hero who can’t stop punishing himself, Season 2 of Jessica Jones is positioned to be a similar kind of origin story — although hopefully with less ninjas. Kilgrave may have broken Jessica when he first got his hands on her, but it’s clear that she was damaged long before he found her, and no amount of drinking can hide that reality from someone as smart as our plucky heroine.
Unlike the Season 1 premiere, which ended on a doozy of a cliffhanger that practically demanded you keep binging, it seems like Season 2 of Jessica Jones is prepared to take a more methodical approach, unabashedly leaning into its noir influences.
While every Marvel-Netflix show has suffered from having at least three episodes too many (even The Defenders, which only got eight installments instead of 13 and still managed to feel like it was spinning its wheels), the characters that inhabit Jessica’s corner of New York are so well-drawn and, in contrast to so many superhero properties these days, so fascinatingly complicated, there’s a weight to the interpersonal relationships that is often absent in the mystical kicky-punchery of Iron Fist and Daredevil — meaning that it doesn’t feel like a chore to spend time with these people even when they’re not driving the plot forward.
Of course, that may not hold true if we get several episodes in a row where the show treads water instead of delving deeper into the season’s main story. And fans who found Season 1 a little too ponderous are unlikely to change their minds after watching the sophomore opener, since there’s no proliferation of hallway fights or gunfire that might indicate Jessica’s time with her fellow Defenders has bled into her solo series. (Thank goodness.)
But for those who like to see their comic book detectives doing actual detective work — not to mention a thoughtful examination of the cost of being a “vigilante superhero,” as people keep calling her — Jessica Jones still packs a powerful punch.