Jessica Jones, Season 2
Oh dear oh dear.
Prepare to be bored with questions of dramatic structure. Because the vast majority of problems in Jessica Jones are due to poor structure. (For comparison, Agents of Shield has masterful dramatic structure – though I’ll concede that the dialogue is often clunky).
On the most basic level, I think they were trying to create a mirror of the first season. Despite her desire never to kill again, Jessica ultimately takes that step out of a protective love for Trish. (The season gradually escalates events so that she is boxed into that decision – perhaps too much so, because my goodness, if EVER someone needed killing, Kilgrave did). Season 2 tries something similar with Trish, pushing her to the point where she kills Alissa out of love for Jessica.
However, it doesn’t fully work, for a couple of reasons, some of which may not be obvious.
Remember how I mentioned that one of the biggest problems in Daredevil/Defenders was the show never filling us in as to what Elektra WAS (well, she was the Black Sky, which was…’I one knows what)? There’s a similar problem in how they construct Alissa’s character.
At the start of the season (before we’ve met her), Alissa is extremely threatening – a mysterious, monstrous presence who methodically kills off all the leads in Jessica and Trish’s investigation, apparently stalking Whizzer for weeks on end.
Except, when we finally meet her, Alissa turns out to be basically the Hulk-but-more-murdery. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but doesn’t really square with what is implied by the episodes that go before. Alissa being driven to murder by emotional distress is all well and good, but nothing we are shown indicates that her rage can persist at that level of intensity for the weeks or months it would have taken to stalk Whizzer or track down Kozlov. She simply doesn’t seem capable of that level of calculation.
I mention this, because Alissa becomes a much less threatening character as the show goes on. The more time we spent with Kilgrave the more frightening he became – with Alissa the opposite is true. (If they’d suggested that someone was, for lack of better term, steering her – say Karl – the mismatch would be less jarring, but nothing of the kind is implied).
Jessica killing Kilgrave felt overdetermined – the audience was ready for her to do it at least two episodes before she did – whereas Trish’s decision feels at best undermotivated. Especially because Trish doesn’t see or hear anything to justify her going straight to murder.
There’s a fix for that – have her experiences with HER abusive mother lead her to the conclusion that Alissa simply won’t stop – but again, nothing of the kind is implied. In fact, Trish is mostly unconscious for the final three episodes, meaning we don’t get any hint of the throat process that leads to her killing Alissa, not even retrospectively.
I don’t think that decision is problematic, necessarily, though the show making Alissa such an equivocal threat undermines it quite considerably.
No, for me the big WTF Trish moments were 1) assaulting Malcolm and locking him in the car boot and 2) telling Jessica to kill her recently back from the dead mother.
The other problem with Alissa is that…well, to my mind, villains in superhero stories work best when they pose a Philosophical threat to the hero – thing of Fisk with Matt Murdoch or the Joker with Batman or even Ares with Wonder Woman. They threaten the hero’s core beliefs as well as their physical safety, because being a physical threat isn’t enough. (This is why – in theory – Batman vs Superman could have worked if the execution wasn’t terrible).
But Alissa doesn’t pose that kind of threat to Jessica in any way, though I think she was intended to – Jessica starts the season with a profound moral objection to killing, and nothing she experiences shifts her position in any way. I don’t mean that Jessica SHOULD become comfortable with killing, but that her beliefs should be tested – and they aren’t really at any point.
To be fair, it is suggested that unlike with Kilgrave, Jessica is seriously tempted to take on the role of moral nursemaid – but they don’t go anywhere particularly interesting with it, because Jessica waffles back and forth, without ever seeming to properly think about it.
In conclusion, Alissa’s character is poorly conceived, partly because the writers don’t entirely know what they want her to do, in dramatic terms, and because Trish and Jessica’s arcs revolve entirely around her character, it ends up undermining the whole show.
Other minor observations:
1. RIP Malcolm’s awesome hair. That loss HURT.
2. I really rate Janet McTeer as an actor, and it’s a shame she’s given such a misconstructed character to play. She can join Sigourney Weaver, Christoper Eccleston and Mads Mikklesen in the inadequately used by Marvel club.
3. Why didn’t Jessica call Luke? He is presumably around, and he would almost certainly have been helpful at numerous points. I also think he would have had some very strong opinions on the foolishness of Jessica going on the lamb with her mass-murdering mother. (Maybe that’s WHY he didn’t show up – unlike Malcolm or Trish, Luke cares about Jessica without projecting his personal issues all over her…in which case he might be able to make her listen to him).
4. Not to mention, Claire would have been able to help with that bulletwound…if Jessica had CALLED her.
5. I’m sad the Karen-Trish journalistic partnership of awesome never came to be…though, to be fair, the last thing Karen needs is to be kidnapped/threatened AGAIN (I think we’re at six times now, after the Punisher?)
6. Much like Harry Potter, Jessica’s natural “happy ending” is starting a family of her own, though who knows if that will ever happen.
7. Jeri appears to exist in an entirely different, though I admit reasonably interesting, show.
8. Jessica’s “sad” apartment makes ME sad, because London property prices are so insane, no one I know could afford to rent one even remotely like it.