Season two of Marvel’s Jessica Jones yokes, with varying levels of success, good-versus-evil heroics to serious notions about living with trauma. It frames PTSD, mental illness, and survivor’s guilt in relation to superhero tropes, to ask questions about the relationship between power and responsibility and the moral implications of killing. But it occasionally takes on a mechanical quality as it rapidly cycles through characters and storylines defined by the multifold ramifications of psychological scarring. While Jessica Jones coheres around a persistent view of Jessica (Krysten Ritter) and her friends as survivors, the series too often seems content to simply acknowledge the effects of trauma without offering an original argument about treatment or prevention. It inevitably conforms to comic-book convention, and Jessica’s internal strife is overshadowed by her showdown with a super villain.
Throughout the season, Jessica reluctantly plumbs the depths of her memory for details about a shadowy medical company called IGH, which she suspects bestowed super powers upon her while experimenting on her in the weeks after the car crash that left her an orphan. The 20 days that passed between the day of the crash and the first record of her appearing in a city hospital are missing from her memory, and while she’s unwilling or unable to hunt the truth on her own behalf, she eventually does so to protect her friends. A mysterious, super-powered psychopath, also birthed by IGH, is hunting and killing anyone associated with Jones or the hospital itself.
In scenes of Jessica storming out of hypnosis therapy and anger management, or gloomily binge-drinking at her usual Hell’s Kitchen dive, her search for the truth is complemented with examinations of her damaged psyche. Throughout the series, Jessica has always treated her powers like a cross to bear, and in season two she acts as though discovering a nefarious source behind her gifts will finally prove them to be a curse—an example of the show’s ability to tailor typical superhero themes, in this case the balance between power and responsibility, to Jessica’s fraught relationship with her past.
It would be thrilling to see Jessica occasionally embrace her heroic mantle, yet there’s power in how the series remains so invested in truthfully depicting the trauma that’s stayed with her in the wake of Killgrave’s control. Pity, then, that Jessica Jones has a tendency to mine its hero’s stubbornness for expedient plot contrivances. When Jessica stifles her investigation by alienating someone who could help her, or cynically dismisses a potential lead, you may wonder why she’s in this business at all. Just as often, her difficulties are met with overly convenient solutions. Early in the season, Jessica receives an eviction notice from Oscar (J.R. Ramirez), her building’s new superintendent and an amalgam of convenient attributes and skills: He’s a single Latino father with implied undocumented status, good looks, masterful painting skills, and a criminal record for forging documents. His handsomeness eventually makes him a predictable, if complicated, love interest for Jessica, and his painting and forgery are eventually used as convenient solutions to snags in her investigation. The undocumented status, suggested by Oscar’s silence when Jessica presses him about the forgery, adds a level of political relevance that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a mere plot device.
Everyone in Jessica’s life has their own psychological hurdle, as the series envisions an equality of human emotion while working to pinpoint the specific sources of anguish in each of its characters’ lives. The usually steely and ferocious Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), a high-powered New York attorney, faces her mortality after a tragic health diagnosis. Malcolm (Eka Darville), Jessica’s assistant, struggles with a legacy of drug addiction as he seeks approval and attention from his reluctant mentor. Like Jessica, her best friend, Trish (Rachael Taylor), is marked by the cruelty of powerful men: In a particularly relevant twist, we learn that she was abused by a director during her days as a child actor. These stories expand the universe of the series, and form a grim view of Jessica’s world that’s a far cry from the Technicolor-like universe of the character’s big-screen Marvel stablemates. In Jessica Jones, the heroes believably struggle to save themselves.