Genre-wise Jessica Jones is a mashup between the superhero and noir genres. When time came to choose between the conventions and traditions of the two, the first season ended up leaning more towards its superhero influences. Despite the hero’s bad choices and the show’s moral complexity, season one had Kilgrave as a clearcut villain – the season’s final arc followed the traditional superhero structure of climbing towards an action set piece.
Season two goes the other way, with morality never being so clearly defined as the final episodes of season one. Some viewers may find this disappointing – while there are compelling villains in season two, none of them are as overtly and undeniably villainous as Kilgrave. Instead the second season has more of a focus on moral complexity.
Jessica begins the season broken and having now killed out of choice, wrestling with the knowledge that she finds it easy to end a life. Anger management plays a big part in the second season, as do the themes of drug addiction, domination and bad parenting. Season one puts a focus on loss of self-control caused by outside manipulators (Kilgrave, Dorothy, Hogarth), while in season two the focus is on loss of self-control from within (anger, addiction, distrust). But the big difference between seasons two and one is that season two leans more heavily into the moral uncertainty, at one point making a persuasive case that Jessica might end up being the villain of this story.
Once again Jeri Hogarth blurs the line between antihero and villain in a way that reminds me of Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes. She’s cold and ruthless, but with a sensitive, broken side – a mirror in the corporate world to Jessica Jones’ working class equivalent. Widely shared leaked shots from on set showed that Kilgrave returns to the show despite his death. My worry going in was that the show would repeat what Heroes did with Sylar, keeping an iconic villain around past the natural end-point to his story. Kilgrave’s appearance is big enough to have an impact but not to stretch credulity.
Season two doesn’t give the audience everything that they might have liked in the first season, but tackles a lot of the same dilemmas from a different angle, and with the same high quality writing and performances. Having just completed my first viewing of season two, I’m not sure which of the two seasons is my favourite, because of the different styles and goals of the stories each tells. While undeniably told with the same tone, in terms of storytelling choices season two zigs where season one zagged – it acts as a sort of companion piece to the first season.
Conclusion: In some ways season two tells a different type of story to season one, but both reach a similar high standard.