Live from Mojoworld — Jessica Jones Season 2 Review
I feel like fans of the skeptical sleuth have been let down by the latest Jessica Jones installment. The sophomore season of the street-level cynic’s solo show ends up being dour, weary and tedious, going out with a whimper not so much as a bang.
For one, there’s a palpable, gaping Kilgrave-shaped hole. David Tennant’s charming, chilling performance as the Purple Man (and the gripping chemistry between protagonist and antagonist) was a fundamental pillar of Jessica Jones season 1. His absence here has left a yawning chasm.
A significant part of the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was Heath Ledger’s enthralling take on the Joker. Sans Kilgrave, Jessica Jones part deux resembles a house without a foundation; like The Dark Knight without the clown prince of crime. Testament to this is Tennant’s single episode cameo. The actor lights up the screen with every manic grin, quip and punchline.
This time round, the focus of the alcoholic private eye’s exploits is none other than her mother – Janet McTeer’s Alisa Jones. A powered detective must come to terms with her powered, psychotic mother. The problem is that this is not a particularly interesting log line to begin with.
The show kicks off with our heroine seeking to unravel the shadowy exploits of a secret science-y cabal. This, again, is not exactly compelling material.
The challenge therefore comes in developing the stakes, heightening the suspense and crafting / developing unique characters. On all of these counts, the show fails to meet expectations. In fact, the stakes seem so low that one almost doesn’t care at all.
Janet McTeer is an accomplished thespian and appears to do what she can with a poor script. There are a few disquieting moments involving Alisa’s quickfire switch from Jekyll to Hyde (and back). The seismic shifts can be quite jarring, which serve to underscore the protean nature of this mother-villain chimaera.
However, for the most part, the character falls flat. It is difficult to sympathise with the elder Jones, who typically comes off as little more than a cold-blooded killer. This leaves little by way of moral dilemma. Alisa is so damaged that only one option appears to be left – the nurse-maiming, cop-butchering, bystander-threatening Frankenstein’s monster must be put down. For this reason, any sympathy that the scriptwriters try to evoke on Jessica’s part seems artificial and, in fact, out of character.
Krysten Ritter also suffers from a lack of good material. The sideways glares and passive aggression only take Jessica so far, and the screenplay is painfully lacking. Without a strong supporting cast, the character almost seems out at sea on many occasions. She does however maintain her natural charisma and wit, and that alone keeps the show barely hanging in there.
As a friend noted, the show doesn’t know if it wants to be a detective series or a family drama. The innumerable melodramatic soap opera moments only undermine any of the little suspense that is built up.
Some of the central issues raised include the struggle against and effects of addiction, as well as the debate over the sanctity of life. The issue is that these matters aren’t dealt with adeptly, and any solemnity or gravitas ends up falling flat.
And that brings us to the series of unfortunate, tiresome, mundane sub-plots and the one dimensional supporting cast.
Simpson is brought back simply so he can die and get the inhaler to Trish.
Pryce Cheng is almost a non-entity. He has hardly any back story or motivation. At one point, we almost forget that he exists. And a sniper rifle-toting reappearance gently reminds us that the character is actually in the show. It also seems like he’s there to stick around so that he can give Malcolm a job at the end.
Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker is a contender for most annoying character in a Marvel Netflix series. She is not merely catty but almost entirely unlikeable. Without David Tennant, it is important for the second lead to hold her own. Trish however comes off as a entitled, spoilt, irrational brat. While the themes around the character involve the concepts of power and addiction, it’s very difficult to sympathise or empathise with her. The drug (or inhaler) addiction isn’t enough to evoke any of that.
In episode 6, Trish inhaling her super drug and then coming on to Malcolm is downright awkward, artificial and pretty random. Her meltdown in episode 9 is also ludicrous and plain sad. The final episode’s hint at her newfound dexterity unfortunately suggests that there may be more of Ms Walker in future. I really wish this (hell)cat would just be kept in the bag.
Malcolm experiences some character development, as he gradually grows into his own. Eka Darville’s general do-gooder sidekick remains fairly likeable. He is however subjected to some unfortunate plot twisting involving the very forced tryst with Trish. That the two characters do not share any chemistry is an understatement.
And then there are the numerous ham-fisted scenes. We have the comical bar fight in episode 3 between JJ and Ma Jones. In fact, almost all the fights scenes (and scenes involving the use of powers) end up looking amateurishly choreographed and cobbled together.
Dr Karl Malus is the fastest injection-dispensing doctor ever. Powered people just don’t seem to see him coming.
The show is often tied together with the most tenuous of causal links and leads. The “wig” lead in episode 4 is quite the amateur job. Jessica identifies from some footage that Alisa is wearing a wig. She then turns up at the first wig shop she can think of and voila! she gets a lead.
The pacing is painfully slow. The uncovering of the IGH conspiracy is split up over multiple ponderous episodes. In terms of flow, the post-production editing fails to result in anything punchy or slick, and it feels as if the creators are squeezing blood from a stone. There just isn’t enough interesting material to stretch out over all the episodes. Because of the languid pacing, any minor suspense has the life choked (very slowly) out of it, and the drama just sort of peters out.
Having said all of that, there were two elements that were, for me, commendable.
The first is Carrie Ann Moss’ Jeryn Hogarth. Jeri’s sub-plot involves her personal struggle with ALS. The various Netflix Defenders series have established her character as one who is centred around the idea of control and autonomy. It is therefore interesting to put that up against a debilitating neurological affliction. It is refreshing to see a more human side of the icy corporate dowager, and her vulnerability adds a new face to the character.
We get a terrific emotional performance from Moss in episode 10, as she breaks down upon realising that she has been duped by Inez and her con-artist boyfriend. The Inez plot-line however has little to no stakes and ends up being painfully pedestrian (although the revenge scene provides some scant satisfaction).
I also found the cinematography to be commendable. The Director of Photography and camera crew offer up a good assortment of well-framed, carefully-crafted shots. From the close-ups to the tracking shots, there’s a decent bit of technical mastery there.
Ultimately though, Jessica Jones season 2 ends up being extremely ponderous, uneventful and dour.
If Alias is to continue in business, there’s some serious internal investigation that needs to be conducted.