Or one of the bad guys, at least. The 13 new episodes of Jessica Jones meander from action scene to chase sequence, with a whole lot of filler in between. What they’re most obviously missing is a Big Bad like Season 1’s Kilgrave (David Tennant), an antagonist who’s both disturbing and charismatic enough to shape a whole season of a television show around. They also suffer from Netflix bloat, the affliction of every other Marvel superhero series on the streaming service, all of which could could prune almost half their running time without sacrificing anything substantial. But Rosenberg made one specific change in the season that stands out: Each of the three potential villains is a woman.
It wasn’t entirely clear until the final episode which character was going to transform into Jessica’s main antagonist, but there were several potential candidates. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), newly diagnosed with ALS, seemed like she might be gunning for superpowered status, given the fragility of her own human body and her always outsized ambitions. I spent most of the early episodes wondering how long it would take Jeri to find the doctor at IGH who “made” Jessica and compel him to fix her. But in the end it was Trish, unwillingly detoxing off a government-issued inhaler, who did just that. Trish’s desperation to be powered had turned into the focal point of the series, pulling her toward vigilante stunts and drug-fueled obsession that put everyone in her orbit at risk. Trish became a monster just as Jessica—learning more about her past and discovering that her mother was still alive—became more human.
The third element in the triad was Alisa Jones (Janet McTeer), a mysterious woman with freakish strength and an estimable array of frizzy wigs who was revealed in the sixth episode to be Jessica’s mother. It was an astonishing reveal that made almost everything that came after it feel anticlimactic. The introduction of Alisa shed some light on Jessica’s origin story as a superhero: how she was revived—after the car crash that killed the rest of her family—by the rogue hippie Dr. Karl Malus (Callum Keith Rennie) and his experimental gene therapy. And how her mother was also brought back from death by Karl, who later became her caregiver, and her husband. But it also shed some light on Jessica as a person. It’s been tempting in previous episodes to attribute Jessica’s worst habits (her slovenliness, her temper) to her status as an orphan, but here was Alisa to point out that she was simply taking after her mother all this time.
As Season 2 proceeded, it pitted Jessica against Alisa, then Trish, and then repeated the cycle. The gamble, which didn’t quite pay off, meant a lack of both narrative momentum and tension, given that neither of the women Jessica was up against, her mother and her best friend, truly seemed to pose a threat to her. But it was a fascinating experiment by Rosenberg. In the first season, she used a superhero show to delve into the ramifications of trauma and the dynamics of abusive relationships, underpinned by superior performances from Ritter and Tennant and their obvious chemistry. In the second, her focus was family instead, and how women are just as likely as men to be distorted by greed, ambition, pride, and power. “You want ratings, power, and stardom,” Jessica tells Trish, scornfully. “Yes, yes, and yes,” Trish replies. “Because those things will help me help people.” But her professions of altruism aren’t remotely persuasive.