Poor pacing and bad dialogue knock ‘Jessica Jones’ into a sophomore slump

March 23, 2018

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once the jewel of the comic book-TV show realm, the quality of the Marvel Netflix shows has dropped like a brick. Envisioned as a grittier and more mature take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 13-episode seasons of “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage” were great. They weren’t even the peak: Uploaded in November of 2015, the first season of “Jessica Jones” set the bar for superhero television. Anchored by a winning, character-perfect performance by Krysten Ritter, “Jessica Jones” tackled hefty themes—from PTSD to sexual assault—while telling an intricate and compelling story. Two years ago, it looked as though the Marvel Netflix shows could do no wrong.

Then “Iron Fist” arrived. In my original review, I called it “unwatchable” and concluded that “this show is not for anyone.” Things improved a little bit with “The Defenders,” a team-up between each of the established Marvel Netflix heroes—Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist—but chemistry between three of the four leads (take a wild guess who was the odd one out, his name rhymes with “Brian Mist”) wasn’t enough to overcome a weak and meaningless plot. At the end of the day, “The Defenders” was a disappointment. Most recently, “The Punisher” was released, which I could never bring myself to watch, mostly because I don’t have much interest sympathizing with an ultraviolent white guy wielding an assault rifle he bought legally.

All of this is to say I was a lot less excited for the second season of “Jessica Jones” than I should have been. But the second season of “Jessica Jones” was always going to be a challenge for the creators due to the source material. In the original “Alias” comics (which I highly recommend), Jones was a P.I. as she is on the show, but all of her cases revolved around specific aspects of the Marvel Universe. She was always investigating the seedy underbelly of the bright comic book landscape, from digging up dirt on low-level Avengers to uncovering that Captain America was having an affair. It was only after a few story arcs that the comics revealed Jessica’s tragic past and her history with Kilgrave, the mind-controlling monster who robbed Jessica’s agency for years.

The first season of the show delved headfirst into Jessica’s relationship with Kilgrave, to great effect. Brought to life in a career defining performance from David Tennant, Kilgrave was a highlight in an already superb season of television. The final episode of season one, however, definitively ended his story, which produces a host of problems for the writers. They can’t build season 2 around Kilgrave, nor can they give Jessica the same type of P.I. cases she dealt with in the comics. Unfortunately, the Marvel Netflix shows are always very careful to leave the rest of the MCU untouched. Instead, the focus of this season revolves around Jessica’s origin … which just so happens to be the least interesting facet of her character. Jones has never been compelling because of her powers or where they came from; her appeal has always been her aversion to becoming a superhero despite having these abilities.

But the structural problems don’t end there. The Marvel Netflix shows have always suffered from their 13 episode length, which has always meant that between three and five episodes are nothing but filler. Usually they’re in the middle, but in season 2 of “Jessica Jones,” the first six installments are totally dull. I’ll admit that I enjoyed the first episode because I’d really missed this show, but the writers’ decision to amp up the noir/investigation to 11 made the initial half of the season incredibly boring. Krysten Ritter is still a stunning presence on-screen, but there’s no weight to any of her actions or any promise of an engaging antagonist for her to face. Reviewers of the whole season promised that things would turn around after the halfway point, and there is a surprise reveal that leads into a flashback heavy episode seven (which does show some signs of improvement).

Truth be told, I’ve only been able to view the first seven episodes, but it’s clear that this phase of Jessica’s story isn’t as good as her freshman outing. While season 1 felt bold and original, it feels like much of season 2 is trying to be “Mr. Robot,” from the neo-noir style to the “jaw dropping” twists (the only problem being that I saw the twist coming a mile away). The biggest issue with this season, however, is the dialogue. I don’t remember anything particularly cringeworthy in season 1, but here there’s a lot of terrible voiceover and some awful lines. Especially noteworthy moments include “how far is too far … and will there be a way back?” and “Karma sucks the biggest dick.” This is not “The West Wing.”

I’ll probably end up finishing the season considering that I’ve already put in seven hours, but it’s a bummer that this show couldn’t keep the magic going. If there is a third season of “Jessica Jones” (which looks unlikely, as the partnership between Marvel and Netflix is ending soon), the show will have to find a new focus outside of Jones, and some better writers. As of right now, what was once the standard for superhero drama will have to settle for mediocrity.

Menu Title