Season 2 of Marvel’s Jessica Jones is a slow-burn mystery. A very slow-burn mystery. The series continues the Marvel/Netflix tradition of superhero TV shows taking their sweet time getting to the point, perhaps hoping the viewer will be too locked into binge mode to notice five hours have gone by with little in the way of actual story to show for it. Like this past summer’s event series The Defenders, the show is more focused on encouraging the audience to finish the season than it is in making sure the series is as compelling as it can be on an episodic level. As a result, the first five episodes exhibit a rather amorphous shape; they don’t really begin or end, but rather just slowly bleed into one another.
The structure of Marvel’s Netflix seasons has been an issues since Daredevil punched his way onto the streaming service in 2015. Nearly three years later, things haven’t improved much. In some cases, they’ve only gotten worse. The various street-level Marvel series have all struggled to justify their season’s length in one way or another, with most of them falling victim to streaming drift — where a show unnecessarily stretches out its story and, as a result, becomes aimless in an attempt to fill a prescribed episode count. Some, like Iron Fist were pretty much doomed from the start, whereas the other shows mostly felt the effects halfway through, sagging in the middle like an old mattress.
Though not objectively bad like, say, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones season 2 experiences a similar failure to launch during its first five episodes. The cause is a meandering narrative centered occasionally on the mystery of Jessica’s past and how she got her powers. But the first five episodes are also concerned with the ramifications of what happened in season 1, particularly Jessica’s public execution of Killgrave. The result is something of a double-edged sword, as Alias Investigations is suddenly flush with new business, but that potential success makes it the target of Pryce Cheng (Terry Chen) a rival private investigator who’s none too keen about competing for clients against a super-powered woman.
Cheng foolishly engages in some not-so-subtly gendered strong-arm tactics to try and quash the competition, which is essentially like putting a match to Jessica’s already short fuse. As a subplot, Cheng’s move against Alias Investigations brings Carrie-Ann Moss’ Jeri Hogarth and Eka Darville’s Malcolm deeper into the storyline, but, like the character himself, Cheng’s actions serve more as a general irritant rather than a compelling threat. Spread out over the first five hours, Cheng pops up to cause trouble for Jessica or to goad her into causing trouble for herself. His repeated appearances offer diminished returns, though, as Cheng’s methods mostly force him to play a type instead of a character. After the third or fourth time he shows up, complaining about Jessica or calling her a “freak,” the shtick has worn thin.
The character’s inefficacy is partly by design — it’s appealing to watch a stereotypical alpha male get repeatedly owned by a woman — but it’s also partly due to the way in which the show deploys its narrative. Netflix’s all-at-once method of delivering its programming has seeped into the show’s storytelling, eroding the season’s foundational arc and stymying its progression to the point of frustration.
The issue is compounded by the lack of a compelling villain anywhere in the first five episodes of season 2. David Tennant’s Killgrave was creepy and frightening, and he exemplified the narrative’s theme of trauma. But Killgrave did more than offer the series a Big Bad and thematic through line; his presence helped keep the story focused and on track. Though season 2 sees fit to offer up a brand new adversary, one linked to Jessica’s past and who can compete with her on a physical level, the trade off isn’t necessarily in favor of these new episodes. With luck it will be revealed that Jessica Jones is playing the long game, and that the new foe will have a compelling part to play in Jessica’s road to healing from her myriad past traumas. After five episodes, however, there’s little sign that will be the case, as even when an episode focuses on the adversary there’s no real insight into the character or her motivation, which leaves the audience as much in the dark as they were before.
The season’s drifting storyline includes a number of subplots that are carried in and out like so much narrative flotsam and jetsam. The story works to develop interest in Trish and her growing ambitions on a personal and professional level, but the spotty attention paid to her eventually devolves into a series of skits from Bad Decisions Theater. Meanwhile, Jeri’s circumstances change dramatically, leading to another series of poor decisions that cause trouble for her at work. Combined with Jessica’s characteristically prickly demeanor, these subplots do create an interesting through line concerning self-destruction and the various reasons a person might sabotage themselves. But, like the rest of the season so far, that through line is too scattered to have the desired effect.
Since these seasons are so long, there’s still a chance the remainder of the episodes will pick up the pace and develop a more cohesive, compelling story. If that’s the case it certainly would have behooved Netflix to offer critics an opportunity to see that come to light. As it stands, the slow-burn mystery of Jessica Jones season 2 shows all the signs of the series being in the midst of a sophomore slump.