Jessica Jones season 2 has a serious villain and story problem
Anybody who enjoyed the debut outing of the acid-tongued, super-powered and somewhat troubled Jessica Jones back in 2015 will have been eagerly awaiting her fully-fledged return. Simply hearing that title music again is a thrill.
Krysten Ritter's shambolic PI is arguably the Marvel TV stable's most compelling protagonist (with The Punisher's Frank Castle a hair's breadth behind). And for the most part, the first season was a gripping thriller that had suspense, conflict and wry comedy in spades.
Unfortunately, though this new season is still strong on humour, sharp of dialogue and packing some potent character work and themes, the overriding plot-line lets it down.
Jessica is every bit as entertaining and compelling a flawed hero as before. But if the first five episodes are anything to go by, season two lacks a central mystery and antagonist worthy of her.
Missing the shocking grip of the first season
When we catch up with Jess - still breaking rules and into places she shouldn't, and seemingly still with only one outfit to her name - she's struggling to get on in a New York that now views her as a violent vigilante. In a world where punching your problems in the face only creates more problems.
Plagued by self-loathing, exacerbated by new, terrible events, the persistence of Trish and the arrival of a strange prospective client compels Jessica to reluctantly begin digging into her own past.
The show is looking back, when it should be moving forward (Photo: Netflix)
So, stop us if you've heard this one before: a character with abilities must delve into their own backstory to confront the shadowy forces that made them this way. As a hook for the driving force of the story, it's a slightly tired and predictable one. There's no big new narrative trail to follow, and it certainly doesn't have the immediate, shocking grip of the first season.
At least when hypnosis starts to unlock some suppressed memories, an inevitable spate of dream sequences and dolly-zoom shots are mercifully short-lived.
The main plot also moves slowly. Much too slowly.
Marvel's Netflix shows often run to a few too many episodes, and this feels like it's no exception.
A giant Kilgrave-shaped hole
The other elephant in the room is the giant Kilgrave shaped hole at the heart of this season.
David Tennant's despicable antagonist in the first Jessica Jones might be one of the best comic book bad guys ever seen on screens; both a terrifying psychological nemesis that reflected Jessica's own past trauma, and a walking metaphor for sexual assault and abusive, controlling relationships.
Kilgrave still haunts characters like Malcolm. And his absence is sorely felt (Photo: Netflix)
His manipulative abilities also led to countless creative and nail-biting scenarios, some of which are recalled with horror by characters this time around. Every mere mention of Kilgrave resonates. His memory is still felt by the characters on screen, and us as an audience. And that absence is definitely felt.
By contrast, the new antagonist gets an ominous slow-burn in terms of reveal, but is ultimately presented as primarily a physical threat - which is far less interesting - even if the drama attempts a thematic, subtextual connection with Jess.
Strong side-stories and characters
Perhaps in recognition of the main story's shortcomings, an abundance of sub-plots are hurled at the screen.
Some of these are more compelling than the central thread (though a couple result in the odd moment of soap-level romantic drama).
Jess has a rival PI, and a new building supervisor to contend with. Carrie-Anne Moss's tough, driven lawyer Jeri gets a whole load of screen-time - as she becomes even more angst-ridden and self-destructive than our hard-bitten PI.
Best friend/adopted sister Trish's celebrity status plays even more prominent a part this time around, as she dodges the paps and plays with fire by inviting her mother back into her life. Recovering addict Malcolm, meanwhile, is taken under Jess's wing as a PI in training.
The new building superintendent and his son are fresh to Jessica's daily routine (Photo: Netflix)
It helps that the existing supporting cast of characters remain strong, even if the new ones - especially Trish's boyfriend - fail to live up to that standard.
The interplay between Jess and Trish is as delightful as ever ("you've often needed protecting from your own vagina") and the series' writing is still very sharp, resulting in some genuinely funny moments and outbursts.
There are also some nice nods to the wider Marvel universe, and the odd returning face - both significant and minor - make welcome re-appearances.
That said, Luke Cage, and his interactions with Jessica, are sorely missed.
On a thematic level, the female characters still battle misogyny and sexism throughout. And the second season - which is being released to coincide with International Women's Day - takes an even more direct and relevant approach to this idea.
The sharks are circling at Jeri's law firm the moment they sense "weakness". A sexual predator of a film director even creeps into the story, resonating with the ongoing showbiz abuse scandal and 'me too' movement.
Jeri is having a very bad time of it this time around (Photo: Netflix)
"I never take no for an answer," a macho business rival informs Jessica at one point.
"How very rapey of you," she responds.
Elsewhere, there are themes of mental illness, self destruction and inner rage, though it's maybe pushing it too far when Jones (in slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion) starts to compare the hostility 'supers' are facing to racism ("you people?").
Ritter remains perfect
Jessica is a brawler, not a martial artist, and though she's not above wielding her fists to get answers, the action remains more sporadic and less of a focal point than in, say, Daredevil.
That in itself is not necessarily an issue; but there are so few fights here that you feel it could have done with a slight injection of adrenaline.
Instead, Jessica is mainly left to do a lot of detecting. And though the driving force of the plot that underpins it falls somewhat flat, it's her character that keeps you watching.
Jess and Trish remain two very good reasons to keep watching (Photo: Netflix)
The alcohol soaked PI's dripping sarcasm and wry cynicism are still very much intact, resulting in frequent bursts of pleasingly withering humour.
Ritter remains perfect for the role; her performance gamely walking the line between chaotic anti-hero and well-meaning, sympathetic lead.
Even when Jessica screws up or lashes out, you - and the small but loyal group of allies she has assembled - are on her side. It's just a shame season two's story doesn't live up to its lead.
Jessica Jones season 2 is available on Netflix from Thursday, March 8
• Have your say on the latest TV with Screen Babble, the television discussion group on Facebook.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews.