Spoiler warning for all of Jessica Jones Season 2 below.
I think we can all come out of Jessica Jones’ second season agreeing that it really sucks to be Jessica Jones. (Although it does give Krysten Ritter the chance to play the hell out of the role). The atrocities that she details in her anger management class only scratch the surface of her tribulations, thanks to a strange but ultimately effective twist at the end of Episode 6. What made Jessica Jones Season 1 so affecting was that Jessica was fighting both an actual villain and the PTSD caused by him. He — Kilgrave — does make an appearance in Season 2 (Episode 11, where it reminded me just how much the show really misses him and David Tenant), but he was mostly replaced by a new ghost from Jessica’s past: her mother.
Yes, the meat-faced uber monster that lurked around the first five episodes of Season 2 as a kind of id version of Jessica (stronger, angrier, a true killer) turned out to not just be a metaphorical comparison but a familial one. And like Jessica, her mother Alisa (a terrifying Janet McTier) was being controlled by a man who made her a killer. She wasn’t mind controlled in the way Jessica was with Kilgrave (when she was forced to kill Luke Cage’s wife), but Alisa’s relationship with Dr. Malus is in no way a healthy one. Even if you can forgive him in some way, it was his influence and corruption of her DNA that made her into a death machine (RIP Whizzer). Jessica has to come to terms with that, along with the revelation that her mother killed her boyfriend (who was a lil skeezy but didn’t deserve to die in an ally). And just as she starts to process having her mother back in her life, her best friend and sister murders Alisa. Things are complicated. But most importantly, they’re personal.
The twist of the monster being Mrs. Jones was both highly soap operatic and very comic book-y (even though it was not lifted from any Jessica Jones comic), but I think ultimately it worked. It took me a few episodes to really be sold on the choice, but all of the scientific mumbo jumbo aside for how this happened, the conflict came down to Jessica choosing between her two natures, rather than a question of family loyalty. Alisa was almost like the Mr. Robot version of Jessica’s Elliot, a fused force within her that pushed towards chaos and death. Even though her mother claimed to have altruistic desires in the end, the show proved over and over again that she could never control herself or be controlled. For Jessica, it was the example of a choice that she has to make regarding power and control, and does make, over and over again in the series.
All of this tragedy and horror led to a truth that Jessica has been struggling with for 26 episodes (plus The Defenders). What does it mean to be a hero, and is she one? And if so, how does she define that and reconcile it with her daily life? In the first few episodes of Season 2, she was plagued with the thought that she had become a murderer, something that returns once she does kill her mother’s abusive guard (and Kilgrave returns to egg her on). But the show also makes sure that the people Jessica fights or has killed while not until Kilgrave’s control are really awful. It tried absolving Alisa a little bit in this way too by showing a trigger for her wanting to kill Stirling (thinking he was “pimping Jessica out.”) But it complicates their path to absolution in the wrong ways — the point is not to give them righteous justification for wrong choices, but to explore the consequences of doing what’s right.
For Jessica, that manifested the most clearly in her relationship with Oscar and his son Vido. Letting down her walls to be honest and even vulnerable with him was an important step in making those right choices and having a reason to want to. The power of Episode 7 (the flashback episode) was not just in connecting Alisa to Jessica’s story, but seeing what Jessica was like before Kilgrave. Her relationship with Stirling was essentially happy and carefree, and it showed that Jessica has been molded by, but not broken by, the string of extraordinarily awful things that have happened to her. The bravest thing she achieves, in the end, is a willingness to still not let herself be broken, but to hold on to that part of her that sees hope and love.
That’s not an easy thing with your “sister” kills your mother at the site of your childhood happiness, but such is the life of Jessica Jones.
As for the rest of the cast, Malcolm, Trish, and Jeri Hogarth all had much more to do in this season than they did previously, but it didn’t always work. Malcolm’s story was by far the most compelling, as the former addict worked hard to not just impress Jessica but to keep himself busy and sober. His ultimate alliance with Cheng and going to work with Hogarth surely won’t last, though. As foul-mouthed and abusive as Jessica can be as am employer, she has a strong moral code. Cheng doesn’t, and that’s something that Malcolm might not be able to stomach.