If a door won’t stay closed, build a stronger door.
My favourite thing so far about Season 2 is that Jessica Jones’ toxic relationship with doors continues unabated. If anything, the doors are more significant this time around.
Welcome back to Jessicaland! Each of the Marvel Neflix series has its own visual language which is all the more interesting because they each take place in the same city, with overlapping geography… and yet each of them clearly is set in its own universe.
The universe of Jessica Jones is one of noir angles and shadows, of broken buildings and big glass windows best viewed through a long-lens camera. Our hard-drinking, angry detective is even harder drinking and angrier this time around. She’s lost her taste for pro bono work, and is deliberately choosing clients she doesn’t like so she doesn’t have to care about anything which… is not melding well with her anger issues.
Season 2, Episode 1: “AKA Start At the Beginning”
Written by Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by Anna Foerster
A classic ‘yep he’s cheating on you, now pay me’ case takes an ugly twist when the pizza shop owner assumes that Jessica, infamous now as the super vigilante hero who snapped the neck of that Kilgrave feller who did her wrong, will accept assassination gigs.
JESSICA: A hero would have you arrested for soliciting murder. A vigilante would beat the shit out of you. Now which one am I?
Who indeed is Jessica Jones? She’s struggling with her sense of self post-Kilgrave. She doesn’t want to identify as a killer, and yet she is one now. The whole world knows it. Her sister/BFF Trish talks about it on the radio. Jessica doesn’t want to be a vigilante either, and she sure as hell doesn’t want to be a hero.
Jessica is surrounded by people who think they know who she is, including the few friends she hasn’t yet scared away, and a whole bunch of oddball would-be clients like the paranoid, rambling The Whizzer who keeps trying to convince her he’s (a) a real superhero like her and (b) in deadly danger.
With Kilgrave, the Big Bad of Season One now reduced to a traumatic backstory, Jessica still has one big mystery left in her past. Trish digs it up on her behalf, because Jessica is too busy repressing and drinking to deal with the big question of how she got her powers in the first place, and how this ties into the car accident that killed her birth family.
Trish is caught between two desires: to protect Jessica from her worst demons, and to be taken seriously in her radio career. Having finally been allowed to talk about “something real” with her recent superhero obsession, she’s determined not to slide back into generic infotainment on her radio show, and that means finding a proper news story to dig her teeth into. Jessica’s backstory and the mysterious lab that created her powers is a juicy story, and while Trish claims she won’t use her sister as a stepping stone to make her show more interesting… why else would she be pushing so hard for Jess to find closure at a time when she clearly is at the end of her rope?
Trish and her complicated relationship with Jessica was an integral part of Season 1 and it’s great to see her back at the heart of the story. This one’s All About Trish—we even get a teasing glimpse of her past as a cheesy tween star when she performs her “It’s Patsy” theme tune in a wig and sparkly frock, as a bribe to a fan in exchange for a secret medical file.
While Jessica sinks into despair and melancholy, Trish isn’t the only person trying to bring her back to the land of the living. Self-appointed assistant and perky trainee detective Malcolm (who is looking a lot healthier since kicking the drugs last season) is a burst of sunshine every day, keeping Jess to a schedule and trying to learn from her, Yoda-style.
Fan artists, if you don’t stop what you’re doing right now to draw a sketch of Malcolm wearing a cranky drunk Jessica as a backpack, Yoda-style, then what are you even doing with your life?
Enter Pryce Cheng: a new antagonist for Jessica. He’s handsome and super mean so chances are very high these two are gonna bang at some point this season. Cheng is the shiny new modern face of private investigation (or as he phrases it: risk management), completely in opposition to Jessica’s old school, Raymond Chandler style of drunkenly stalking people and waiting for them to spill their secrets and/or try to kill her.
This handsome streak of arrogance claims he’s going to absorb Alias Investigations into his own business, using Jessica’s superpowers as an extra selling point to his clients… or he’s going to drive her out of business.
Oh, dude. Do not be the rock or the hard place in this scenario.
CHENG: I never take no for an answer.
JESSICA: How rapey of you.
In other news, and to my great concern, there’s an adorable dad-and-son combo moving into the apartment below Jessica’s. You can see the pained expression on her face as she realises that this perfectly nice family are probably gonna get wrecked purely from living in the same building as her.
Seriously, I hope they got a reduction in rent.
Also returning to the show is Jeri Hogarth, suave 90% evil lawyer, who gives a stirring speech about women’s empowerment in the workforce, only to sit at a table with her colleagues and badmouth her former assistant/girlfriend who probably deserved to be sexually harassed because of the outfits she wore around the office.
Oh Jeri. You’re the worst. You’re like, two power suits short of a Weinstein. I am glad to hear that Pam got free and that she’s gonna get a financial settlement after that “incident.”
Not appearing in this episode: Luke Cage. I know he has his own show and all but… we are gonna get some Luke and Jessica content in this season, aren’t we? Don’t tell me. I haven’t looked ahead.
(Jessica and Luke fans, if you haven’t watched The Defenders, Luke and Jessica finally made some peace with each other and got back to being friends, and it’s worth watching for that even if there’s a lot of whiny Iron Fist to mentally edit out. If you haven’t watched Luke Cage… GO DO THAT. I’LL WAIT.)
Back to Trish, who is so concerned about Jessica’s coping strategies that she drags a box of Jess’s family’s ashes out of storage and confronts her with them. Oh, Trish. There is not enough whiskey in the world for this one.
The conversation between them is telling, though, because it brings us back to one of the central themes in Trish and Jessica’s relationship: Trish is not Jessica, but she kind of wants to be. Part of her is deeply envious of the superpower thing, and another part loves playing detective. Considering that we also saw her literally cosplaying as her younger identity in this episode, it has to be asked… who is Trish really, deep down?
Jessica’s conflicted feelings about her powers, her recent history as a killer, and the added bonus of her dead family haunting her dreams again (THANKS TRISH) all comes to a head with another confrontation with the not-as-smooth-as-you-think-you-are-buddy Pryce Cheng, this time in his office.
His office with a lot of glass walls. Yeah. That was never going to end well.
Jessica storms over to confront him about stealing her clients, and to steal one of his. She and Cheng bring out the worst in each other, and he riles her up to the point that she loses control and beats him up.
Even as she’s pounding him, Cheng can’t keep his mouth shut, driving Jessica to greater violence and fury until she—just barely—stops herself. Has Jessica finally met someone more self-destructive than she is?
CHENG: Super… you’re the weakest human being I’ve ever met.
Because Jessica’s world has consequences, she is arrested and put on probation for her assault against Cheng. It turns out he contacted her in the first place on behalf of client Jeri Hogarth, who is unimpressed by him.
Then Whizzer, the sad and vaguely comical fake superhero who has been trying to get Jessica’s attention, turns up again and busts her world open (along with, in a moment of horrific awkward slapstick, the ashes of her dead brother). It turns out that Whizzer is a super after all… a speedster, as it happens. And there is someone trying to kill him… unless that scaffolding fell on him by accident.
Nothing is an accident. Jessica, who has been sleepwalking through most of this episode in a haze of repressed emotions and whiskey fumes, finally starts to care about something again when she fails to save poor tragic Whizzer from the rebar that punctures him.
Fun fact, I have always had a deep phobia of death-by-scaffolding, thanks to reading my Dad’s thriller novel collection at the age of nine. Dick Francis, you have a lot to answer for.
But never mind that. Jessica’s on the case! Now the story can finally get started!
JESSICA: Something happened behind these doors. We were made here. Me, Whizzer… and something else. Whatever it is, the only way to find it is to open the door wider.
COMICS AND CONTINUITY
We get a few sinister glimpses of Wil Traval’s Nuke a couple of times in this episode—Trish spots him at one point but thinks she’s seeing things. Meanwhile, Griffin Sinclair, Trish’s new boyfriend, doesn’t appear to have a Marvel comics origin story which is good because ‘turns evil’ is not a dating pattern anyone wants Trish to repeat.
(If you’re wondering where you know the actor from, and you also watched Dawson’s Creek back in the day, remember that bratty Hollywood director who made Dawson’s life hell in later seasons of Dawson’s Creek? I love that guy.)
Pryce Cheng is another character without apparent connection to the Marvel universe. What’s with all this originality?
Rest assured, The Whizzer at least is a super obscure reference to early Golden & Silver Age Marvel Comics. He got his powers after getting a blood transfusion from a mongoose. Don’t you feel better for knowing that?
There’s a few fleeting references to the Other Shows in the Marvel Netflixiverse, which helps to imply this carries directly on from 2015’s Jessica Jones with very little time passing in between. Every time Jessica refers to hero/vigilante stuff, it brings to mind her adventures on The Defenders, which she is clearly drinking to forget.
Also Jeri Hogarth makes a single reference to Rand Industries which is the absolute maximum amount of Danny Rand who should appear in this show. Or any show.
It’s worth noting that this episode, and apparently all episodes of this season of Jessica Jones, have female writers and directors. Netflix might still only have ONE female-led super series but they are taking that responsibility seriously and making some damn good drama in the process.
(Cough, She-Hulk any time now. Ms Marvel. Hawkeye.)
So last season, I had a regular segment on Jessica’s lack of respect for doors, and/or property damage. And I wondered if I would even be able to carry that on this year.
This episode has so many doors in it, it’s not even funny. Jessica’s opening and closing monologues both use door metaphors, plus we have Malcolm performing actual apartment repairs in the middle of the episode.
There’s also a crucial, not at all subtle moment when Jessica abandons Trish on the roof after an accident, and Trish is left banging futilely on the door, which she can’t open.
TRISH: I’m not strong enough
I wonder if that’s gonna be thematically important?
Tansy Rayner Roberts is a Marvel Comics tragic, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. Tansy’s latest piece of published short fiction is Girl Reporter, a YA superhero novella published by The Book Smugglers. You can find TansyRR on Twitter & Instagram, and sign up for her Author Newsletter.