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'Jessica Jones' Returns, Her Rage Especially Resonant In The #MeToo Era

Mar 8, 2018
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Today, Netflix started streaming all 13 episodes of Season 2 of "Jessica Jones," one of several Netflix dramas based on characters from the Marvel Comics universe. The first season of "Jessica Jones" premiered back in 2015. Our TV critic David Bianculli says it stood out then as a very mature and dark superhero series and stands out even more today. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Back in the day, some three years ago, when Netflix would unveil a new original series every few months rather than carpet bomb them on a weekly basis, "Jessica Jones" got and deserved a lot of attention. It was based on a comic book series for Marvel called "Alias" - no relation to the Jennifer Garner spy series - and starred Krysten Ritter, who had been so unforgettably intense on "Breaking Bad" as Jesse Pinkman's junkie girlfriend. In "Jessica Jones," she played a woman who had super strength and other abilities but didn't really want them. She never wore a costume and preferred to get drunk alone rather than patrol the streets of New York looking for evil.

For all of Season 1, she battled a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. She had been apprehended and played with like a puppet for months by a powerful mutant named Kilgrave who had the ability to control her thoughts and actions with his mind. When she finally broke free from his sinister clutches, he turned his powers on her sister Trish. And that's when, at the end of Season 1, she found a way to get close enough to kill him. Krysten Ritter and "Jessica Jones" resurfaced last year in "The Defenders" as one of several Marvel Comics heroes and Netflix TV series characters teamed for a special mini-series. Ritter as Jones easily was the best of the bunch.

And now that her character is back for a new season, her anger seems even more focused and correctly placed. "Jessica Jones" always was about a woman who rebelled against conformity and power structures and resented deeply being controlled - literally - by a powerful and amoral man. But for Season 2, in this Me Too era, Jessica's overt anger seems particularly timely and aggressively vocal. Jessica has opened her own low-rent private eye firm, Alias Investigations. And in this scene, Jessica and her assistant Malcolm are visited by a man named Pryce Cheng played by Terry Chen. He has an offer, but she wants no part of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JESSICA JONES")

KRYSTEN RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) So what can I do for you that you can't already do for yourself?

TERRY CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) Nothing. I mean, I have all the resources and support staff a PI needs - nice suite of offices, extensive client list, excellent employee benefits. But having a power person on staff could bring in new clients.

EKA DARVILLE: (As Malcolm Ducasse) You want to hire her?

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) I want to absorb Alias Investigations.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) Why?

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) Cheng Consulting needs to branch out. We want to stay competitive.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) No, thanks.

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) You would have complete autonomy, could take only the cases that are meaningful to you.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) No.

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) Look. You might want to hear the offer before you piss on it.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) You don't want me. You just want to eliminate the competition.

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) I never take no for an answer.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) How rapey (ph) of you.

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) Look. I can't have you siphon off my clientele.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) I don't want your idiot clients. I don't want most of my own.

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) OK. Great. But they want you - right? - because you're a vigilante superhero.

DARVILLE: (As Malcolm Ducasse) I wouldn't call her that.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) Get out.

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) Fine. Can't join them, beat them.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) Oh, is that what you think you're going to do? You think you're going to beat me?

CHEN: (As Pryce Cheng) I'm going to make you realize that working for me is your best option. I always deal with my problems head-on.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) And I always deal with threats head-on, meaning I punch them in the head until they're unconscious. Want to see?

BIANCULLI: As tough as she talks, though, Jessica is in turmoil beneath the surface. Unlike most superhero origin stories, Jessica's source of her powers is a mystery even to her. And solving that mystery, with help from sister Trish, is one of this season's primary storylines. Another is coming to terms with what the evil Kilgrave did to her, as well as what she ultimately did to him, as Jessica reveals in this scene with her sister, played by Rachael Taylor, who is encouraging Jessica to face her past demons and memories.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JESSICA JONES")

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) What if facing it makes me worse? I've already killed someone.

RACHAEL TAYLOR: (As Trish Walker) Kilgrave gave you no choice.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) I snapped his neck, and I felt the pop. And, Trish, it was easy.

TAYLOR: (As Trish Walker) Jess, you're not a killer.

RITTER: (As Jessica Jones) I've killed, ergo, I'm a killer. I don't even know what ergo means, but it sounded right.

BIANCULLI: Melissa Rosenberg, who adapted the "Twilight" stories for the screen and was a producer and head writer on Showtime's "Dexter," has hired a different female director for each of this season's 13 episodes. That might sound like a gimmick. But until Hollywood equalizes its employment opportunities, to me, it's a very clever way to further amplify the show's particularly feminist voice. Rosenberg and her collaborators have crafted "Jessica Jones" in a way that transcends the superhero genre. Ritter plays the part of Jessica with a sullenness of a film noir detective, but in this season, also has a mission overshadowing whatever case she reluctantly takes on. After what happened to her at the hands of a controlling male villain, she's using her strength and her voice to make a difference.

GROSS: David Bianculli is the founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching. His latest book is "The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy To The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific." He reviewed the second season of "Jessica Jones," which just started streaming today on Netflix.

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FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.