JESSICA JONES Season Two debuted mixed (though mostly positive) reviews — many felt the show was still well-written. They even praised the performance of Krysten Ritter as the title character. However, many felt the show lacked the impact of the previous season.

Washington Post critic David Betancourt said the show lacked “shock value” and suffered the loss of Season 1 villain Killgrave. Other critics bemoaned the loss of a central villain, as well as a lack of focus in comparison to the first season. One possible reason came from showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (who also worked on Showtime’s DEXTER) in an interview with ESQUIRE.

“I learned from working on Dexter that you can advance the character, but you never want to cure the character. With Dexter, the moment he felt guilt or accepted that he was ‘bad,’ the show’s over. He’s no longer a sociopath. The equivalent for us would be if Jessica somehow recovered from the damage that had been done to her.”

This statement shows Rosenbergs’ views are in line with a further fundamental problem in JESSICA JONES Season Two — the failure to adapt.

Analyzing DEXTER

Understanding Rosenbergs’ quote requires analyzing its source. This means looking at her previous show, DEXTER. DEXTER (adapted from the books by Jeff Lindsay) told the story of Dexter Morgan, a Miami forensics technician that was secretly a serial killer. He funneled his killer urges into going after guilty murderers the Miami PD was unable to arrest or convict.

Dexter fakes emotion and normal behavior to blend in; he even considered his girlfriend part of his disguise at one point. The series constantly showed Dexter becoming more and more in tune with humanity. He became a husband and father as time went on, yet never lost his need to kill.

This balancing act shows how much Rosenberg’s quote makes sense for DEXTER. The idea of a soulless antihero killer blending into society is rich with possibility. The audience held their breath seeing how close Dexter could fall on either end of the spectrum. Would he abandon his moral code? Would he dive further into human relationships? It was a fascinating idea, that allowed for eight seasons.

Nonetheless, it all hinged on one central concept — Dexter had to keep killing.

Both mediums pushed Dexter, but they never removed his central trait. Dexter integrated more and more into humanity, but he never felt regret. He couldn’t have. Without that central trait, there is no longer anything gripping about his character.

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Both mediums worked by seeing how far Dexter could integrate and adapt while retaining his need to kill and carrying it out. Both were in sync on that central point, and it allowed them to be successful. Rosenberg rightfully understood that and never attempted to cure Dexter during her time on the show. However, that same sync was not achieved with JESSICA JONES.

Analyzing JESSICA JONES Season Two

JESSICA JONES Season One began with a gripping first season that echoed the comics perfectly. The show depicted Jessica as a PSTD suffering, angry woman, drowning pain in alcohol. She struggled to overcome her trauma and the return of her torturer, the mind-controlling Killgrave. The show kept in sync with the basic story and meaning of the comics.

Then JESSICA JONES Season Two arrived.

JESSICA JONES Season Two’s biggest weakness was always going to be following Killgrave. Admittedly, the comics following him tied into the CIVIL WAR storyline, so a straight adaption was out. Rosenberg chose to follow the DEXTER mantra and the show stepped out of sync with the source material. Jessica in the comics evolved and changed as time went on. She attempted multiple superhero identities, only to become a P.I. again.

Her relationship with Luke Cage moved into marriage and eventually parenthood.

 

JESSICA JONES Season Two
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

The show wasn’t required to show all of this, but Rosenberg and Co. knew the material for Jessica’s evolution was there. This wasn’t a character that was dependent on their problem to be interesting. This was someone that had shown the ability to grow and change and be gripping throughout.

Their decision to not evolve Jessica’s character hurt the show in multiple ways. Comic fans, who were aware of Jessica’s entire storyline, saw a character that seemed stuck and unable to change. The treatment indicated the show was less interested in the source material than their own version of Jessica Jones.

It led to questionable moments in the show (Jessica dismissing client claiming superpowers despite her experience in DEFENDERS). These made Jones look foolish, but also made the writers look small-minded and locked in their own world

ARROW’s Mark

Another problem with the writers approach is that it echoed critiques against CW’s ARROW. ARROW received initial success like JONES but began to suffer as the series went on. Many fans point to the fourth season as the show’s worst. Youtuber Ross McIntyre posted a three-part retrospective on the series, and the third part carries some familiar critiques.

McIntyre discusses the death of Laurel Lance (Black Canary) who in the comics, is Green Arrow’s lover and eventual wife. The creators of ARROW introduced her character early on, but also pushed for Green Arrow to peruse Felicity Smoak (who has no relationship with Arrow in the comics). Fans saw this move as the creators rejecting the source material and years of stories to push a relationship they had created.

JESSICA JONES Season Two
Even though THIS is a lot closer to what fans wanted…

JESSICA JONES Season Two didn’t make such a major shift, but they did do the same basic thing. They ignored the source material to create their own version of Jessica and her world. It’s obviously not good for fans, who are aware of that backstory and want it recognized in some form. The situation becomes worse when they echo the practices of a show that angered it’s fans so vehemently. Jones didn’t fail on the same scale as ARROW.

The fact we can compare the two though shows problems in the creative department.

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Too Much, Too Soon

ARROW critiques aside, the lack of evolution in Season Two also echoes talks I had in my own comics shop. Many of the regulars stated that JONES should only get one season since Killgrave is her best-known story. It’s somewhat arguable, but JESSICA JONES Season Two didn’t help. The decision to start with Killgrave made sense.

JESSICA JONES Season Two
I mean, look at him…

He is Jessica’s best-known foe. Ending the season by killing him meant that Jessica’s best story was over. I stated that the comics following Killgrave would not have worked for direct adaption. This put the writers in a difficult position, and it appears they chose to stick with what worked before.

The lesser success of Season 2 shows the writers choice — not only froze the show but hurt its legs. The lack of a central villain became a common complaint from fans and critics. It makes Killgrave look stronger, but also reinforces the idea that he is the yin to Jessica’s yang. Neither work without the other. Going by that logic, the writers burned through the best storyline they could adapt and then found themselves stuck.

The ‘DEXTER’ model of writing failed them and it made the show seem weaker as well as a one season pony.

Adapting for the Future?

Despite my complaints, JESSICA JONES Season Two is not a total failure, or the worst Marvel Netflix season (Cough, IRON FIST, Cough). It did lack the punch of its predecessor. The writers couldn’t create a villain to match Killgrave, and their refusal to evolve Jessica put the show into neutral.

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It shows a lack of understanding on the part of the writers. Dexter was a character defined by his demons and how he could adapt to life changes while sating them. Jessica Jones in the comics was a character defined not by her trauma but her growth and development after it.

That’s a story the writers still can tell, should the series get a renewal. However, it’s also possible Season One was a high we may never get again. In any case, the writers, and Melissa Rosenberg would do well to study the source material before composing Season 3.

One Comment

  1. Richard Pachter

    April 27, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Adapation?

    Reply

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