As a massive fan of the first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, I’d really been looking forward to the second season. JJ2 was always going to struggle to be as refreshingly adult and ground-breaking as JJ1, I knew that. What I hadn’t been prepared for, however, was just how far short JJ2 would fall of the high standards set by JJ1. The second season is disappointingly brattish and so, so tired.
There are a whole host of problems with JJ2. Where to begin? At the beginning, I guess. Okay, we are immediately hit with a lack of continuity, with plot inconsistencies and with massive plot holes. A nerdy and nervous superhero (called The Whizzer) comes to Jessica saying someone is trying to kill him. It’s not clear why anyone would want to kill him. He ends up dead anyway. Jessica tracks down someone who might be the killer (I won’t spoil it for you), but it’s never actually explained and the show promptly gives up on that entire plotline. Then a rival private detective turns up, accuses Jessica of stealing his clients (although we’ve just been told in the previous scene that Jessica has no proper clients to speak of) and tries to buy her out. She tells him to get lost and – apart from a later break-in – he pretty much does. Then Jessica’s side-kick Malcolm is emotionally blackmailed by Trish to ‘fall off the wagon’ and start taking drugs again – he does, freaks out, runs into the night saying he never wants to see her again – and then appears with her in the next episode as if nothing’s happened. It’s all really random, frustrating and, basically put, rubbish.
Unlike in JJ1, there’s no major baddie in JJ2. This means JJ2 lacks a consistent focus, is often aimless and is frequently pointless. There is a lack of true moral dilemma, a lack of mystery, a lack of consequences to actions and a complete lack of moral compass. Many episodes are simple soap operas, full of angst and whining. Where is the sass and humour of the first season? We eventually get some wit in a couple of later episodes because David Tennant turns up as the ghost of Kilgrave from season one. It was as if the writers of season two suddenly realised/accepted things just weren’t working and decided to reboot… except Jessica then declares to Kilgrave that she is stronger than him… and he promptly disappears (as if Tennant suddenly decided he was really needed on far better productions than this one). And that’s that. We return to the self-indulgent flip-flopping of Jessica’s dull origin story. Argggh!
Look, it could be that the writers of JJ2 were trying to do something brave with the traditional superhero format. In refusing to have a big threatening male as baddie, and in populating the show with strong female characters, perhaps they were trying to pull off something very advanced and experimental. Unfortunately, in devoting so much of their energy to this new style of things, they neglected to put enough into getting the basics right. Like a basic plot. Like basic character development (rather than the repetition and restating of things we already know). There is a lot of posing and pouting attempted by Jessica, but without any decent dialogue or depth to things, she just looks like a sulky child. In one episode, she says, ‘When you have dreams, but they don’t come true, they become nightmares.’ Eh? Does that make sense? Not really, cos she’s simply having a car ride with her mum. And Trish’s constant tantrums make her seem like nothing more than a spoilt child. Sheesh. The whole thing is a mess from start to finish.
It’s such a shame. Such a wasted opportunity. And to think I’ll never get those thirteen hours back. A score out of 10? Probably a 5 is fair.
So, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all come together in Marvel’s The Defenders to combat the evil shadow organisation known as The Hand (run by a steely-faced Sigourney Weaver). The first three episodes are tightly plotted and scripted. Even if you haven’t seen the standalone series of each character, you get a decent enough characterisation of each hero to be able to follow what’s going on. And there are jokes and banter along the way (with some decent action sequences).
But then we hit episode four and everything comes to a shuddering halt. Slabs of exposition rain down on us. Every character has to go through some navel-gazing and self-doubt. The tempo of the narrative entirely disappears. Plot progression is hardly discernible. You consider switching the series off.
The already erratic character of Iron Fist then decides to show us just how much of a spoilt brat he really is – petulant, entirely lacking in wit, irrational/illogical and simply a pain in the ass. His ‘weapon’ of a glowing yellow fist looks like radioactive cheese and is well past its sell-by date. We desperately want to see him die so that we can be put out of our viewing misery. And then there’s the biggest problem of all: his plot and power are all based on mysticism and dragons (yes, dragons). The most commonly used phrase (and it’s used several times in every episode) is ‘Now, I know this sounds crazy, but…’
And it is all crazy. Senseless. Meaningless. The Hand are digging a massive hole under New York and it really is the massive hole in this series. A hole into which everything we care about disappears. Shame. The first three episodes were great. But ultimately it all leaves us feeling, like the dragon of this series, dead. The dragon’s fiery heart was ripped out by Iron Fist’s cheesy fist. If you really wanna torture yourself, find it on Netflix. For me, it only scores a 6 out of 10. Ooops. (That being said, die-hard fans of Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Luke Cage might be able to see past Iron Fist’s nonsense and be inclined to rate it as 7 or 8 out of 10.)
So, the much anticipated companion series to Marvel’s Jessica Jones went on UK release on 30 Sept 2016. How does Luke Cage stack up? Well, Luke is of course a very stacked hero, and there’s plenty of opportunity for him to flex those pecs when taking on the gangs of Harlem. Yes, it’s a much more wham-bam series than Jessica Jones, and so pounding most of the time that it inevitably lacks the smooth noir mood of JJ. LC also sacrifices subtlety and nuance for tempo and compulsive viewing. This lack isn’t just in plotting but also in characterisation – and certainly in the first three episodes (as reported by a good number of viewers) it’s hard to give two hoots about LC himself, although things greatly improve from episode 4 onwards.
Clearly, then, LC is far from perfect (and nowhere near as good as JJ for my money), but it’s well worth a watch. The political situation within Harlem is intriguing and twisted, although the larger politics of the series as a piece of art are a tad dodgy (with a Shaft-blacksploitation feel and a very hetero-normative depiction of women). The ‘moral compass’ of the piece shifts around a fair bit, regularly catching the viewer out. And there are enough tricks and quotable lines that you can’t end up loving it (guiltily maybe, but it’s still love). 8 out of 10 from me. Give it a go!