Despite a nearly three-year hiatus, the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones hit Netflix on International Women’s Day as fired up as ever. The new episodes find the private eye, played with laconic perfection by Krysten Ritter, dredging up secrets from her own past for a change. She’s still very close to her best friend and foster sister, Trish (Rachael Taylor), and still on the verge of firing her eager assistant, Malcolm (Eka Darville). But, as Ritter and series creator Melissa Rosenberg tell it, Jessica’s also poised for some major changes.
The A.V. Club spoke with the Jessica Jones showrunner and star ahead of the season-two premiere about accountability, next steps, and channeling anger on and off screen.
[Spoilers for season two ahead.]
The A.V. Club: Ahead of the season premiere, Melissa Rosenberg said there’s “more rage and heart” this year. What does that mean for someone like Jessica, who’s already pissed off most of the time? How did you channel those two elements in your performance?
Krysten Ritter: This season we’re exploring both of those things. For me, having the kind of material that allows you to do everything—I do like emotional work, where Jessica’s really vulnerable, and then she’s also really funny sometimes and has great comebacks. And then also on top of that there’s stunts and action. For me, it’s an embarrassment of riches. It’s what you hope and wish for when you’re acting. Especially the show that could be long-running, you wanna be challenged and you don’t wanna feel like you’re repeating yourself. So I was so thrilled that this season goes deeper, and there’s so many layers for me to play.
AVC: Early on, Jessica says she can’t ignore her past because it’s “killing” her, but later admits she’s worried that digging into it further will only “make things worse.” What does she mean by that?
KR: I think that Jessica’s really struggling with the fact that she killed Kilgrave. Jessica doesn’t wanna kill people. She’s not a murderer. And I think she’s really struggling with whether or not she is a cold-blooded killer or did the right thing. So I think that Jessica’s just really struggling, and she masks and shoves her feelings down deep, and drinks, and has sex to not confront things. Jessica doesn’t want to look back and fix things. She’s not that kind of girl, she’s not, like, a self-care person. So I think she’s scared. I think she’s terrified. Because in her reality and her day to day, she really struggles.
AVC: In the fourth episode, there’s this great moment where Max, the sleazy director, asks Jessica, “Who the hell do you think you are?” because she’s kind of tossing him around in front of Trish. And her response is just “I’m angry.” It’s simple but powerful and echoes what so many women—people—are thinking right now. What was it like shooting that scene?
KR: At that point Jessica is just angry—she’s been through hell and back. And she hates thinking about what she went through, what Trish went through. She hates thinking of that for young girls that [Max] is taking advantage of. So I think that those things and those injustices of other people hit Jessica to her core and heart. I think that’s where the rage lives, too. It’s like what happened to Trish scratches up this underlying rage that she already carries around. That made those scenes intense to shoot, but it’s dope. I mean, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
AVC: The show has a history of exploring trauma and being a survivor. How do you think it fits into the current cultural moment, with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements?
KR: It’s really uncanny that that’s what our show is about because it’s hard for me to even believe that change is happening. Because I think our show finished [filming] October 1st, and everything started happening with the #MeToo movement maybe in October. So the season was already in the can, and as everything’s coming up I remember at one point Carrie-Anne [Moss] and I texting each other about it like, “Holy shit, can you believe everything that’s going on? This is in our show! What are the fucking chances?”
But I think that, even though it was incidental, it’s exciting because people are angry, and then we have this character who’s a total badass who is basically saying what we’re all feeling. So I think it’s a coincidence—we can’t take credit for anything—but it’s exciting and I think it’s cool.
AVC: We’ve been talking about how Jessica’s heart actually fuels her rage. How does that tie into the progress that’s made? The show feels more hopeful this season, especially when Trish is confronting her abuser and when Jessica starts letting more people in.
KR: Boy, it didn’t feel that way early on. [Laughs.] But it’s different when you’re shooting the show and you’re in production—you spend six, seven months, it’s all broken into pieces. But yeah, I hope that you have moments that are hopeful and there’s some levity. That’s a good thing. Otherwise the show can get really dark.
AVC: What do you hope viewers will take away from the second season?
KR: I love Jessica, and I’m excited to see her back, so I hope that the fans are excited to see her back as well. I think that at the end of the day, we kind of hope—I think we want good things to happen to Jessica, I think we want something good to happen to her. So maybe some personal growth, maybe a win. Hopefully, that’s something they’ll walk away with.
AVC: Was there a particular storyline that you were really eager to introduce this year?
Melissa Rosenberg: Jessica’s origin story. We had developed that way back in season one, a lot of her origin story, because we were just building the character and so we were doing background on her, and so it was a natural place to go in season two, to really bring that to the audience as well.
AVC: How does the introduction of Jessica’s mother, Alisa Jones [played by Janet McTeer], play into that?
MR: Jessica’s question of the season is “Who am I?” which goes down to her very DNA. And that goes to “Am I my mother?” or “Am I my parents?” It’s such a universal question, that sort of identifying with and then separating yourself from your parents. She has an opportunity to do that this season. And being able to work with Janet McTeer—it doesn’t get much better than that. Watching Ritter and McTeer parry in a scene is a master class.
AVC: It’s common in superhero movies and shows to make the villain a kind of distorted mirror image of the hero—the whole “there but for the grace of God.” But that gets even trickier here, because the threat is a parent, someone you don’t want to believe is bad.
MR: Exactly. That to me is just the most interesting kind of storytelling. No character is black and white. It’s all those shades of gray in between, and all the little pieces that make up the whole, and what direction someone takes that in. That is what’s fascinating to me about the human psyche and storytelling.
AVC: You recently said that the writers went to work on season two channeling their frustration over the 2016 presidential election. How did that inform where you took Jessica and Trish?
MR: It expands their emotional life. You’re experiencing that frustration and disappointment as a writer in your own world, and you can see it in your characters as well, and it gives you more insight into your characters.
AVC: When I spoke to Krysten [Ritter], we talked about the moment when Jessica and Trish confront Max together. And that line—“I’m angry”—just speaks volumes to the women watching the show and about the cultural shift we’re experiencing. The show had wrapped before the flood of allegations, but what has it been like having the show be so pertinent to what’s going on in Hollywood right now?
MR: It’s true, we wrote and produced all these episodes before the levees broke. As with season one, same with season two, we never go into the writers’ room thinking, “Here’s this issue I want to attack.” We’re never issues-oriented. I think that when you do that you start standing on a soapbox and getting boring. So, we’re always approaching it from the inside out from the character: “How would this character respond to this experience or that?” And we draw a lot on our personal lives, but we also have to really see what’s true to the character. All of this conversation that’s been happening has been happening for a very, very long time. These conversations just haven’t been as widely heard as it is now, which is a wonderful thing—that the conversation is happening now. But it’s a continuing conversation.
AVC: This season, even though she’s making strides on her own through her talk show, Trish is much more overt in her desire to be a “super” like Jessica. What’s behind that desire?
MR: Trish is a child of abuse, first by her mother and others moving forward. I don’t think this is a person who ever felt safe in her life. She has everything: talent and fame and success and social grace and beauty. She really has it all, but what she doesn’t have that she craves is that power. The power to protect herself, and by extension, others. That early pain drives so much of her story.
AVC: Going back to Alisa, who’s in love with Dr. Karl [played by Callum Keith Rennie]. Early on, that relationship seems to parallel Jessica’s relationship with Kilgrave. But is that really what we’re seeing there?
MR: There’s a little bit of misdirection there, because it really is this love story between the two of them. In building Alisa’s character, we saw her early marriage to Jessica Jones’ father as being frustrating for her. It was a “dream deferred.” Before the experiments and the romance with Dr. Karl, Alisa was frustrated and depressed in her life because it was not fully lived. And then all of this happened and she was made into something that she didn’t choose. Once she accepted who she was, she finally found someone who was her equal in terms of intellect and depth. They just connected, and they have a shared respect for one another. And that’s going to come out. That’s a surprising thing. You think it’s this bad guy like Kilgrave, because you’re in it from Jessica’s point of view, and from her point of view, that’s what she sees. She doesn’t realize that actually her mother has her own agency in this.
AVC: Jessica always has a lot of rage, but this season, she shows she’s capable of switching tacks—she even cooperates with a police investigation. She’s not just angry anymore, as powerful as it is seeing her that way. Are we seeing what comes after anger?
MR: It’s a great observation because this issue around her own anger and rage is about control, and does she have power over herself? Is she controlled, or is she the one who has control? And it’s sort of about owning one’s own power and strength. The journey for her is to get to the other side of that and to be able to, not suppress anger or be cured of anger—that’s never the objective, because it is a motivating factor—but to use it and control it and embrace it.