Every so often, you come across a season of a television show that’s so generally strong that even the things you don’t particularly like about it are still rather solid. Jessica Jones’ third and final outing is precisely that kind of season.
With a murderous lunatic believing themselves to be righteous on the loose, Jessica hits the pavement this season with every intention of doing what she does best: knocking back a few drinks, knocking out a few teeth, bagging the bad guy, and calling it a day. But Jessica’s world is a different, more complicated place these days where everyone’s borrowed a page out of her book and become much more comfortable enacting justice as they see fit and on their own terms—meaning that for Jess, doing the “right” thing means going toe-to-toe with some of the very same people she loves.
If Carrie-Anne Moss doesn’t get an Emmy nomination for her season three performance it’ll be a travesty.
Jeri was true to character this season, even as it seemed like she was softening. Every move she made was calculated and her failures only instilled in her a greater need to succeed. She’s been growing her own law firm, of which a sizeable chunk of business comes from Rand Enterprises, and uses Malcolm (Eka Darville) as her main investigator. But in trying to reconnect with an old flame, Kith Lyonne (Sarita Choudhury), she sets forth a chain of events that leave her in an even worse place than she started.
Her ALS diagnosis (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) has certainly made Jeri take stock of her life, and her reactions to what her new reality means have been all over the map, from asking Jessica to assist in her suicide to pushing back on home aids and of course, asking her employees to dig up dirt on her romantic rival. But every time you thought she might be making a kind choice for another person, it was always to further her aims. And she sunk to perhaps her lowest-low this season—willingly sending Trish to kill a man.
But saving her ass (and Kith’s) is all that mattered to her and so those bad choices kept flowing. She came face to face with another kind of horror she helped put in the world—when those elevator doors opened revealing a serial killer dead at the hands of a “hero”—and she still couldn’t stop!
Jeri wound up losing anyone who possibly cared about her, Jessica’s small bit of lingering respect, and the Rand account. But perhaps the biggest hit? Jeri’s reality becomes clear once more as Kith exits her life saying, “I know you don’t want to die alone, but you’re going to.” Woof.
One of the more interesting character developments introduced in Jessica Jones’ second season came in the form of her adopted sister Patsy “Trish” Walker (Rachael Taylor) owning up to her understandable jealousy of Jessica’s superpowers, which she viewed as things that both made Jessica strong and gave her a greater purpose in life. While Trish might have enjoyed the traditionally “successful” life in her career, first as a child star and later as a notable radio personality, she always felt as if Jessica’s situation afforded her a kind of freedom that she could never enjoy. And so, when presented with the opportunity to become similarly enhanced by a dangerous procedure, she didn’t hesitate, and by the end of the season, we saw our first glimpse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Hellcat, feline agility and all.
Given the explicitly supernatural route Trish’s journey to herodom takes in Marvel’s comics, how, if at all, Jessica Jones was going to riff on Trish’s Hellcat persona was one of the biggest questions looming over the third season. While this incarnation of the character has gone far off the source material’s beaten path, the evolution she goes through is one of the series’ most fascinating shifts to witness. Despite the fact that Trish has witnessed first hand how her cavalier approach to heroism could inadvertently end up causing her to hurt the people she loves, her arc this season focuses on how she can’t stop herself from wanting to take the law into her own hands, consequences be damned.
Having watched Trish grow over three seasons as she’s crossed paths with more than a few vigilantes, you can see why she relates to the world the way she does. Like Jessica, and the other Defenders, Trish honestly wants to do good in the world and sees her abilities as a license to try and make that happen. But unlike New York’s other empowered individuals, Trish never saw her own greenness as an indication that she might be out of her depth or unqualified for the job, and as the third season progresses, her inability to recognize that about herself warps her into a dark, lethal killer that Jessica barely recognizes.
While Jessica Jones did wonders for introducing a variety of nuanced, multidimensional women heroes to the MCU at a time when they were sorely lacking visibility, the way the show handled its characters of color was objectively awful. Simply by virtue of being near Jessica, men and women of color constantly ended up being put in harm’s way and were often hurt, which would have been fine (this is a cape show after all) were it not for the fact that their pain seemingly existed only to give the show’s white characters the emotional drive to go out and avenge them.
But thankfully, this season saw many of its non-white stars given the chance to portray characters with their own lives and ambitions that took them far enough outside of Jessica’s orbit, where they didn’t have to live in too much fear of ending up in a body bag.
There have always been a handful of other superpowered people who pop up here and there in Netflix’s chunk of the MCU, but they’ve tended to be rather obscure, street-level characters one wouldn’t necessarily expect to see adapted for television. But in introducing its takes on Foolkiller (Jeremy Bobb) and Mind-Wave (Benjamin Walker) this season, Jessica Jones further pushed the idea that people like Jessica are increasingly coming out of the woodwork and becoming known presences in the world in ways that have major impacts on society.
The season opens with Jessica very publicly using her powers while working a case, and while other empowered people might have once tried to make sure that their abilities were never exposed to the public, she doesn’t bat an eye when an onlooker whips out their phone to begin recording and uploading what she’s doing to the internet. That moment itself doesn’t drastically influence the course of this season’s events, but it’s a small bit of world building that establishes just how used to vigilantes and empowered people average folks in the MCU have become, which is a reflection, one imagines, of the increased profiles of heroes like the Avengers, whose adventures have undoubtedly become important parts of the current cultural conversation.
So much of this season focuses on characters, both super and not, defining their own senses of justice. It’s excellent that just because there are more essentially “normal” people who have the potential to become heroes, it doesn’t mean that everyone’s interested in responding to the calling in ways we would traditionally expect from this kind of show.
We loved Malcolm’s progression in season two (after he was completely clear of Killgrave’s manipulations). Sure, he still had a lot of recovery work ahead of him and trading one vice for another, but he was working for Jessica and learning her trade. But after moving on from Alias Investigations, Malcolm makes the choice to work for Jeri. Good for his career? Most definitely. Good for his conscience? Quite the opposite.
The issue with Malcolm’s sliding scale of morally grey choices in season three was we seemed to have missed a chunk of it. When we pick back up with him he’s fairly settled in his job and isn’t saying no to any request Jeri throws at him, because he wants to open his own private investigation office in the near future and needs her money and recommendation to do it. Add to that the pressure of trying to keep up certain appearances for his new girlfriend, Zaya (Tiffany Mack) and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Pretty much everyone else in this show is a screw-up, so we were hoping Malcolm would keep up that forward momentum. Instead, the show has him make some pretty bad choices that weigh heavy on his soul. On the plus side, he does still choose to help others in need (Brianna) so here’s hoping his future running Alias Investigations leads to a brighter future.
While Trish is really the villain whose nefariousness packs the most devastating punch this season, this season of Jessica Jones also spends a fair amount of its first half following Jessica and Trish attempting to take down Greg Salinger, a sociopath with a twisted sense of justice that he lets dictate who he murders. In Marvel’s comics, “Foolkiller,” as he calls himself, is actually the second villain to go by that moniker, but like his predecessor, he likens himself fit to be judge and jury to anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with his ways.
Conceptually, this take on Foolkiller made sense for where Jessica Jones is at narratively, and Bobb brings the character to life with an unhinged steeliness that’s chilling to watch. But at the same time, we’ve all seen countless television shows and films about deranged men who, if they’re being totally honest with themselves, are merely angry at the fact that there are people out there in the world that have things they don’t. Because this season involves so many people embarking on journeys of self-discovery to figure out what it is that makes them powerful, Foolkiller ends up coming across as petty, rather than a truly devastating force to be reckoned with.
The writing has been on the wall for a while now but that didn’t make it any easier. It was the end of the Marvel/Netflix enterprise, yes, but the end of Jessica Jones hit the hardest because it was such a solid season. It wasn’t perfect by any means (quite like Jessica herself), but the show served up some dynamic characterizations and memorable stories.
Knowing the end was coming didn’t take any wind out of its sails either—and with all the supers popping up, it seemed now more than ever that a Heroes for Hire series would have been the next natural step. Instead of continuing any single character’s story, Netflix and Marvel could have continued several, and without the dramatic, over-the-top stakes of the Defenders’ team up. “Normal” heroes going about their “normal” lives, saving “normal” people? We’d watch that in a heartbeat.
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