Well, this is it folks. This is the end of Netflix’s time messing around in the Marvel sandbox. And it’s both oddly fitting and deeply disappointing that the run is ending with the third season of what was once the most surprising and promising of the lot: Jessica Jones. Fitting because, in some ways, Jessica Jones encapsulated all the potential of what Netflix could do with the harder, edgier characters of Marvel’s lower tiers. When it comes to thoughtful examinations of what makes a hero, combined with deep imperfections and the kinds of threats that have nothing to do with saving the world but have everything to do with saving our souls, Jessica Jones set a high bar. And disappointing because, well, the series used up the bulk of its potential in what was a mostly-excellent first season — and didn’t manage to turn things around in these final moments.
And I’m saying “final moments” because while I’m still putting together my thoughts on the season, and series, as a whole, I wanna skip ahead and discuss the finale first. Maybe you’ve already seen it — and if so, great! Or maybe you just wanna have it all spoiled so you don’t have to plow through the other 12 episodes to get there. And if that’s the case, I totally get it. Either way, the good news is that nearly everything interesting about this season is consolidated in the finale anyway, so it’s kind of the perfect short hand. Of course, that’s also the bad news.
So, without further ado… Let’s talk SPOILERS!
About Those Cameos…
There were two. They were unimportant. But, most tellingly, they were both cameos that harkened back to the golden days of the show (i.e. season one). First up is the return of Luke Cage (Mike Colter), looking very dapper in his 3-piece Harlem’s New Bossman suit. The problem is, he turns up at Jessica’s office-partment for a glorified pep talk, and it is absolutely, utterly, painfully unnecessary. It’s actually borderline insulting. You see, Luke has been following the news and seen that Jessica is embroiled in something involving a murdered serial killer AND a separate masked-vigilante, and their discussion basically boils down to: Geez Jess, seems like you’ve got some tough sh*t going on, but you can handle it. I trust you. You can make the hard decisions.
Does he offer to team up and help her with the big pile of dangerous crap she’s dealing with? Does he mention their own rocky former romance, by way bringing some closure to his appearances on her show (and their comics canon)? LOL no, of course not. He literally shows up out of the blue to pat her on the back, talk about that time he landed his own brother in jail, and leaves just as abruptly. Was it nice seeing him? Yes, of course! But it was also peak “Pointless Fan-service” because the scene added nothing beyond that momentary reminder that, technically, all the Netflix shows happened in the same city. He doesn’t impart any new information to Jessica, and worse — his advice is patronizing. She’s been making tough decisions all along, and while she probably needs to trust herself a bit more, she certainly doesn’t need her ex-fling swanning in unannounced to give her that affirmation.
As for the second cameo, it’s better and yet oh-so-much worse. The very last scene of the finale — of the season, the series, and Netflix’s Marvel ventures — brings back David Tennant’s Kilgrave. Not in person, but in voiceover. You see, Jessica had successfully caught the serial killer, only to have her adopted sister Trish (the aforementioned masked vigilante) kill him in police custody. So the finale involves Jessica having to track Trish down and bring her to justice. Which she does! And it’s all so heartbreaking for her that she hands the keys to her business over to Malcolm, packs a bag, and decides to head for Mexico. She’s giving up on being a hero. So she’s standing at the station, ticket in hand, when the lights go purple and that familiar Tennant purr starts up, whispering to her that she’s right to give in, that it’s all someone else’s job now. Affirming that she’s doing the right thing by running away.
Which is obviously the exact kick in the pants Jessica needed to decide to stay. The show closes out with that familiar belligerent Jessica Jones smirk, and it’s almost perfect. Except… why is Jessica’s character growth still predicated on her sticking it to Kilgrave (real or imaginary?)? On the one hand, Kilgrave and his interactions with Jessica have always been one of the highlights of this series, and it tracks that the show would nod to the trauma she experienced with him in its final moments. Even now, he’s still in her head. She can’t forget. She’s still living with a version of him — and that version represents her worst instincts. The only difference is that now she recognizes that voice for what it is, and how to respond (do the opposite of what it tells her). In a season where Trish claimed Jessica needed her as a moral compass, it proves Jessica already has one (albeit a hard-earned, disturbing one). But it also felt like such a throwaway moment, and worse — it undercut the final chance for Jessica to show some agency. She chose to leave, and while that decision felt rushed it’s hardly made up for by a decision to stay just because she realized Kilgrave agreed with her. This, too, is pure fan-service. And insofar as it’s fan-service bringing Kilgrave back into the mix, I’m always there for it. But dammit, it could have been so much more than an afterthought.
The Bad Guy, the Other Bad Guy, and the Not-So-Bad Guy
As you can probably tell, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) was the real Big Bad of the season. Hell, of the entire goddamn series I think! It’s something that we’ve all seen coming since her utter character assassination last season, when she betrayed Malcolm in order to get herself some fancy cat-like reflexes and also, oh yeah, killed Jessica’s mother. So, this season starts out with Jessica understandably not talking to Trish, and Trish training to be a vigilante all on her own. But eventually Jessica is forced to team up with her sister in order to stop Gregory Sallinger (Jeremy Bobb), a seriously pretentious know-it-all murderer. The only problem is, Trish is getting pretty murdery in her own right, so Jessica is constantly pulling double duty trying to protect Trish from her own worst instincts while also stopping the bad guy.
Now, Trish Walker’s turn toward the superpowered was not unexpected. In the comics she’s Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, a long-time heroine who has had her own personal ups and downs through the years — but I don’t believe she’s ever turned into a serial killer. Of course, she’s not the only villain the show has ripped from the comics. Sallinger seems to be based on a minor Marvel villain called Foolkiller (in the comics his name is spelled Salinger), who, uh, kills fools? He was mostly known for tangling with Spider-Man, though recently he joined Deadpool’s Mercs for Money squad. The show upped his intellect, and also made him WAY crazier.
And then there’s Erik Gelden (Benjamin Walker), a character that joined the series this season to play Jessica’s love interest/potential bad guy. He too is based on a character from the comics — a blip of a villain called Mind Wave who had vague ESP powers (and drove an armored vehicle I swear-to-god was called his Think Tank) — but the show does something really interesting with him. Instead of mind powers, he sort of just gets headaches… around evil people. Yup, while Trish is busy parading around in her righteousness, Erik is an actual literal moral compass, pointing out bad guys with every migraine. The thing is, he’s kinda like Jessica — he just wants to drink and get through the day, and in no way does he view his gifts as an obligation to do good in the world. And precisely because he is a sort of morally ambiguous character himself, there’s always a question throughout the season of just how good or bad he might be at any given time. At one point Jessica is accused of killed a dirty cop, and she thinks Erik set her up (he didn’t, and actually Trish killed the cop, because DUH). Erik mostly has good intentions, but makes some bad calls sometimes, such as teaming up with Trish on some of her exploits. But by the finale, he seems to be finally ready to put his powers to good use and actually act as a partner to Jessica… just in time for her to dump him. “You’re a good man, I know that. But I don’t trust you,” is how she puts it. They smile at one another as they part, because there are no hard feelings, and Jessica gives Erik’s name to her detective buddy, Costa, so Erik can use his skills for good and redeem himself without her. In some ways, Jessica sets Erik up to be her replacement as she leaves town… except that we already know she changed her mind about that. And we’ll probably never find out if she and Erik make good on their crazy chemistry now, since the series is over.
Why This Finale Is All You Need:
Look, I’m not saying this season didn’t have it’s highlights (hearing Jeri say “You took my goddamn breath away” to her ex-girlfriend was a personal highpoint for me). And there’s a lot of the journey that isn’t hinted at in this one episode (Jessica lost her spleen! All that nonsense with Malcolm and his job and his girlfriend and that prostitute! And oh yeah, Trish’s mom got murdered!). But ultimately, the finale gives you everything you really need to know about this season. Sallinger has already been killed, which is fine because he was pointless — he was only there to bring Jessica and Trish together, and to serve as an example of exactly the kind of delusional criminal Trish was becoming. Speaking of which: Trish finally reveals the extent to which she’s gone off the rails by trying to kill Jessica. All of the circular conversations between Jessica and Trish about heroism are finally, blessedly stripped away, leaving Trish to realize while in police custody that “I’m the bad guy.” Jeri’s machinations all fail, and she’s left alone. Malcolm seems to have found his true calling. And as for Jessica?
Honestly, I think the show sort of stopped knowing what to do with her character after season one, which is a shame (and something I’m going to write about separately). Krysten Ritter, of course, remains one of the best actors in this whole Netflix/Marvel franchise, and that never changed. Her Jessica Jones is still all crusty exterior surrounding a soft (if slightly bitter) core. The fact that she puts her sister away, and dumps Erik, and leaves Malcolm on his own, leaves her flying solo again — but on her own terms, not as a default. She got her moments with Luke, and with Kilgrave, which were at least ways to point back to the very best that this show ever had to offer. But the fact that the show ends with her standing at the station, literally at a crossroads of leaving and staying, makes sense. She’s always been in flux, running from her past while rooted in her pain, taking slow steps toward growth only to wind up right back where she started. She’s a character that could go anywhere, and ultimately go nowhere. It didn’t have to be that way, of course. But that’s what the show did to her. And now we’ll never know what she did from there.
Header Image Source: Netflix