Jessica Jones understands that recovering from psychological trauma is often a lifelong process, something marked by countless instances of backsliding and false starts that can make it feel like one might never be whole again. In the Netflix series’ third and final season, the MCU’s favorite nihilist detective is extremely back on her bullshit, which is to say that she’s getting by via the only ways she knows how: drinking, fighting, and doing the occasional bit of heroic vigilante work.
In a lot of ways, it seems like Jessica Jones’ creative team went into this season knowing full well that it’d be the show’s last, and they wanted to return the character to her hard-boiled roots. Season three pulls you right back into Jessica’s morally grey world, and while there’s a certain kind of comfortable familiarity to it all, that familiarity often leads to Jessica Jones’ third outing feeling like the rehashing of a story we’ve already seen.
There’s a moment early in this season when a character mentions Captain America by name in conversation, and while no one in the scene bats an eye, it’s surprising given the lengths that all of Netflix’s Marvel series went to in order to talk about the rest of the MCU without being too explicit. Even though Jessica Jones’ cast of characters is a universe unto itself that we were smack dab in the middle of just last year, significant developments in the larger MCU and changes at Disney/Marvel Studios make this season feel much more like an island, which is both a great and disappointing thing.
Rather than bothering to address Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame, Jessica Jones’ third season picks up relatively soon after its second and drops us into a time in Jessica’s (Krysten Ritter) life when she’s hit rock bottom once more. After watching her adoptive sister Patsy (Rachael Taylor) kill Jessica’s biological mother, someone they both believed to be long dead, Jessica’s on the brink of becoming emotionally unmoored. The only thing really keeping her tethered to the world is her unrelenting personal sense of justice (which also happens to pay the bills, when she’s lucky.)
Through her investigative work, Jessica’s able to tap into the physical and emotional wells of strength she inherited from her mother. As dark as it might sometimes seem from the outside, it’s also a necessary, cathartic release for her; even though she’s always had a small, but loyal, emotional support network, she’s never been great about resisting her natural instincts to alienate people. After two seasons of letting Jessica knock about while literally and subtextually hurting the people she loves, Jessica Jones forces its hero to deal with the consequences of her actions by pushing its other characters into emotional spaces where they’re all more concerned about their own personal struggles.
Despite all of the bullshit Malcolm (Eka Darville) has been through specifically because of his connection to Jessica, his experiences have made him an ideal fixer for Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), whose recent ALS diagnosis has renewed her resolve to get back into the NYC legal scene in a major way. Law within the MCU is in an interesting place since the rise of street-level vigilantes like Jessica, whose exploits have become much more high-profile as a result of people being able to whip out cell phones and capture empowered people doing their thing. For Jessica, this means more attention than ever is being paid to her every move, and a record number of people in need of help search her out because they don’t know who else to turn to. For everyone else, though, superheroes becoming part of everyday life has had a much bigger impact on the way they see the world and conceptualize justice, and that shift is the overarching theme that defines this 13-episode season.
Even though Trish grew up as the traditionally successful sibling of their odd family, the child star always dreamed of being as physically powerful as Jessica. Following the first sign that Malus’ genetic experiments imbued her with enhanced reflexes, Trish finds she’s finally gotten what she wanted. Trish’s transformation into Netflix’s take on Marvel Comics’ Hellcat character comes with all of the emotional turmoil you’d expect from an origin story rooted in a world as gritty as the one in Jessica Jones. But the show is able to keep this telling of her journey fresh by deftly juxtaposing it with Jessica’s, emphasizing how, even though they’ve both got powers now, they’re always going to be fundamentally different people. As steadfast as Jessica is in her belief that she knows the difference between right and wrong, Trish is still in a period of figuring things out because she’s caught between the many lives she’s still trying to live. The two need one another more than ever, but they’re also the people who’ve hurt each other the most, and working through their issues is something that neither of them is particularly well-equipped to do.
Despite Jessica and Trish’s initial desires to avoid each other, the pair are quickly drawn back into one another’s orbit as the season opens, and they slip right back into a comfortable, if tense, rhythm that reflects where their relationship is. Ritter’s Jessica is every bit the world-weary misanthrope she’s always been but it’s grown tougher for her to deny that she’s better off with people like Trish on her side. This season, Taylor brings a new frenetic energy to Trish that reads as an outgrowth of the uncertainty she feels about the new person she’s becoming. In Marvel’s comics, Patsy Walker’s adventures as a superheroine literally take her to Hell at one point. While Jessica Jones doesn’t get quite that supernatural, you can look at the painful journey Trish has been across this season and last as the MCU’s spin on her personal hell.
With David Tennant’s Kilgrave properly out of the way, Jessica Jones introduces newcomer Benjamin Walker as a reimagined version of an obscure character from Marvel’s Daredevil comics who comes into Jessica’s life at a time when she’s pretty much the only person who can keep him safe. Walker’s character gives Jessica a kind of anchor to keep her steady amidst New York City’s treacherous, criminal-infested waters, but he also ends up putting her on a collision course with a new danger she can’t help but want to take on.
All of this is very on-brand for Jessica Jones as a show and for Jessica as a character, so much so that this season has the tendency to feel like something you’ve already seen. In addition to being overly long, Netflix’s Marvel shows have always been rather comfortable leaning into the classic “hero must protect their vulnerable charge” plot lines in moments when they want to illustrate the moral fortitude of their lead characters. In addition to doing that, Jessica Jones also ends up circling back into familiar territory when it comes to her fight against the season’s main villain in a way that often leaves you thinking “the show’s already done this.”
By the end of the 13 episodes, nearly all of the show’s characters have become more crystallized, focused versions of themselves, but it doesn’t quite feel as if they’ve truly evolved the way one might expect to see in a season of cape television. But because the show’s waxing and waning narrative mimics the steps forward and backward someone can take along their path to emotional healing, one could argue that this is entirely intentional and that Jessica Jones isn’t interested in moving onto something new just for the sake of it.
People will have different opinions about the shape Jessica Jones takes this season, and how the series brings its characters’ stories to an end, but what’s almost certain to be universally agreed-upon is that the finale doesn’t feel like a fitting final chapter for Netflix’s Marvel shows. Of course, it’s not Jessica’s job to send off all of the other Defenders and thank them for the memories. She’d never. Rather, she’d probably shrug her shoulders, crack a joke about there being too many streaming services, and wander off to find something else to occupy her time.
Jessica Jones hits Netflix on June 14.
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