Available on Netflix
And so it ends. I’m not talking only about Marvel’s Jessica Jones, which burst onto the scene just a few years ago with such a deft deconstruction of the entire superhero genre and its male power fantasies.
No, this final season – for the show was cancelled before the third season was even released – is also the end of that bold collaboration between Marvel and Netflix intended to give us proper grown-up superheroes and quality Netflix programming that also linked up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The collective swan-songs of these ‘Defenders‘ have swerved between the sublime and the turgid. Blind catholic vigilante Daredevil went in a frequently perfect final season. Meanwhile, bulletproof defender of African-American society and culture Luke Cage disappeared in a fun-filled, politically relevant concluding season.
Unfortunately, despite a cracking ending, my former favourite – the rich, cultural-appropriating, martial arts human weapon Iron Fist – went out with a whimper in an almost entirely severely disappointing second season.
Now it’s the turn of the last ‘defender’ – super-strong, super-unmotivated private detective Jessica Jones. But will she deliver a knock-out punch like Daredevil or sulk in a corner like Iron Fist?
Spoilers and the like after the jump, but hopefully not too many.
Jessica Jones – season 3
When last we left our Jessica (Krysten Ritter) at the end of season two, she’d basically had to go through the horror of season one again, dealing with a super-powered adversary who turned out to be her own mum.
Meanwhile, Jessica’s adopted sister Trish (Rachael Taylor) did what was necessary to get rid of the problem, estranging her from Jessica; it also turned out that the slightly dodgy medical experiment that Trish put herself through to get superpowers might well have paid off.
Lastly, Jessica’s detective agency pal/underling Malcolm (Eka Darville) finally gave up on her BS to go to work directly for Jessica’s lawyer client Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Season three opens with Jessica (slightly) more successful than she was before. Malcolm’s got some nice suits, but hates his job, which largely involves rescuing rich people from their own mistakes. Hogarth’s feeling a bit poorly.
And Trish? Well, no one’s sure what’s up with Trish, certainly not her mum Dorothy (Rebecca De Mornay), who’s so worried, she bites the bullet and hires Jessica to find her.
Jessica does find her, but along the way, she comes across a serial killer with a particular dislike of super-powered people (Jeremy Bobb), a man whose super-power is to have headaches (Benjamin Walker) – and a whole bunch of questions about the limits of power.
Power – within and without
Season one of Jessica Jones was a powerful look at power fantasies and the self-imposed need to avoid killing people. David Tennant may be able to command people to do whatever he wants, just with the power of his voice, but do we have the right as people to kill him? And if we do want to kill him, is someone who decides to actually make that happen just as bad? In other words, are superheroes just people with power fantasies?
Unfortunately, such was David Tennant’s powering performance, not only did he cast a shadow over season two to make everything look a bit weaker without him, he also somehow managed to swerve the narrative into being a retread of season one, this time with Jessica’s mum taking his place.
Season three, to its credit, does something different. Instead of musing upon who has the right to kill and to use power, it muses on the limits of power instead. Bobb may be a serial killer, but he’s a regular human being, albeit a supposedly very smart one. Jessica could take him out with a single punch, but in an age when everyone knows about superheroes, particularly Jessica, there’s a prison for them (the Raft) and there’s cameras everywhere, that single punch could end up with her in prison – particularly since Bobb is a lawyer and knows how to play the system.
Frustrating though it may be, Jessica still has to stick to the law. And although never the willing heroine, she continues to be someone who’ll always take that route if she can, rather than exert power.
However, the season mulls on the flipside of male power fantasies – female power fantasies – as well as the need for doubt. Trish, who in the comics is Hellcat, is full of the self-determination and self-belief her mother has filled her with since she was a child. When given superpowers, she decides she can be a good vigilante who only takes on bad people. Even when presented with irrefutable evidence that she’s not doing good, she can’t believe it. Because she’s the good guy, not the bad guy. That’s other people.
Just as Jessica is the heroine because she doesn’t want to be a heroine but is willing to do what it takes to do the right thing, she’s also the heroine because she doubts herself. When she becomes cocky and believes she’s the heroine of the piece, things go wrong, so she reins herself in.
Again, it’s a refreshing antidote not just to standard superhero fare but also a polarised age in which we’re told the only barriers to doing anything we want are a lack of belief in ourselves. Maybe we shouldn’t believe in ourselves, Jessica Jones argues, since that’s the way to pain and the unsafe use of power.
So a super-fiendish serial killer playing a cat and mouse game with a permanently drunk, wisecracking private detective who largely can’t be arsed to do anything, but will get round to doing it eventually. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Sure. The trouble is it never really hits the highs its advertised. Bobb is supposed to be super-smart, with degrees in medicine, chemistry, law and engineering, as well as numerous sporting accolades to his name. He’s the Veronica Cale to Jessica Jones’ Wonder Woman, a man who believes in human beings and their potential for achievement, rather than the superhero ‘cheats’.
Trouble is, he’s as thick as mince. Honestly, every time he did something, I suspected a super-smart trap that never happened. I suspected secret plotters and people with hidden agendas. I suspected bugs and observation points and all manner of gizmos that never came. I hoped for loved ones to be dragged into events and used as human shields through the sheer power of Bobb’s brain.
It wasn’t until the final episode that I was able to let go of my hopes and realise that every single twist I’d suspected was never going to happen.
Which was a bit of a letdown, it has to be said.
Similarly, season three’s investigations of power aren’t that different from season one’s. There aren’t that many sparkling revelations of new wisdom to be had, particularly if you watched Matt and Foggy argue their way around the subject of righteous vigilantism under the Kingpin’s watchful eye in seasons one to three of Daredevil.
Accentuate the positives
All of that said, though, season three may not hit the heights of season one intellectually, but the plotting’s refreshing compared to the tedium of season two’s rehash. There was never a point where I was bored, which in a 13-episode run is almost unheard of these days.
In part, that’s because the show does actually mix up its normal storytelling style. While we’ve had flashbacks before, we’ve not had a flashback episode that explains what was really happening in those odd throwaway moments in previous episodes, for example.
It’s also funny, as well as a decent character piece. The action scenes aren’t especially thrilling – although Trish’s fights are decently balletic, Jessica’s are like Luke Cage’s in being tank-like demonstrations of physical superiority – but Jessica Jones is more interested in people, their feelings and what makes them who they are. Here, it does good work with its protagonists, even if it can’t quite work out what makes its antagonist tick.
Over the episodes in the run, you do get a good feel for why its characters are doing what they’re doing. Some of it feels a little pointless, particularly Hogarth’s journey, which feels almost entirely supplementary to the show’s main themes.
But at the end of it, everyone’s been on a journey and you know what sort of place they’ve ended up in and why – as well as how they got to the start of that journey in the first place. In a genre that frequently misses out on character depth, that’s a definite plus.
In the end…
Once again, the show never quite managed to escape David Tennant’s shadow, with the final moments of the show giving us a brief cameo to push Jessica in a completely different direction from the one it looked like she was going to get. What it all means is a bit unclear.
Is Jessica finally going to embrace superheroinedom? Is that Imposter Syndrome finally going to disappear? Is she finally going to love life now that she’s lost everything?
For a season – and indeed series – all about not embracing power, it seems an almost self-contradictory conclusion to have her seize life by the balls. But we’ll probably never know what she does next – any more than that cameo by (spoiler alert) Luke Cage in the final episode told us what he was going to do next.
Still, as a final send-off for both Jessica and the Defenders, season three of Jessica Jones was a fine piece of work, if not the sensational, standing ovation-worthy finale you might have hoped for.
It’s doubtful we’ll ever see these incarnations of these superheroes again. It’s a shame because collectively, they have given us some of the finest televisual superhero moments going, as well as some of the best TV action scenes, of the past few years.
But you never know – the clock’s been ticking for months already so that two year time limit before Disney+ can start making its own shows based on the characters is already shorter than you think. And if Veronica Mars can come back, why not the various Defenders (and let’s not forget The Punisher while we’re about it)?
But even if they don’t, they’ll still be there, in perpetuity, on Netflix. I’m sure I’ll probably rewatch them all at some point – I’m due a sixth viewing of Iron Fist at some point at least, but Daredevil‘s seasons one and three are always worth a repeat viewing, and maybe I was too harsh with season one of Luke Cage, too.
And Jessica Jones? It’ll be hard to think of anyone so naturally Jessica Jones as Krysten Ritter and a show that manages to rip to shred the essential tenets of its own genre so successfully. I’m sure I’ll be back to watch it again.