After a spate of cancellations, Jessica Jones included, I wasn’t expecting to see another Defenders series, and this final season of Jessica Jones arrived with surprisingly little fanfare. The meta-series hit rocky reception from the back-half of Luke Cage, grew worse through Iron Fist and generally the ensemble piece was… just bad to be honest, I’d started to see a solid beacon of hope afterwards however. The Punisher was a breath of bloody air, Luke Cage’s second season ended on a compelling note, and Daredevil reached a great conclusion, a happy ending with which anyone with even the most bitter tendencies (me) could be satisfied.
So I’m afraid my response to seeing this series was “Oh why?” fully expecting something as disappointing as the second season of Jones to dampen a positive finish.
I was pleasantly surprised, if not entirely satisfied. Let’s get into why.
Jessica herself is fairly bland this time out! Oh sure, she’s still the embittered, sarcastic, alcoholic, superstrong P.I. who’s been put through the proverbial wringer, and she’s fresh from losing the mother she never knew she had to the sister she always thought had her back. It’s made their relationship ever more tense, but this time Jessica is surrounded by people she refuses to call friends, the kid upstairs who has an indestructible affection for her, a new secretary, and the old one living next door working for the old boss whose hard-nut exterior has been softened by illness.
Instead it’s Trish who is falling apart with no one to help her. Her mother is pressuring her back into show business, the long slow crawl back to the top when the truth is that’s simply not her any more. The experiments from last season that turned her into a mini-version of Nuke (Will Simpson) have taken, now she’s just a little too aggressive, a little too angry, detached and determined, and not coping too well with her first ever murder. She’s always been a little irritating, and on that score there’s no change, but at least this time she’s interesting, and we see a whole lot more of Hellcat in her.
And on the subject of characters who’ve become a whole lot more compelling, Malcolm only gets better, and that says a hell of a lot. He’s gone from drug-controlled hostage to Kilgrave, worn down friend, confidante, and enabler, now with a sudden jump to the big leagues, into the office of Jeri Hogarth as an investigator, complete with suit, girlfriend from the office, and a job that’s thrown him into the darker sides of his history, but this time he’s the one in control… after a fashion. Malcolm’s been interesting since day one, and while it may sound like he’s had a bit of an inconsistent run, he may very well have had the best story arc of anyone in the whole Defenders series.
Final major player on the side of right, we have a new love-ish interest, a man with a built-in moral compass that swings towards migraines and internal bleeding when in the company of the morally bankrupt, but as this is a noir story he doesn’t fight for the side of right, he just blackmails the ones in the wrong, making a living off dubious justice. The name Erik Gelden and the powers he possess elude to a very retro supervillain, Mind-Wave but that’s about as far as the similarities lie, fairly forgettable character all told, with apologies to Benjamin Walker who played the role, he was fine.
It’s a morally ambiguous world, although not without clear and unquestionable evil…
The Bad Guy
Central to the conflict is serial killer Gregory Sallinger, who occupies a similar position to many an everyman villain such as Syndrome or the MCU Baron Zemo, acting as an equaliser who captures the faces of people who have cheated their way to the top of the pile, and super-powered individuals are so much worse in his eyes. He makes it a personal mission to take down Jessica after an impromptu stabbing when he was out to get Erik and took out her spleen.
So far as villains across the Defenders go… I’d contentedly put Sallinger at fifth place after Purple, Kingpin, Jigsaw, and one other I’ll come to later. He has the cool, calculating attitude of a really memorable sociopath, cadences from Dexter or One-Hour-Photo in the manipulative, organised and meticulous levels of horror that he presents. The classic foil to the brute-strength style of character, he’s a powerful thinker, perhaps not the master manipulator we see in some other series, but he’s scary enough to ratchet up the stakes for the real villain to show their face, and from here onward:
Trish’s growing psychotic need to live up to her sister gets worse and worse. We saw it begin when she dosed on Simpson’s pills and the inhalers that came after, she’s had a growing anger problem that’s deeply rooted in the abuse she’s suffered and the shadow she was raised under, too accustomed to putting a cheerful front before an increasingly unbalanced mental state, and now she’s stronger, faster, more agile, and can see in the dark. Ok, not the full power complement of her comic-book namesake but still enough to stand toe-to-toe with Jessica in a fight, especially as – despite Trish killing her mother – Jessica doesn’t want to hurt her.
While she’s a mildly annoying character, she may have had the best character arc of every other major player in the series and in the entirety of the Defenders. She’s been the villain that has been built from day one, and it made me so much happier to see this series than any amount of trailers could have done. And yes, I’m putting her above the likes of Madame Gao, and the whole batch of snakes from Luke Cage, whoever Iron Fist was fighting, and even above Jigsaw (they really missed a trick with him in the Punisher) because she has remained consistent since her first appearance.
And While I’m Spoiling Things
A few miscellaneous notes that I can’t categorise but that warrant discussion:
There’s a particular irony when Det. Costa says “There’s strength in numbers” after all the cancellations, all of those potential team-ups that simply will never happen again. We did get to see Luke Cage briefly, would have been nice to know where his narrative was going, it was looking so very promising for a while there and now all we’re getting is a nice little scene with a cool suit and not a lot of contribution to the story. Otherwise the only references to the larger MCU are comments about the Raft and one throwaway Captain America comment.
I’ve got to say that Jessica losing a spleen seems to only be a minor set back, initially it’s set up as a damning weakness, robbing her of the ability to drink or to exhaust her usually high metabolism and endurance, we even get a brief moment of a return of her PTSD, a prime opportunity for Kilgrave to have come back (he gets a line or two at the end, but never mind), but apparently when she realises she wasn’t the intended victim she just gets over it, and goes back to normal. I suppose she’s a lot better adjusted than she used to be, but she went from twitching at every knock at the door and locking it behind her, to… fine, and after so many years of struggling to adjust to various other traumas, it felt a little quick and easy.
But y’know, oh hang on…
Spoilers Over if you haven’t left already, you’re welcome back.
All in all, Jessica Jones season 3 was about as good as we could have hoped for, not quite the glowing highlight of Daredevil’s third season, and certainly not a patch on her first outing, but considering that I went into this expecting to be disappointed, and was pleasantly surprised. It seems almost a shame that they’re now all gone, we’ve been seeing some genuine improvements in the writing quality and narrative direction. I’d have loved to have seen one more series of Luke Cage, perhaps even another Iron Fist, you never know.
It’s not going to make media history in the same way that the big-screen MCU did, it might have been nice to see stronger tie-ins with the small screen components other than the meagre nods and mentions. But it has been fun to watch it all, and I’ve enjoyed reviewing each season as it’s passed, and this has been no exception.