Netflix's 'Jessica Jones' season three is a solid end to a shaky Marvel experiment

Marvel could use more shows like “Jessica Jones." But it should worry less about seeming serious and focus more on telling the best stories in the best way possible.
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Krysten Ritter and Rachael Taylor in the final season of Marvel's "Jessica Jones" on NetflixCourtesy of Netflix
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By Ani Bundel

When the third season of “Jessica Jones” was greenlighted back in the spring of 2018, no one knew it would be the final installment of the series, let alone the last of the Marvel-Netflix partnership. But a lot has changed in the past year, as Disney’s move to launch its own streaming service makes waves throughout the entertainment landscape. To be fair, the Netflix Marvel-verse could have done much worse than to end with a third and final installment of “Jessica Jones,” considered alongside “Daredevil” to be one of the two best shows of the franchise. And yet, the final season is also a reminder of why the larger group of heroes known as the “Defenders” never completely gelled. It’s a great ending to Jessica’s story — but for everyone else, not so much.

The Netflix Marvel-verse could have done much worse than to end with a third and final installment of “Jessica Jones.”

It also still suffers from all the problems that have plagued these Marvel stories from the beginning. When Marvel and Netflix first made the deal to bring them to the small screen in 2013, series such as “The Walking Dead” and “Mad Men” were thrilling audiences and critics alike with 13-episode seasons. Meanwhile, the interconnected universe of Marvel’s big screen was a Hollywood sensation, with “The Avengers” crossover breaking box office records.

Marvel (and Netflix) wanted to follow suit, but it quickly became clear that 13-episode seasons were too long for the Marvel stories. Writers were scrambling to come up with enough plot to fill the space, oftentimes changing antagonists halfway through. Out of the six different series that would eventually make up the Netflix-Marvel world, the first season of “Jessica Jones” was the only iteration that didn’t rely on this trick. Season two was not so lucky, and neither is season three.

But unlike its peers, “Jessica Jones” has the acting chops with star Krysten Ritter and emotional depth to counter this so-called Netflix bloat. In season three, it’s the idea that Jessica’s nemeses are always the people she loves the most. Building off of Jessica’s deep reluctance to be considered a superhero in season one, and the loss of her mother in season two, season three begins with adopted sister Trish (Rachel Taylor), who has become her own powered vigilante, albeit one with a different, more careless set of rules. The two are forced to team up when a serial killer Gregory Sallinger (Jeremy Bobb) accidentally crosses Jessica’s path, and becomes obsessed with her.

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If a mad man stalking Jones sounds a little too much like season one, don’t worry, the similarities are mostly cosmetic. Unlike David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Sallinger turns this into a fight against “Social Justice Warrior Women” who are using their superpowers to harass helpless men, a new and different take on how women cannot win in the public eye. (And the show’s willingness to stick to this theme is a smart choice.)

From the beginning, this story of Sallinger will clearly not fill a full 13-episode arc. So the show introduces a new complication: superpowered sibling rivalries.

But from the beginning, this story of Sallinger will clearly not fill a full 13-episode arc. So the show introduces a new complication: superpowered sibling rivalries. Perhaps inevitably, Trish and Jessica ultimately become enemies, each seeing themselves as the hero of the tale.

Stories about superpowered women have always been at the heart of the series, so it makes sense that the show would return to this theme at the end. Marvel generally seems to consider these relationships too casual for the big screen; the stakes aren’t high enough, the threat to the world isn’t masculine enough. But though these conflicts may not be threatening global genocide, the emotional fallout is arguably higher and more gut-wrenching.

If only the show could’ve committed to one storyline. Condensed down, the center of this final season should probably run about eight hours. The unnecessarily extended season results in meandering tangents and an over-reliance on extended flashbacks.

Moreover, this semi-muddled, intimate portrait of the superhero as an imperfect woman doesn’t have much of a connection to the rest of the Defenders crew. Making an interconnected universe requires making a lot of moving pieces get in sync with each other. It also means individual stories can’t focus inwards like this because of the need to stretch beyond their own boundaries. Both “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” were (often) great precisely because they turned inward, but what made them great also made them terrible choices to turn into a large crossover franchise.

Marvel could use more shows like “Jessica Jones” as it relaunches on streaming via Disney+ and Hulu. But next time, it should worry less about seeming serious, or cool, and focus more on telling the best stories in the best way possible.