For a good long while the prestigious mantle of Most Overdone Superhero Story was without a doubt the origin tale. Dead parents, ancient birthrights, Chosen Ones, freak laboratory accidents — after a while people caught on to the fact that all of these were basically following the same formula. We’ve seen Bruce Wayne witness the death of his parents upwards of seven different times. Time for something new! Take the third season of Jessica Jones, a show which gracefully skirted an origin tale in its first season only to backtrack into one for its sophomore outing. Surely the third season of the most unlikely Marvel/Netflix venture must break fresh ground, especially considering that this third season is also the last. Right?
To be fair, it’s more likely than not that Jessica Jones was never intended to conclude after Season 3, what with the collective axing of Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Punisher and any future spinoffs Marvel/Netflix might have had in the oven. Despite the popular rumor that Disney might resurrect some of these properties for their Disney+ platform, that seems doubtful to me. And with the increasing tedium characteristic of each and every one of those shows, maybe that’s a good thing.
Jones probably had farthest to fall. Daredevil was an easy win because of the existence of the Ben Affleck movie, and the introduction of recognizable characters like Kingpin, Punisher, Elektra and Bullseye made that show’s success all the more surefire. But Jones outdid it in the first season, partly due to perfect lead casting (Krysten Ritter) and Marvel’s most interesting villain to date in Killgrave (David Tennant). Above all, the story itself was highly original to the superhero landscape of the time (late 2015). At the end of our original review we wrote:
[T]he fact of Jessica Jones being a television series that exists in a larger universe just doesn’t bode well for the future if we’re talking about real-world commentary that actually matters. The first season definitely had that — but, again, we’ve got to circle around to Daredevil and incorporate Luke Cage and maybe battle Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War alongside the womanizing Tony Stark. What will last from Jessica Jones?
Sure, we were completely wide of the mark about the inclusion of the Netflix “street-level” heroes in the cosmic adventures of the Avengers in Infinity War and Endgame, but the point stands: Jessica Jones was always going to have a hard time living up to that first season.
Still, one’s sympathy dries up quickly when moving through something as rote as Season 3. Jessica’s dialogue has historically been the acerbic bright spot, but she only seems to have retained a fraction of her snark this time around. The rest comes across as superheroes shooting the shit. “So,” Jessica remarks casually after discovering her friend Trish is now enhanced, “I guess Karl’s near-fatal experiment worked.” Later Jessica whips out a flashlight only to have Trish brush it aside, saying “I can see in the dark” as if that’s an obvious character trait, or one that matters at all. It eventually starts to seem like the writers themselves can’t fathom how superhero talk on this “street level” should go, which leads to Trish straight-up Googling “Crime in NYC” before putting on a bandana and running around to kick some ass. That’s how that works, right?
A second problem is in the primary villain, serial killer Gregory Sallinger (Jeremy Bobb). Sallinger is a pretty intimidating presence for a regular, non-superpowered Joe, and part of the point is to provide Jessica an antagonist that she needs to out-think rather than out-punch. It’s a good idea that still fails in execution. There’s something in this villainous recipe about cameras, truth, surveillance, and the power of the public eye, themes that pop up in Sallinger’s machinations and Jessica’s sleuthing, but it never really coalesces into anything tangible.
That’s doubly disappointing in a final season, one which tacks on a Killgrave stinger as if to acknowledge Ye Good Olde Days. Given Sallinger’s mere mortality, Jessica basically never uses her superpowers in her final appearances. When she does power up, it’s as if the character has just remembered oh, yeah, I have amazing superstrength. She has the ability to move cars with her pinky fingers and leap up tall buildings, but in one scene she requires Trish’s saving because she can’t lift a manhole cover off. Even the Public Works guys can do that (real heroes don’t wear capes). And after all that she does fight Sallinger. The mid-season battle between Jessica Jones and this final Big Boss is a wrestling match in a middle-school gymnasium, with a bunch of cheering prepubescents in attendance. The stakes couldn’t be lower.
Maybe an eight- or even six-hour storyline would have served to makes the season more tolerable. Not only does the 13-episode order continue to fail to justify itself (as it has in seasons past of every Marvel/Netflix show), Jones‘s third season shows the same stuff over and over again, entire sequences from Jessica’s POV and then, again, from Trish’s POV. Typically that device is meant to show something we missed the first time around, like in every Guy Ritchie movie ever. But here there’s simply no difference between Jess’s POV and Trish’s, outside of the fact that we eventually see stuff in context of Trish’s day-to-day. We’re essentially treated to a second helping of scenes that were pretty boring in the first place.
If we asked our favorite film and TV superheroes to watch the movies and shows depicting their lives, how would they react? Tony Stark would love every minute and rewind Iron Man to all the parts where he looks cool. Steve Rogers would cringe during Captain America and claim the entire affair as self-serving. If Jessica Jones had to watch the first season of her own show, she’d be drunkenly pissed at how Killgrave could get away with everything he did. If it was the third season, though, she’d probably roll her eyes in boredom and then, if she remembers she has superpowers, maybe smash the TV after an episode or two.
Anybody else need a drink?