This spoiler-free review is based on the first eight episodes of season three.
“You still a hero if nobody thinks you are?” Trish asks Jessica in the first half of Marvel’s Jessica Jones season three. After years of ambivalence about her special powers, and after having lost her mother to her own uncontrollable super-rage, the private eye is reluctantly trying to be the kind of hero her mother envisioned: “someone who gives a shit and does something about it.” Of course, the moment that Jessica decides she wants to give this hero thing a go, every random person with a smartphone is ready to tell her how wrong she is.
While the first two seasons played it closer to the vest with more personal stories, for its swan song the Netflix series expands its narrative scope, placing the notoriously aloof PI squarely into the court of public opinion. With her every move scrutinised on social media, from hunting down a serial killer to slowly letting Trish back into her life, Jessica must decide how beholden she is to the people she’s protecting versus when she should revert to trusting only herself. It’s a natural progression both for this series and in context with the last few years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it sure takes its sweet time getting there.
The first episode picks up a year after the tragic conclusion to last season’s short-lived Jones family reunion, when Trish killed Jessica’s mother to put an end to her rage-filled murder spree. With the two sisters understandably estranged, and Jessica shutting herself off from the rest of her support system, the early episodes put a lot of work into establishing where each member of the ensemble cast is at.
The result is a lot of heavy-handed, on-the-nose dialogue—a shocking overuse of “x is good, y is bad” even for the MCU—until the season settles into a groove by about episode three. Placing the characters at different points on the morality spectrum is fascinating; telling the audience exactly where each person is, less so. To wit: Malcolm, who has spent the last year as a rising star at Hogarth and Associates, is trying to compartmentalise his impulse to do good with the benefits that learning at Jeryn Hogarth’s side can have for his career—making up the time he lost to Kilgrave. But a year is more than enough time to shape someone into a person they don’t recognise.
Which brings us to Trish Walker.
As we saw at the end of last season, “Patsy” got exactly what she wanted: superhuman abilities. But as Trish is learning, through trial-and-error and more control ceded to her mother Dorothy than she’d prefer, a superhero origin story is more than getting injected with a serum and wanting to bring about justice. Rachael Taylor is one of the season’s standout performances, portraying Trish’s odd ease at balancing multiple personas in an entirely new context—one that brings out the recklessness that has exploded many a career rebirth.
Don’t expect to see much of Jess’ sensitive superintendent Oscar this season. He’s been handily written out to make way for a new love interest, Erik. The writers smartly don’t try to set up Erik as some big love for our girl, who’s been burned before. Instead, he’s the kind of fling that perfectly encapsulates the notion of getting close to someone for temporary comfort, knowing that the moment is more important than what might come after.
Without a doubt, this season’s most vital relationship is Jessica and Trish. The latter’s new situation doesn’t so much put the two sisters on an even playing field, as it inverts their dynamic. With her instantly recognisable face, Trish must cultivate an identity predicated on masks and lurking in the shadows, while Jessica gets thrust into the spotlight in increasingly uncomfortable and invasive ways—especially because it’s difficult to be a PI when you can’t get a moment of, well, privacy.
For the first few episodes, Jessica is a surprisingly passive figure compared to the others—at least until Gregory Sallinger, the season’s big bad, sharpens the stakes. In terms of antagonists, the series seems to be moving outward from the most personal (Kilgrave, invading her body and mind) to less so (a mother she hardly recognises) to more impersonal. Sallinger, played with perfect creepiness by Jeremy Bobb (a.k.a. the “I’m the hole where a choice should be” lech from Russian Doll), embodies white male entitlement. As someone inarguably brilliant and ruthless, he regards Jess and other supers as “cheaters” who did nothing to earn their abilities—and he believes that he knows every loophole through which to beat them. While Sallinger’s vendetta can never be as authentically personal as Kilgrave, he still effectively gets under the skin.
The season’s biggest inconsistency (so far, at least) lies in Jeri Hogarth. At times, Carrie-Ann Moss conjures the quiet dignity of last season’s ALS diagnosis, as Jeri learns what the day-to-day of admitting vulnerability actually looks like. A reunion with an old flame taps into her human side, as has every past Hogarth relationship we’ve witnessed. But then at other times the pendulum swings her to a nearly cartoonish level of petty villainy. Hogarth and Associates is her legacy, to be sure, but with the series itself ending, it’s difficult to justify some of Hogarth’s more reprehensible choices.
Then again, that seems to be a theme of this season: haters gonna hate. Jessica Jones looks to be ending its run by raising key questions about justice versus vengeance, morality versus pragmatism, and so forth. It’s strongest when it lets the characters play those out in messy scenarios, rather than try to sum them up in a pithy one-liner.