Honestly, I think Jessica Jones—as a series — was ill-conceived from the beginning. It puts forth this premise of a hard-boiled private investigator who happens to be superhuman, in a world with many others like her, but she is rarely shown investigating and (following the most annoying trend in serialized drama) the long-form storytelling stretches out material that may work for an episode or two over a dozen. It’s hard to express how exhausting it is to watch, being so hyper-focused on one antagonist over a single season and having so much of the other “action” be…people talking. Incessantly. It all feels like a goddamn stage production instead of a live-action streaming drama involving superhumans.
I couldn’t help but imagine an alternate universe where every episode was self-contained with a case-of-the-week format much like Murder, She Wrote or Columbo. Perhaps it’d lead to other Marvel comicbook characters given an interestingly grounded live-action interpretation, each one either acting as the episode’s antagonist or seeking out Jessica’s help with a problem, while Zebediah Killgrave (who I like to call “The Grapist”) is only mentioned in passing before making an appearance in a season finale. That would’ve actually kept my interest, as opposed to suffering through another attempt to make the lightning that is Game of Thrones’ format strike twice (seriously, stop it already).
The third season doesn’t change the formula — it’s more of the same.
Though the grounded approach is appreciated, a refreshing contrast to the empty bombast of many Marvel films, it’s almost come to the point where a lot of the material — even when based on superhero comics — is almost indistinguishable from a typical procedural crime drama (albeit with very little procedure involved). It’s not that I want Rachael Taylor to wear an outfit slavishly faithful to her comicbook counterpart (even the show acknowledges how impractical and silly it’d be) but, like, just call her “Hellcat” once. Anything that shows some kind of acknowledgment of its comicbook origins than disdainful of them.
Would you believe me if I told you that Gregory Sallinger and Erik Gelden are actually based on comicbook characters? I can’t blame you, if not — I certainly didn’t think they were until I looked it up. It’s almost as if they were entirely new (bland) characters and just had the names of some lesser-knowns from Marvel’s catalog stamped on them afterward. Again, if they were restricted to a single one-off episode, I’d of tolerated it, but they quickly wore out their welcome. Just like Zebediah Kilgrave and Alisa in previous seasons. None of them could really carry an entire season, by themselves, but were forced to due to this rigid adherence to a narrative structure that wasn’t befitting the protagonist or their world.
Though, to be fair, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is comprised largely of characters originally conceived for film and television but has managed to keep my interest through both thick and thin. It’s the farthest thing from perfect — it took a while to get its legs and seasons can be bifurcated in terms of quality, with one half being better than the other — but the show is at least eventful. Even the other Marvel Netflix series like Daredevil, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and Iron Fist had more going on within a single season while having the same long-form storytelling format. More importantly, even if downplayed in presentation, none of them felt as begrudging as Jessica Jones does about its origins. It’s why they have a solid sense of identity than feeling like another anonymous entry in an overcrowded genre of tormented detective stories.
It’s baffling to me that the most interesting plotline running through the season wasn’t Patricia Walker becoming a vigilante, which the series had been building up since the beginning, but Carrie-Anne Moss as Jerri Hogarth trying to reclaim an old flame even if it means ruining her family. Despite being stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which would motivate others to make amends for those they wronged, she acts as if written by Ayn Rand and the most selfish piece of shit imaginable. Her opportunism is practically nihilistic, as she cuts ties to Jessica to defend Salinger as a way to save her law firm from going under or blackmailing Patricia as hired muscle to force someone into a legal agreement.
There’s something intriguing about characters diagnosed with a terminal condition, like Walter White in Breaking Bad, to approach it with amoral abandon than introspective regret. Within our society, it’s often a faux pas to speak ill of someone who may have (say) cancer regardless of their actual behavior — seeing someone like Jerri Hogarth presented as undeserving of anyone’s love or friendship, regardless of how horrible the state of her health, is almost cathartic. That’s not to say that she “deserved” to have such an illness (no one does) but that, when she uses it as an excuse for her terrible behavior, others rightfully call her out on how it isn’t a valid reason to treat others like garbage or to be immune to the consequences of her unethical actions.
Along with Detective Costa, Jerri Hogarth also represents how homosexuality should be portrayed in most media. She’s not dignified but nonetheless feels like an actual human being who isn’t entirely defined by their sexuality, it’s only part of her identity and not one that overshadows every other aspect of her personality. She’s a person who gets what they want yet, whenever attaining it, quickly becomes dissatisfied and looks elsewhere. The season reveals that it didn’t just begin within the first season of the show — but an intrinsic part of her behavior, well before it ever started. She starts off as an unfaithful partner and ends as the worst kind of homewrecker, airing out another person’s dirty laundry to the public and causing them to commit suicide…all because she wanted his wife all to herself, as even being an extramarital tryst in an open marriage wasn’t enough. To paraphrase a character from the film Bad Santa: her soul is dog shit, but it makes her the best character in this season as a result.
Usually, when people speak of a conclusion, they often use the phrase “it ended not with a bang, but a whimper” to evoke disappointment from a lack of impact. For me, Jessica Jones didn’t end with a bang or even a whimper but a yawn or maybe a snore. For all the problems I had with the first season of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, they upped the ante for their second season and the series finale in both manage to be quite exciting. Given it was inevitable that the shows would be canceled due to Disney wanting to take their ball and go home, it’s like the showrunners said “fuck it” and went all out as much as they possibly could. Jessica Jones, being the series to last the longest next to Daredevil, didn’t bother putting in even a third of the effort.
By the time Jessica and Patricia finally go head-to-head, it was too little too late and incredibly lame compared to the other final season smackdowns. The choreography and staging for the whole scene are basic and unimaginative, which doesn’t make the most of Patricia’s newfound cat-like reflexes even when stuck in a tight corridor. Her night vision, though it comes into play, falls flat when the “darkness” that surrounds Jessica isn’t present because the corridor is still dimly lit. It looks so ridiculous and moreso in a show that takes itself so seriously in presentation, which would pass me by in something light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek like Legends of Tomorrow if not being outright amusing.
If I am being as negative as I am, it is only because this show had a ton of potential and wasted it tragically by the end, rather than going out in a blaze of last-minute glory. I don’t hate the show (I’ve seen worse) nor would claim anyone on the crew was lacking in talent (again, I’ve seen worse) — otherwise, I would not have stuck with it from beginning to end just as I did Game of Thrones. Comicbooks are, to me, an art form that has long deserved to be taken as seriously as literature or cinema. I see adaptations like Jessica Jones, along with Daredevil, as a better way of proving that than many of the Marvel movies that only use and further perpetuate the least interesting tropes of the comics they’re based on. I want a version befitting cinema and serialized drama, playing to the strengths of those mediums, than simply a live-action comicbook.
I know Jessica Jones tried, it really did, and the effort is admirable but it would be dishonest to not express that the result was lackluster. I can only hope that Disney — instead of flippantly dismissing the series as some fluke — take notes on what the show did right and apply it to their future streaming series. Ever since Endgame, it feels like the sky’s the limit…
[Originally posted on 7/1/19 @ Medium.com]