Marvel's Jessica Jones finale recap: End of an era
Well, here we all are. After four years, 13 seasons, about 161 total hours of television, and many EW recaps from Chancellor Agard and yours truly, the Marvel-Netflix project comes to an end with this, the final episode of Jessica Jones.
It begins in chaos, of course. The courthouse is in an uproar following Salinger’s brutal elevator execution at the hands of Trish. Jessica tried her hardest to catch this guy the right way so she wouldn’t have to kill him like she did Kilgrave, but in the end she couldn’t overcome the spirit of Dorothy Walker. Trish’s manic grief about her mother’s death served to further internalize the dangerous lessons she’d learned at a young age — if you have a gift, you owe the world to pay it forward; the most important thing in the world is not empathy or compassion but trying to take care of things single-handedly — inspiring her to use her newfound superpowers for murderous vengeance. I never found Salinger to be a particularly interesting villain; his third-rate Hannibal Lecter deadpan schtick always seemed mostly like a plot device to stir the conflict between Jessica, Trish, and Jeri. I didn’t have much use for him as an actual character, so I actually like that the show did away with him in the penultimate installment so the finale could fully explore the emotional wreckage left in his wake.
It’s very interesting that this season of Jessica Jones landed just a month after Daenerys Targaryen burned King’s Landing on Game of Thrones. Back in 2015, when Daenerys was executing slavers in Meereen and Jessica was putting an end to Kilgrave’s superpowered toxic masculinity, they both seemed like pop culture feminist icons. Flash forward a few years later and Daenerys is turning her dragonfire on children while Jessica is trying to help a serial killer evade justice amid a civil war with her closest female friends, who are in turn killing people left and right. In both cases, show creators shockingly brought their characters’ darkest tendencies to the forefront in a way that was thrilling to watch but didn’t always feel supported by the story.
For instance, let’s talk about Jeri Hogarth. Her conversation with Kith in the finale is one of the first times since the beginning of the season that we’ve heard Jeri discuss her ALS diagnosis and impending death. That diagnosis is key to understanding her arc through this season: After a lifetime of ruthless ladder-climbing, Jeri was inspired by the shadow of death to try finding true love with her old flame. But Jeri couldn’t bare the thought of sharing Kith with Peter, even in an open relationship, and decided to destroy her lover’s husband instead. When that went belly-up with Peter’s suicide, Jeri had to make a decision and threw Jessica and Trish under the bus in order to preserve her reputation and legacy (both doubly important, in her eyes, since she herself will be gone soon). Every time a new wrinkle arrived in the situation, Jeri would just double down. We’ve seen her act fiercely and stubbornly in the past, but usually that was in service of clients we sympathized with. Seeing her reinforce her betrayal of Jessica felt a lot like watching Daenerys burn poor people with the same fervor as slavers and rapists. Strong female characters can seem like queens when they’re destroying people we despise, but it turns out morality is more complicated than that.
Earlier in the season, I thought Jeri’s arc was supposed to be a counterweight to Jessica and Trish’s journey. While the two superpowered women were exploring what it actually means to be a hero, I figured Jeri was showing us how easy it is to become a villain, when you let selfish desires and self-preservation take precedence over righteous action. As it turns out, they were all part of the same thing. Trish wanted to be a hero, but when push came to shove and Salinger killed her mom, she decided to pursue a much more aggressive vision of heroism.
Wondering what to do about her friend, Jessica was lucky enough to run into our old friend Luke Cage upon her return from the courthouse. Harlem’s Hero is now wearing a snazzy suit befitting his new role as owner of Harlem’s Paradise (and all that goes with it). After Jessica compliments him on the fashion upgrade, Luke tells her that what she has to do with Trish is going to be hard. He knows from experience, having sent his brother Willis to the Raft at the end of Luke Cage season 1. Luke confesses that it was the hardest thing he ever had to do, but also the right choice. What truly convinces Jessica, though, is Luke’s vote of confidence in her. He says he still trusts her after everything, and implies that he’d be happy to have someone around to take him down when he goes too far — which, given where we left him at the end of Luke Cage season 2, seems inevitable.
It would’ve been nice to see how that dynamic could have played out in further seasons, but this is what we’ve got. Jeri’s last-ditch attempt to smuggle Trish out of New York in a coffin-like container fails when Jessica tracks them down. Trish got the drop on Jessica in most of their battles this season, but this time the P.I. isn’t backing down. She even lets Trish stab her through the hand in order to get close enough to slam her friend into the ground. After watching Trish get sent to the Raft, Jessica flirts with quitting the hero business and buys a ticket for El Paso, the farthest she can think to go. But just as she’s about to leave New York, she hears Kilgrave’s voice in her head — the second season 1 star to make an appearance in this finale. This cameo is very brief, and just audio, but simply getting the sense that Kilgrave would want her to quit is enough reason to stay.
Her friends don’t make out nearly as well. Pretty much every major Jessica Jones character is forced to confront the enormity of their failures in this finale, with a personalized one-liner tell-off each. Jeri finally confesses her fatal diagnosis to Kith, who has little sympathy: “I know you don’t want to die alone, but you’re going to.” When Zaya comes back to Malcolm’s apartment to pick up her things and attempt a possible relationship patch-up, she finds Brianna already moved in. When Brianna professes that Malcolm is a “good guy,” Zaya reproachfully says that “you fooled another one.” As Jessica is fighting Trish, she tells her sister, “Dorothy beat this self-righteous resolve into you. You think you’re avenging her; you’ve become her.” I was astounded by each of those lines. Deflating and damning every character is definitely an interesting note for this series to end on.
Although the Marvel-Netflix cancellations came as a surprise, this project still grew beyond initial expectations. The original plan was for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, culminating in The Defenders. That plan was executed (with both highs and lows), but we also got a second season of each individual hero (and a third in the cases of Matt and Jessica), as well as two bonus seasons of The Punisher — the first of which is one of my favorites of the entire oeuvre.
All in all, not a bad haul.