For the final two episodes of its inaugural season, Jessica Jones (the show, not the character) chucked a good deal of its more nuanced and psychologically based undertones and themes in favor of producing a straight-up action thriller. With Simpson out of the story (for now), Jeri too toxic to be any good to anyone, and Hope dead, there wasn’t a lot left in the story to distract from the main event, the final showdown between Kilgrave and Jessica. Gone (for the most part) were the examinations of post-trauma victimhood and survivors’ stories of stalkings, rapes and physical abuse that gave this series such a distinctive depth. In its place was a two-hour superhero movie. And y’know? With all the buildup both physical and emotional to that final showdown with Kilgrave, we found that going almost all-action for the final act made for a smart and satisfying choice. Sometimes, a girl’s just gotta cape up and accept that she’s a superhero.
In retrospect, this was essentially Jessica’s season-long arc coming to its culmination. We thought her story was about being a survivor and overcoming trauma, but instead, it turned out to be a story of a damaged woman learning to become whole by embracing the heroic instincts she tries so hard to deny and opening up more to the people who care about her. In other words, this was Jessica’s “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” origin story, except her great responsibility turned out to be snapping Kilgrave’s neck. And all of that buildup, all of the sometimes frustrating ways in which he taunted her and she allowed herself to be played with, not to mention the massive pile of bodies he racks up in these final two hours, providing some of the most horrifying imagery of the series so far (Hello, first MCU gay male couple! So sorry about all the blood and violence!), we as audience members were perfectly primed to watch this particular superhero save the city by killing her supervillain. Nuanced? Maybe not, but a viscerally thrilling payoff that was more than earned.
Which isn’t to say things went brainless on us. Or that side characters became pointless. Jessica Jones’ story is as much about accepting her heroism as it is about accepting the people around her, from Trish all the way down to shrieking Robin. As we said, several of the B characters were more or less permanently side-lined, but Jessica had her share of not-sidekicks helping her out and even setting the stage for further stories down the line. Trish of course, proved herself once again indispensable to Jessica’s career and status as a hero. In fact, she’s as much or more a hero just for helping her face down Kilgrave without benefit of super powers or resistance to his influence. Girlfriend’s got herself a set of steel ovaries and she makes Jessica both a better person and a better hero. It’s no mistake or coincidence that the biggest fist-pump of the series, the moment the entire season led up to, was prefaced by Jessica turning to her to say “I love you” just before killing Kilgrave.
Trish (being Trish,) seems to be driving next season’s story as well, since she’s all over this IGH thing that turned Simpson crazy and may have something to do with Jessica’s powers. We admit, we found the whole diversion at this point in the story to be more than a little annoying. Simpson was irritating enough on his own but we didn’t really want time taken out of Jess’s hunt for Kilgrave so that Trish could have tense scenes with her mother and look at files with concern. She more than made herself useful and essential to the story, but these scenes were a drag in an otherwise tense and exciting final two hours.
But it was the unexpected (but somehow inevitable in retrospect) arrival of Daredevil’s Claire Temple on the scene that kicked things into high gear. Not because she’s some sort of action hero. Quite the opposite, in fact. She’s a real-world hero who saves lives without throwing punches and her quiet moral certitude and easy acceptance of Jess’s lifestyle allowed for some truly electric scenes between the two of them. One night with Claire had Jess more ready to accept her mantle as a hero than countless time spent with the other influential people in her life. Sometimes, a perceptive outsider blessed with a good dose of empathy can be more effective than a dozen friends.
Claire’s arrival also allowed for at least a little bit of closure on Malcolm’s arc. It doesn’t seem fair to complain about this, since following the stories of victims post-trauma is kind of what the show is all about when it’s not about Jess busting heads, but there were times when we felt like Malcolm’s story – and by extension, Robin’s as well – had more than worn out its welcome. But not only was this of a piece with the show’s commitment to following through on depicting the after-effects of physical or emotional trauma, it also allowed Malcolm to follow the same journey as Jessica does, on a smaller level. Just like her, he gets tired of being in a world that beats him down or berates him when all he ever wanted to do was help people. Like her, he tries to run away from it. And like her, he finds it impossible to do. There are heroes all over this story in ways big and small. Malcolm’s tale may have seemed like a diversion, but it’s no coincidence that he’s the one standing by Jessica at the end of the story and answering the phone with “How can we help?”
But it was Luke’s return to the story that had the most explosive consequences, both figuratively and literally. The biggest impediment to Jessica realizing and embracing her heroism (to say nothing of her self-worth) has been her guilt over Reva’s death. Kilgrave went from creepy abuser to full-on supervillain with his long-game plan to use that guilt against her by forcing Luke to forgive her for it and then to follow that up by forcing him to try and kill her. It’s not enough at this point for Kilgrave to punish Jessica or stop her from hurting him, he goes out of his way to enact a plan to hurt her emotionally as well. After all, the only thing he really had to do was tell Luke to kill her. The only reason to bring Reva’s death into it at all was to demoralize her. It’s a very common trope for superheroes to get over their guilt over some past tragedy and once again, it’s notable that another of Jessica’s “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” revelations comes by shooting her boyfriend point blank in the face with a shotgun. That may sound darkly twisted, but it really was a revelation for her; a statement (with a bullet) that she was only going to allow herself to drag this guilt around so much. For her to take such extreme measures to protect herself was as big an “I deserve better” moment as any in the series.
This is what made this first season so compelling to us; this perfect balancing act between telling real stories about people in pain and telling a fist-pumping fuck-yeah of a good vs. evil tale with a drinking, cussing, mess of a hero you can’t help rooting for. Jessica Jones is both the perfect superheroine and the perfect anti-hero by the end of it all.
And we are deeply sad that we’re going to have to wait so long to hear more from her.