Jessica Jones: Season 3 REVIEW – Back To Basics

The third season takes Jessica Jones back to her noir-ish roots.

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Season three of Jessica Jones picks up not long after the dramatic finale of season two, where we saw Jessica’s mentally unbalanced mother killed by Trish. This naturally led to the two going their separate ways and the season ended with Trish discovering she might have powers as a result of her operation. The season also saw Malcolm joining Hogarth’s firm as a hired private investigator and the continuation of Hogarth’s storyline, where she is dealing with her debilitating illness. The whole show so far has focused on Jessica’s inability to fully trust anyone and various factors have contributed to this, including Kilgrave, her mother, and most recently Trish. That main themes carries straight on into season three and it begins with her working alone as a private investigator once more, on rocky terms with both Trish and Malcolm.

Season one of Jessica Jones was a strong addition to the Marvel Netflix Universe, introducing a highly sardonic, strong, and sassy character to viewers. With her anti hero stance and moral ambiguity, Jessica was different enough from Matt Murdock in Daredevil to make the show stand on its own two feet. It was a really impressive first season with a great combination of elements, including a film noir style approach in its narration, music and cinematography. In addition to this it had an engaging story, complex characters, and a great villain in the form of David Tennant’s Kilgrave.

Unfortunately the second season didn’t quite live up to expectations. While there were still some interesting storylines, character arcs and approaches, season two suffered from continuity issues. It was a bit all over the place with far too many red herrings and in some cases annoying and unsatisfying conclusions to side narratives. There is a lot of pressure on season three as not only is it tasked with improving on its previous season, but it is also the last Marvel Netflix show to be aired following their collective cancellation.

The first thing to say about season three of Jessica Jones is that it is clearly a return to form. Although still not as good as the first season, it is much better than the second and there are a number of reasons why. For starters, Jessica is back to doing what she does best, working as a private investigator. There was a certain element of this in the second season but it soon became overlooked in place of the central storyline. Although there is a bigger narrative at play in season three, the P.I. side of things seems far better incorporated than it has been in previous years.

What gives Jessica Jones its individual tone and unique style from the other Marvel Netflix shows is the film noir elements. Much of the opening episode of season three has Jessica on a number of P.I. cases, her voice narrating her thoughts in the classic film noir stule. This is mixed with a jazzy, moody blues soundtrack, soft focus cinematography, and evocative lighting with a rich palette of blacks, reds and blues. The P.I. angle actually runs in conjunction with other storylines which is why it works so well.

One of the biggest problems with season two was Trish’s development as a character. Although well acted by Rachael Taylor, and in some cases crucial the narrative, there were several moments where her character became simply too irritating to be likable. Fortunately in season three, Trish’s character arc and individual storyline are much better handled. At times she can be a little annoying but it is seldom enough to cause the viewer to lose interest and more importantly it makes sense. Having discovered that she too has powers, Trish decides to turn her hand to vigilantism. Her decision to be more proactive in this season works much better.

Although a little out of her depth and far too cocky for her own good, having a purpose and a goal to her character is far more enjoyable to watch than her destructive arc in season two. It is also extremely well done and the training montage and sequence where she is deciding on a disguise, is both amusing and to a certain degree authentic. Episode two is a nicely put together episode because it uses Trish’s narration, which is a nice spin on the formulae. It also does that classic TV technique of showing an interconnecting narrative from the other character’s perspective. Although it is an approach used a lot in TV shows, it is done well enough in this instance to justify it.

One of the things that is interesting about Jessica Jones is that underneath her tough – almost impenetrably thick – hide is a vulnerable and sensitive character. It is a theme that has been a prevalent part of the first two seasons and a theme that continues in this latest season. There are a handful of moments in season two where Jessica feels powerless, but it never really matched up how it was presented in season one. This is down to the fact that Kilgrave literally could control her with his mind. It was terrifying both for the character and the viewer to experience, really conveying that idea of complete and utter powerlessness.

It is only natural that it is incredibly hard – if not, in some respects, impossible – to match that following Kilgrave’s departure. Season three takes a very good stab at it though (pun not intended) and very early on it becomes apparent that Jessica is suddenly very vulnerable. The new villain is one of the best aspects of the third season and, like Kilgrave, is perfectly cast: Jeremy Bobb gives an inspired performance and is up there with David Tennant in terms of the creep factor. He is also incredibly intelligent and causes problems for Jessica as not only has he thought two steps ahead, but has a whole evil plan in place. It provides an interesting challenge for Jessica, as his devious mind prevents her from simply putting his head through a wall.

In terms of Jessica Jones’ development of a character in this season, she has in many ways regressed. This would normally be seen as a negative but ironically it actually improves the show. Season two made the mistake of trying to alter Jessica too much and to its own detriment. The whole romantic subplot with the sexy artist neighbour in her building was cringeworthy on any number of levels. While a certain level of growth can be good, it is important to retain traits that are integral parts of the who the character is. With Jessica Jones, alcoholism, attitude problems, inability to open up and anger issues are all important aspects of her character and ones that appeal to viewers.

What is great about this season is that she is still all of those things but changed at least a little bit. She has grown fond of the neighbour’s son, she has her own firm, and at her core is trying to do the right thing. It shows that Jessica has developed as a character but still has a long way to go. This is an important balance to achieve. If Jessica changes too much than she loses the charm of her character but if she doesn’t develop at all, no character arc has been achieved.

Jerry Hogarth and Malcolm are probably the weakest characters of the season. This is not to say that there isn’t any interesting material presented, but certain aspects of their characters don’t entirely work. The whole storyline involving Hogarth and Kith just isn’t interesting enough to warrant the amount of time dedicated to it. There are a handful of key scenes that are effective but it could have been trimmed down a fair bit. Additionally, the Ghost like seduction scenes are extremely over the top and a little cringe worthy. It is a shame because the main focus on Hogarth and her debilitating medical condition is very well done. Carrie Ann Moss gives a grounded performance, illustrating just how hard Hogarth finds it to accept her body gradually beginning to fail on her.

Malcolm is a strange case and has been a character that has changed quite radically since the first season. Jessica has undergone a certain amount of change herself throughout the show but it doesn’t come across quite as drastic as Malcolm’s. Part of this is due to the fact that Jessica is more defined as a character. Whether it is a good thing or bad thing that she doesn’t change massively is debatable but it does mean the viewer at least know where they stand with her. Malcolm on the other hand seems almost schizophrenic at times, going from nice guy neighbour one minute to cold and selfish go getter the next. This leaves the viewer feel heavily conflicted, disliking him in one episode to liking him in the next.

In this season he is very much caught between doing what he thinks he should and doing the right thing. This stems from having felt unappreciated by Jessica while he was still working for her and seeing Hogarth as an opportunity to prove his worth. His partner Zaya, who also works for Hogarth, also plays a part in this. His love for her makes him believe that joining her in choosing ambition over morals is the way forward, despite knowing deep down that it simply isn’t right. This internal conflict is well presented at times, but can often stray into making him too unlikable. This is a mistake because season one did a really good job of developing him from a zombie-like addict into an honourable, trustworthy, and likeable character. Exploring Malcolm’s conflict over whether he is good or bad is an interesting idea but on a number of occasions, it takes it too far and makes him too unlikable.

Having said this the dynamics and relationships between characters are much better this season. Jessica does find herself in another relationship of sorts but it works better this time round, due to a certain combination of factors. The first is that her new love interest Eric is a character that has a better chemistry and relatability than her neighbour Oscar. He also becomes a much bigger part of the story and actually has a very interesting and entertaining character backstory, which is explained fairly early on. By making him important to the storyline, it circumvents just throwing him into the mix with the sole purpose of being a love interest. Additionally, they are both similar and the fact that they grow more fond of each other but continue to pretend it is a casual agreement is both funny and makes sense.

Trish and Jessica have had an on/off friendship dynamic running through all the seasons and in the first it worked well and in the second not so much. In this season it actually works pretty well for the most part. Because both characters have been developed and focused on fully, when they do come to blows it feels authentic. You can see both sides of the argument and why Trish takes her standpoint and Jessica hers. On the occasions when they do read from the same page, it is a delight to watch and is satisfying to see flickers of the friendship they used to have.

The dialogue is a strong aspect of the third season and although the storyline, characters, and situations are incredibly dark and intense, there is also just the right amount of light relief. Jessica is on top form, delivering all the sharp wit and dry humour that makes her character so entertaining. There are some memorable and hilarious one liners throughout the season, most voiced by Jessica and sarcasm is a big part of the show, extending to a lot of the other characters as well.

On a more serious note, there is some great conversational exchanges between characters which are poignant and hold gravitas: key examples being between Jessica and Salinger, or Trish and Malcolm. The exchanges between Jessica and Salinger explore themes such as morality, truth, and perception that force both characters to take a long hard look at themselves. Trish and Malcolm are both recovering drug addicts and see behavioural traits in each other that are indicative of their past habit of substance abuse. It provides for some good confrontation and challenging between the two.

Season three of Jessica Jones bears similarities to the second season of The Punisher, in the fact that it suffers from a slight lull in the middle. The opening episodes are very well done, getting back to the core of what makes Jessica such a kick ass character. The last three episodes are top notch, delivering a showdown between two characters with different views on what justice is, that reminded me heavily of season two of Daredevil. The conclusion isn’t quite as satisfying as Daredevil but it is done well and most of the narratives and character arcs finish nicely. However it might have been an idea to follow the format of Iron Fist season two and drop it to ten episodes, cutting down the less effective story arcs.

However for the most part it is a solid, gripping, and enjoyable third season. Most of the characters are interesting and investing and develop and grow effectively over the course of the thirteen episodes. Salinger is an inspired villain, brilliantly acted, genuinely creepy, and cleverly crafted. The whole season is beautifully shot and edited, and the film noir style permeates pretty much all the episodes, which is how Jessica Jones should be. A few slightly over the top and downright silly scenes aren’t needed, but the show makes up for it with some great twists and shocks and some well done action and fight sequences.

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Season 3 of Jessica Jones isn't without its issues, but they can be overlooked given its strong central narrative, the great performances, and the thriller/horror aspects that made the show so good in the first place.