‘Jessica Jones’: Power, Love, and a Devastating Goodbye

© Netflix
*This article contains major spoilers for season three of Jessica Jones*

The final episodes of Jessica Jones have proved to be some of the most divisive to come out of Netflix’s Marvel universe. Instead of going gentle into that good night, the penultimate hours of the show race towards an emotionally devastating conclusion that refuses to tie anything up with a neat bow — which wouldn’t be in the show’s nature. The ending certainly frustrated fans; angry reactions flooded the Jessica Jones hashtags on social media, with many of them saying they hated what the writers turned the characters into, how they threw away any chance of redemption for season three’s surprise antagonist Trish Walker, or that they hated Trish in general. But as the yelling subsides, it’s hard not to look at the heartbreaking conclusion in a positive light, if only for its storytelling. This goodbye was never going to be an easy one; and despite how sad it is, the show is all the better for it.

Season one introduced us to Jessica’s world using her PTSD. The trauma she lived with after Kilgrave abducted her; turning her life upside down. It affected her as an individual, impaired her ability to cope with work, pushed her further into bad habits (alcoholism), and hurt her personal relationships - most noticeably the one with her best friend, Trish. Although Jessica was carrying around the unresolved hardship of what happened to her, she was functional. Jessica was able to outsmart Kilgrave and used her love for Trish as the final push in the fight. Jessica had accepted her own pain and was now focused on protecting the person closest to her. For all its dark moments, season one did have a happy ending, one that when looked back upon, after the series has concluded, feels sweeter than ever.

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It’s notable that season three has a direct connection with season one. Except for this time, its Trish’s trauma that alters her life. When looking back at the previous seasons, you can start to see a thread. Small, subtle things pointing to an eventual meltdown. In season one, Trish is in a great place in her life, but she still feels weak next to Jessica — who has been a kind of bodyguard for most of her life. When Trish’s mother Dorothy used to beat her, Jessica was the one that made it stop. Trish was the first person Jessica ever “saved”, and so begins Trish’s unhealthy obsession with heroism.

Three of the show’s four primary characters are or have been addicted to something. Jessica is an alcoholic, Trish was almost ruined by drugs, and Malcolm suffered from drug addiction too. But they deal with it in very different ways. Jessica avoids her problems, Malcolm is proactive, and Trish focuses her energy elsewhere, therefore, creating new toxic obsessions. Trish might not take traditional drugs anymore, but when she starts using Simpson’s inhaler in season two, which grants short bursts of physical enhancements, she quickly fell into a dependency. It wasn’t just the effects of the actual stimulant though, it was the feeling of power and capableness that came with it.

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When Trish started helping Jessica with investigations, it was a new way to expend energy and to feel helpful. If she herself couldn’t save the world, at least she could help her friend fulfill her potential as a superhero. The problem with this, however, was that Jessica has never been the superhero type, she’s no doubt this story’s hero, but doesn’t care for the stuff that comes with the label. Before Trish makes the decision to kill Jessica’s murderous mother, she calls her a coward. In Trish’s eyes, Jessica didn’t have the resolve to do what’s necessary. Trish, who put herself on the line time and time again, felt she had what it takes to get the job done. For the first time, she could really save lives — but at the cost of her best friend’s trust.

Perhaps Trish’s “sidekick syndrome”, the powerless feeling of being a supporting player whilst thinking you could do better, is what pushed her over the edge. In some ways, a powered Trish felt right for season three’s narrative. She wasn’t forced into the hero life, she had sought it out ( she is based on the Hellcat comic character after all), so the beginning of season three is exciting in that regard. For all her flaws, Trish really did have good intentions. But something feels off when we get to the latter half of the season. And although in some ways predictable, the context surrounding Trish’s deterioration into judge jury and executioner had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next set of gut-wrenching turns and steps towards an irredeemable version of the character.

I’m still not the hero you wanted me to be.

Jessica Jones takes full advantage of your emotional investment in both Trish as a person and in her cornerstone, intense relationship with Jessica. The most powerful of the show’s consistencies have been their tender moments in amongst the bleakness of the story. In some ways, Jessica’s narrative couldn’t have existed without Trish, because Trish is the reason she keeps going; she’s the reason Jessica can’t run away or give up. The constant threats on Trish’s life throughout the series built the path for moments of true love and heroism. Jessica never wanted the hero gig, but for Trish, she’ll take it.

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Jessica Jones has been full of morally ambiguous and dark characters, and for a long time, Trish was the one who stood out because she wasn’t one of them. She embodied Jessica’s last slivers of hope and optimism, not just for herself but for the world in general. Trish believed in her and believed in good. At the end of a hard day, at least there was Trish. No matter what, Jessica thought she’d have her. With all of this in mind, it feels appropriate that the breakdown of morality and the concepts of heroism are at the hands of the character who seemed to live and breathe for exactly those things. Trish was symbolic, and a poster child for making it through when the going gets tough. But when stripped back, she simply couldn’t unlearn the toxic things her mother’s abuse planted in her brain. Dorothy’s death was the catalyst for a change inside her that was a long time coming.

Perhaps the worst thing about it all is how close Jessica and Trish were to obtaining the life they wanted. Their friendship was on the mend, Trish was taking out bad guys semi-responsibly, and they were both getting to live the lives they chose. But the obsessive nature Jessica Jones built into Trish’s foundation ran so deep that it took over. Throughout the show, it felt natural to assume Jessica was the one that was spiritually doomed, but the carefully planted seeds of Trish’s self-assured destruction say otherwise. The incremental changes in her character led to rotting of her core that nobody caught until it was too late. This woman, an example of purity, now radiated badness.

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The finale is a crushing blow to any invested fan. There’s no redemption or easy answer, just the downfall of the show’s once angelic figure that is now just a cautionary tale and another source of pain for Jessica. The sadness of it runs deep, thinking about what life will now look like for the two characters who had won so many of us over, is now scarring in a faux way only well-written TV shows can be. But it feels so authentic to what, in essence, Jessica Jones is. One character lost the battle against her internal, confused instincts, the other is now truly unbreakable after having been through the worst possible scenario. The person Jessica loves most in the world not only molded herself into a despicable version of what she wanted Jessica to be, but she also defaced their battle-tested dedication to each other in the process. The worst part? She of course still loves her. Because that’s been the point, from the very start. In the same way Jessica couldn’t let go of her mother, she couldn’t resist a last look at Trish before she’s flown away to a hell-hole prison with no hope of things ever being the same again.

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Jessica Jones‘ imperfect last season is one of the harshest pieces of television I’ve ever watched. And its sharp edges and heartbreaking effectiveness is a testament to how well the show wrapped us up in its world and characters. In the last shot of the show, Jessica is standing in a train station ready to leave New York behind. But, as a “fuck you” to Kilgrave, she chooses to stay. It’s a triumphant moment for her as a character, she’s not staying because she has to, but because she wants to. Because that’s who she is now, even though she’s lost everything. It’s not easy to watch, especially if you had grown as fond of the show as I did, but it’s an unforgettable send off for an astonishingly resilient character — as it will linger in our minds for a long time after we stop talking about it.

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