Melissa Rosenberg speaks with THR about how the final episode of the Netflix show's sophomore year leaves its protagonists "deeply scarred."
[This story contains full spoilers for season two of Netflix's Jessica Jones.]
For its second season on Netflix, Jessica Jones invited fans along for a rollercoaster ride — both an emotional and a literal one.
Season two of the Marvel series focused on Jessica (Krysten Ritter) attempting to put her life back together following the death of Kilgrave (David Tennant) at her own hands. In the process, Jessica discovered a new adversary, one she couldn't defeat with a straightforward punch: Alisa (Janet McTeer), Jessica's own mother, long thought dead, but secretly living with powers and anger issues of her own.
After reuniting with her mother, Jessica spends the rest of the season trying to save Alisa, both from external and internal forces. In the end, perhaps it's Alisa who saves Jessica, given their final scene together on a Ferris wheel. Alisa offers her daughter a wish for a brighter future — right before she's shot in the head by Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor). The rift between Jessica and Trish will be hard to repair, if it's possible at all, and will certainly be a driving force behind an as-yet unannounced third season of Jessica Jones.
Should such a season come to pass, expect Alisa's hopes for Jessica to continue fueling the hard-hitting hero moving forward — and expect Trish to step up to the plate with some new heroic attempts of her own, given the powers she displays at the end of the season.
For all of that and more, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg about the "universal sadness" at the heart of season two, how the storyline involving Jessica's mother was originally conceived, the return of Kilgrave for one episode only, and more.
What was the overarching theme you were hoping to explore through the relationship between Jessica and her mother?
The driving force for Jessica — and for all the characters, really — was asking the question: "Who am I?" Coming off of season one, where she's taken a life ... justified or not, she's still done that. So her question is: "Am I a killer? Am I a monster?" Down to her very DNA. The broader and universal question there is: "Am I my mother? Have I become my mother? Will I become my mother?" As you're connecting with your parents, you're also separating from them. It's a universal experience.
What inspired the creation of Alisa, and introducing her as ... it's hard to call her the "bad guy" of the season, but certainly an antagonistic force?
We really wanted to do something very different than what we had done last season with Kilgrave. We had already done a traditional bad guy in season one, albeit a fantastic one. We didn't want to repeat ourselves. The direction we wanted to take Jessica in this season was getting into her origin story. It really lent itself to [the villain] being her mother. Having a kick-ass middle-aged woman really appealed to me, being that same age.
Rather than fighting the villain, Jessica spends much of the season trying to protect and save the villain. Was that a conscious choice?
For me, with villains — and Kilgrave was this way as well — when a villain is all black or white, it's less interesting to me. I'm always looking for the grays. To some extent, Jessica saving her mother is also Jessica saving herself. She's worried somewhere deep in her psyche that if her mother is truly this monster, does that mean she is as well? If there's redemption for her mother, there's redemption for her. Jessica lives with so much survivor's guilt, feeling responsible for the accident that killed her family, that this was a way for her to redeem herself: to save her mother this time around.
And of course, a version of that accident plays out again in the season finale, and Jessica and Alisa are able to save everyone this time around.
What was involved in developing the story of Alisa's dissociative identity disorder?
A lot of research. We really examined root causes. This is someone who was in an accident and suffered some brain trauma. Her having issues of control, with emotion, and dissociating from herself ... these are all symptoms of that sort of an injury.
How do you feel Jessica's relationship with her mother will change her moving forward? In the finale especially, we're seeing Jessica in her most emotionally vulnerable state yet. Do you think that openness will continue?
Well, she now has had the experience of allowing a deep connection in. She also has the experience of having allowed herself some hope. In the end, her mother was never able to become self-realized. But she hoped for her daughter that she will. Even though Jessica has gone through an enormous loss here — several losses — I think she walks away with a little bit of her mother's wish for her. The very final scene, where we see her sitting down to dinner with another family, is just a baby step in the direction of embracing that hope.
How did you arrive at the final moment between Jessica and Alisa: a tender exchange on the Ferris wheel, followed by Trish shooting Alisa?
It was almost more of an issue between Trish and Jessica, and their respective storylines playing out in this conflict. I think for Alisa, she's coming to accept that she's not going to make it. She's not ever going to have this self-realized life. We talked a lot about "a dream deferred," the poem ["Harlem" by Langston Hughes], and how she represents the person who never can quite make it happen. At the last moment with Jessica, she really hoped that they could do it together, to become all of who she is. But she has to accept that it's not going to happen. It's been a universal story for a lot of people. All of us, regardless of our levels of success and our dreams being fulfilled, have had that experience of having to say, "OK, I guess this particular thing isn't going to happen." It's a very universal sadness. Alisa gets to that place, and Jessica refuses to accept it. I think she would have kept pushing, if Trish had not stepped in.
Why did it make sense to you for Trish to pull the trigger, given what you had in mind for her story arc this season?
Trish always wants to be the hero. She wants to be a hero for herself and for others. She wants to feel that power. This is someone who was abused as a young girl by her mother and others later. She's craved this level of strength and power so that she could protect herself and others. It's about wanting to feel safe. There are good intentions in there, but it's also driven by a lot of her damage. You're never quite sure which side of that she's coming from with the choices she makes. When she finally does kill Alisa, where she's coming from is, "I need to save Jessica." She's justified on some level. On another level, it's completely a horrific move. But Alisa is someone who is a danger to the world and wasn't going to stop being a danger to the world just because Jessica was with her. Trish is looking at it from a very real and pragmatic place. She took this huge step onto her own shoulders, and it leaves both Trish and Jessica deeply scarred.
It's hard to imagine Jessica and Trish healing after this. Would the rift in their relationship be a main focus for season three?
It would have to be, yes.
What can you say about Trish seemingly developing powers by the end of the season?
I really love leaving it at this ambiguous thing. You always want to leave some doors open. That's a door that's open, and if we step through it — or how we step through it — will be the stuff of another season, should we get one.
You mentioned earlier the abuse Trish has suffered through in her life, which manifests at one point in this season in the form of a Hollywood executive who had abused her years earlier. The story was conceived and produced before the start of the #MeToo movement in October; what was your reaction when you realized you would have a story this season that paralleled this cultural moment so closely?
It really came out from looking at Trish's character and her background as a child star. It was a very organic place to go. Sadly, it's not an unusual experience — obviously it's not, as we're coming to know now, and as some of us already knew. It wasn't a new story, but what's changed since we did that is people are talking about it more now. It's great to be a part of that conversation.
It's amazing to see this story represented through a Marvel hero. Is that part of the appeal of Jessica Jones for you as a storyteller, approaching important subject matter through this mainstream superhero lens?
I'm always overwhelmed and gratified and humbled by it. We work in such a bubble in our storytelling world. We never walk into the writers room and approach anything by saying, "Here's this issue we have to attack." It's always about chasing a character and examining and exploring the character from which these things are born. I think for that reason, the characters tend to feel authentic and visceral to people, because we're coming at it from a place of examining who these people are and their backstories.
Kilgrave returned for one episode only, as a projection in Jessica's mind. "I'm just an idea," he says. What were you hoping to accomplish by having Kilgrave as this continued presence in Jessica's world?
Last season examined her experience with him, and I think you can kill it and come to terms with it, but it never goes away. You don't walk that off and keep on going. It's always going to be a part of your experience and part of your psyche. We knew that throughout season one, that it was always there. By the time we got to episode 11 and the story of Jessica killing a man in self-defense, it was like, once again ... it's everything Kilgrave thought she was and wanted her to be: a killer. It's once again in the overarching theme: "Who am I?" It smacks her in the face. He's given voice at that moment. It's a very organic way in [to Kilgrave's return]. I just adore David Tennant and I love writing that character, but that's not enough to put him in the episode. It has to be organic and it has to drive Jessica's story, otherwise it's going to just feel plopped in there. Fortunately, the direction we went with her invited that story.