Jessica Jones season 2 is an excellent exploration of what happens when the desire to be a hero takes priority over actually helping the underprivileged.
Marvel’s Netflix universe has been something of a mixed bag over the past few years, with some great victories for television — an unapologetic female antihero, a bulletproof black hero, and some excellent storytelling all around — followed by some disappointing mistakes that could have been easily avoided — namely Iron Fist’s uncomfortable white savior narrative.
But with season 2 of Jessica Jones, Melissa Rosenberg developed a story that cleverly demonstrates the dangers of trying to help those in need when you don’t really understand, or particularly care, what they truly need from you.
Jessica Jones season 2 spoilers below.
Trish Walker’s character has been fascinatingly complex from the very beginning, as she simultaneously acted as Jessica’s sister, best friend, and moral conscience. We learned about her It’s Patsy! days, and her difficult relationship with her mother, which served to make her a well-rounded character that we cared about. But until season 2, we didn’t get to see the full impact that her difficult past continues to have on her life.
Not only has Trish been recovering from a pretty serious drug addiction since her popstar days, but she’s also been dealing with a more insidious problem, which surfaces in a horrible way in season 2, while Jessica is doing her best to deal with trauma and some painful choices regarding her mother. Trish wants to be special: to be powered, so that she can “help people.”
Trish did use to actively do good for the world, using her position to elevate the voices of those who weren’t being heard. But season 2 shows us a very realistic depiction of how such a selfless desire to help can be corrupted by jealousy and fame.
It quickly becomes clear that Trish doesn’t actually want to help people. She might honestly believe that that is the reason behind her increasingly more over-the-top ways of pursuing what she sees as a great “story,” or trying to help Jessica when Jessica doesn’t want — or even need — her help, or betraying the trust of the people who care about her, but her real motivation is much more selfish. Behind her pursuit for what she thinks is justice, and even her pursuit of drugs, is a desire to be heroic that supersedes any kind of actual compassion.
It’s a fascinating level of self-awareness from the same studio that brought us Iron Fist, an ostensibly tone-deaf take on the white savior trope, where a rich white man takes on skills belonging to an underprivileged demographic, becomes better at it than them, and becomes a hero. The white savior trope exploits the “glamour” of people’s lifestyle for the sake of furthering a plot that only showcases the voice of the privileged.
Trish’s story, although not directly dealing with the complexities of race or cultural appropriation, does an excellent job of showing us the flaws in this way of thinking. Despite being a wealthy, famous woman, Trish is unhealthily obsessed with being like Jessica. She wants to have powers and use them to feel more successful, more special, and refuses to acknowledge the consequences those powers have on Jessica’s life. As a rich, famous woman with a family, Trish can’t possibly understand what life is like for Jessica: a poor orphan (well, sort of) who is constantly on the receiving end of violence, prejudice and abuse, all of which has left her dealing with some serious trauma.
Trish’s willful dismissal of Jessica’s input at every turn, especially when it comes to gaining powers and whether or not she should become involved in Jessica’s issues, is extremely painful and downright offensive to watch. From bringing Jessica’s family’s ashes to her just to prove a point, to inserting herself into the IGH investigation (all of this long before she even began to be addicted to the inhaler, mind you) she constantly proves that her search for relevance is more important to her than the feelings of the same people she claims she wants to help.
Her actions only serve to bring up nearly crippling PTSD for Jessica, almost cause a relapse for Malcom, and end up killing the only real family Jessica has. This misguided pursuit of heroism ends up destroying every positive relationship Trish had at the beginning of the season, and even destroys her career.
While Jessica Jones doesn’t examine the trope from a racial perspective (at least not directly), it does expose Trish’s misguided mentality in a way that’s painfully effective. Not only do we see the slow decline of a person who was once actually helping others as an ally, to actively working against those she once professed to want to help, but we also see the destructive effect this kind of selfishness can have on a person’s life.
In the end, Trish got what she wanted — but without any friends or the trust of those around her, she might find herself feeling more like Jessica did in the beginning than she ever wanted to.