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Process Wonk

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While you weren’t looking, Jessica Jones snuck in a queer happy ending.

Without a great deal of fanfare (thanks to Netflix announcing its cancellation before even giving it an airdate), the last season of Jessica Jones dropped a short bit ago, and like with the previous seasons, I sat down to get myself a heaping helping of cranky Jessica vs her latest full-of-himself nemesis while navigating the prickly array of folks she calls family. I have thoughts on most of those folks, but I wanted to talk about one in particular, not least of all because I don’t think he’s going to get much critical play for all that I also think his place in the show provides something fairly unique in its history: unadulterated hope.

I don’t plan to dig into the larger plot of the show, but just in case: spoiler warning for details of Detective Eddy Costa in season 3.

Costa doesn’t have a great deal of impact on the master plot of the season. For the most part, he’s there to provide Jessica the occasional official/unofficial resource, and later to provide her an extra kick in the guilt. So why the fuck am I dragging my poor, neglected blog back into the light to talk about him? Because, for no reasons the story required, the showrunners decided to use Costa to provide the viewers with a taste of a queer character who gets a happy ending.

I honestly don’t recall if Costa mentioned his husband in his appearances in season 2 of the show, but he mentions him here in his first appearance of the run. Costa meets Jessica to have a discussion about their not stepping on each other’s toes while offering the occasional helping hand arrangement. Because this is Jessica, they’re meeting in a bar. Our aforementioned husband is mentioned in the very first glimpse at Costa’s arc, as the detective passes on joining Jessica for a drink, as he’s promised his husband to come home on time and sober.

In the noir world of Jessica Jones, where we rarely meet a relationship that isn’t rife with dysfunction, it would be easy to see this as a first hint of trouble at home for the detective: drinking problem, maybe? It wouldn’t be outside the show’s remit, certainly. And later, when Costa suggests he has a lot going on at home, we may assume that’s exactly where things are heading.

Except, we find out, the “things at home” are the equally stressful steps Costa and his husband are going through to adopt a young girl. A call from Jones interrupts the detective’s family in an emotional introduction to their potential daughter. Jessica, like possibly the viewer before now, assumes that when Costa says he has “a lot going on,” he’s talking about marital strife. He goes far enough to nix that assumption but — and here’s where I find things get interesting from a storytelling perspective — he never offers the correct details to Jessica. She knows the detective has something taking up his emotional energy in the domestic sphere, but has no idea what.

In terms of Jessica’s plot, she doesn’t need to know, of course. It doesn’t impact her one way or the other. Why, then, take the time to fill the viewer in? What’s the payoff here?

Further still, we hit up our detective later in the season, when he’s been placed on leave thanks to his allegiance with Jessica. For the average JJ supporting player, we’d get a whole lot of laying life’s unfairness at Jessica’s feet. Or at least a dour look at someone who’s life has been destroyed.

Instead, when next Jessica follows up to let Costa know she’s finally made things right, we discover Costa outdoors with, surprise of surprises, that same little girl he and his husband met over digital chat a few episodes prior. Once again, he takes Jessica’s call to do his duty to the plot at hand. And once again, he doesn’t mention the progress he’s made toward bringing a new child into his family.

In cold terms, Costa’s adoption subplot serves a purpose that television needs: it gives him a thing to be doing when Jessica interrupts. You don’t want your supporting players to go into robotic sleep mode waiting to be useful. This is why we so often find folks grabbing coffee or a hot dog or doing some gardening or any host of not especially integral business.

This isn’t coffee or hot dogs or gardening, though. This is a very specific something at play. It’s a queer family not only being a family, but building a family. This is hope and the notion of a livable future on a show where such things routinely paint a target on the subject. Costa, however, manages all of it. And Jessica doesn’t even know.

But the viewer does. The result of that, for me, is a subtle nod by the showrunners that queer people of Jessica’s acquaintance make plans that aren’t Machiavellian self-sabotage. That this very noir world with its very noir sensibilities, full of suffering abuse, has room for a happy little queer family. It’s not the rock anthem playout of the series’ final moment, but it feels like a tiny little triumph nonetheless.

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