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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A conspiracy-heavy Jessica Jones introduces a compelling #MeToo subplot

Illustration for article titled A conspiracy-heavy Jessica Jones introduces a compelling #MeToo subplot
Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)
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“Maybe I am a freak, but someone made me this way. And this lab rat’s got some complaints.”


Although Jessica Jones is a show tailor made for episodic, case-of-the-week storytelling, the show’s second season is no more interested in utilizing that structure than the first one. Instead “AKA Freak Accident” sees Jessica dive headfirst into the mystery of who made her, why, and to what end. But it does allow for a scene in which Jessica crashes a funeral and pretends to be a grieving patient of the mysterious Dr. Kozlov, so at least that’s something fun!

The past once again comes back to haunt all our characters in this episode—sometimes in more literal ways than others. Kozlov’s funeral gives Jessica flashbacks to her own family’s funeral, where Trish’s mom Dorothy scolded her for not performing her grief in an appropriate way (“Christ, at least dab at your eyes with a tissue”). Meanwhile, Trish actually makes contact with Dorothy in order to get the contact information for Maximilian Tatum (James McCaffrey), the director who was 40 years old when he began having sex with 15-year-old Trish.

It’s tempting to frame Trish’s story in relation to the recent #MeToo movement and, indeed, I did just that in my headline. But the fact that this season was written in the fall of 2016, well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, is a reminder that discussions of these kinds of toxic power dynamics have always been happening—it’s just new that people are actually listening to them in such a mainstream way.

Trish’s confrontation with Max is a far better thematic fit for Jessica Jones than all of the IGH conspiracy stuff. At its best, Jessica Jones’ first season was about the way charismatic men are able to abuse those around them without anyone noticing; it’s an idea the show explored in a heightened superhero context through Kilgrave’s ability to literally force those around him do his bidding. But Max allows the show to explore the same idea within a real-world context as well. Powerful men don’t need superpowers to abuse people and get away with it.

The Trish/Max storyline is a smart way to both continue and expand the thematic story Jessica Jones was telling last season. Beneath its supervillian trappings, the Kilgrave/Jessica dynamic parallels the story of a stranger kidnapping, raping, and abusing a woman. The Trish/Max storyline looks at another way in which abuse and rape can occur. It’s only in retrospect that adult Trish can fully see the dynamics that were at play during her sexual relationship with Max. Not only was she still a child at the time, Max was also both her boss and the man responsible for her career. Plus we learn that Dorothy even pressured her daughter to sleep with Max in order to get the leading role in one of his movies. On every level, Trish was unable to freely or legally give consent, but, sadly, her situation is exactly the type that people are most inclined to dismiss as being her fault. “I was the one who was used,” Max tries to argue in one of the episode’s most unsettling moments. He doesn’t have Kilgrave’s mind control powers, but it’s terrifying to think how many people might believe him anyway.


Elsewhere, Jessica also has to deal with the (very recent) past when the cops stop by her apartment to chat about the mysterious death of Robert “Whizzer” Coleman. It’s a long, winding subplot that eats up more time than it should, but it eventually leads Jessica to realize that the thing connecting all the various threads of her IGH case is Trish. Whizzer left Trish video messages thanking her for her radio stories about superpowered people, the same stories that apparently put her on IGH’s radar in the first place. But while Trish’s storyline with Max builds naturally on both her past as a child star and Jessica Jones’ larger thematic goals, her connection to IGH feels far more convoluted and nebulous.

The most literal way the past comes back to haunt our characters is through Will Simpson, who’s become something of a reformed Phantom of the Opera figure in the past year since Trish and Jessica left him for dead in “AKA I’ve Got The Blues.” After a year spent locked in a room, Will’s sole aim is to protect Trish from IGH. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for viewers), his dedication to Trish ultimately leads to his demise.


Will claims that Kozlov was working with “someone else” on his experiments. That mysterious mastermind is apparently sending a monster out to do their dirty work, only this time around that dirty work is killing Will, not Trish. To its credit, “AKA Freak Accident” is clearly trying to wipe the slate clean in terms of the conspiracy theory messiness left over from Jessica Jones’ first season. I really didn’t expect the show to kill off Will so quickly and I think it’s a smart choice considering he was one of the weaker parts of the first season. But I’m also slightly worried we’re just trading one set of messy conspiracies for another.


The success of the Trish/Max subplot drills home how much the rest of this season’s storylines aren’t full working—at least not yet. And while the final few moments of “AKA Freak Accident” are surprising and engaging, I’m not sure it was entirely worth the time we spent getting to them.

Stray observations

  • “With great power comes great mental illness,” isn’t nearly as clever of a line as the writers seem to think it is.
  • The Hogarth stuff feels particularly extraneous this episode (she processes her bad medical news by taking a day off to party with a group of sex workers). But there’s a link between the way Jessica, Malcolm, and Jeri all try to distract themselves from their problems with casual sex.
  • Griffin, I’m still rooting for you not to be secretly evil, but serving as a late-night buffer between Jessica and Trish while also digging into Trish’s research really didn’t help your case.
  • I’m unclear why Trish had to enlist Malcolm to help her record Max’s confession. Couldn’t she have just had a tape recorder in her pocket? It seems like an unnecessary risk to have Malcolm hide in the trailer. What if Max hadn’t left afterwards?
  • These Defenders shows really love the image of a pretty blonde woman carrying a loaded handgun in her purse.
  • “Goddamn mongoose.”

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.