Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

An unexpected ending can’t save a messy episode of Jessica Jones

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Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

In the final few moments of this episode we watch Jessica come to a realization we don’t know she’s making. She hears a familiar song, spots a familiar hand cream, and smells a familiar perfume. And then she sees a photo of herself and her little brother and the seemingly impossible suddenly starts to feel a whole lot less improbable. There’s a reason The Killer and Jessica share so many parallels: They’re mother and daughter.

It’s a reveal I have absolutely no idea how to process. Do I believe that Jessica wouldn’t have recognized her own mother while having an extended conversation with her back in “AKA Sole Survivor”? Not really. Obviously Jessica is living under the assumption that her mother is long dead, but it still seems like she would’ve at least picked up on the fact that The Killer looks and sounds like her mom, even if she didn’t literally think she was her mom. Of course, the next episode could easily offer an explanation for that. Maybe IGH gave The Killer extensive plastic surgery or something. The truth is we really don’t know anything about the situation yet, given that the reveal comes right at the tail end of this episode. And while I’m extremely jealous of binge-watchers who can immediately dive into the next episode, it’s my job to circle back to the one we just watched.


What made the first season of Jessica Jones such a success is that it paired its slow-burning neo-noir superhero procedural formula with a story about gender, abuse, and manipulation that worked on both a literal level and on a metaphorical one. The second season doesn’t have that overarching metaphorical component so while I don’t think its procedural aspects are any worse than the ones in the first season, their weaknesses are more noticeable because there’s nothing to distract from them. Individual themes—like the idea of the past coming back to haunt the present—come and go, but there’s no central metaphor on which to hang the season.

We’ve gotten glimpses of big metaphorical ideas the season could dig into if it wants to: As I’ve mentioned before, female anger is clearly something this season is interested in exploring. Or there’s the idea of how women are treated (and often mistreated) by the medical system. But so far none of those ideas have fully stuck. And that’s left this season feeling kind of shapeless, which makes it harder to care about things like Trish and Jessica’s quest to get security camera footage or Jessica’s investigation into a hosiery company via an all-male golf club. To its credit, “AKA Facetime” picks up the pace and lessens the angst that’s characterized the first half of Jessica Jones’s second season. But it does so in a messy, haphazard way.

This episode is loosely centered on the idea of vulnerability. That’s what Oscar captures in his portrait of a sleeping Jessica. It’s not a side of herself she likes to show to anyone—not even her closest friends—and she’s clearly deeply uncomfortable with the idea of Oscar seeing her as a vulnerable human being and not a stoic loner. And Jessica isn’t the only one uncomfortable with the idea of being vulnerable.

Trish initially used Simpson’s inhaler as a way to overcome her physical vulnerabilities in a dangerous situation. But it’s clearly blossomed into a full on addiction. Trish’s story isn’t completely working for me, at least not yet. But I do like that it’s giving Rachael Taylor such a great showcase for her range as an actor. The scariest aspect of Trish’s descent back into addiction is just how many skills she has for hiding it. Even Jessica isn’t able to spot that Trish is faking her emotional vulnerability following her bout of “food poisoning.” Trish knows exactly what to say to get Jessica out of her apartment so she can use again.

Like Trish, Malcolm also weaponizes his vulnerability this episode as he makes amends with an ex so he can get close enough to steal her student ID as part of his quest to get more info on Dr. Karl Malus. It’s one of the darker things we’ve seen Malcolm do since getting sober (although, being Malcolm, it’s still a pretty light offense). And their shared manipulative behavior is perhaps what draws Malcolm and Trish together for their unexpected hookup, which is another aspect of this episode I’m still not quite sure how I feel about yet.

Also learning a lesson about vulnerability is Jeri Hogarth. She initially tries to bribe Inez in exchange for information about IGH, and Hogarth’s all too willing to coldly toss Inez aside when the former nurse doesn’t deliver. But what eventually gets Inez to open up is getting a glimpse of Hogarth’s humanity and vulnerability. She spots her ALS medicine and realizes Hogarth isn’t out to take down IGH, she’s simply desperate for hope about her situation. And that comes in the form of a story about a mysterious boy with healing powers who also used to work with IGH and who could potentially heal Hogarth. (There are so many IGH-related players to keep track of on this show.)

There are a lot of elements introduced in this episode that I’ve filed into the “wait and see where it goes” category (Jessica’s mom, the Trish/Malcolm coupling, etc). But I did come to two concrete realizations while watching “AKA Facetime.” The first is that Krysten Ritter is even better this season than she was in the last one, which is really saying something considering how great she was there. She’s mastered the art of layering hints of vulnerability beneath Jessica’s cantankerous exterior and it’s always compelling to watch her on screen.

But my second realization is that Jessica’s current character arc is kind of a mess. In the last episode she seemed to be genuinely trying to turn over a new leaf. She cooperated with the police, deescalated Pryce Chang’s aggression, and tried to approach David Keiwecki with empathy. In this episode, she’s throwing security guards across a golf course and threatening a man’s son in order to get information from him. The episode tries to acknowledge her extreme behavior with a voiceover monologue about how she keeps stepping over the line and how she’s fearful that she won’t be able to tell how far is too far. But a.) that doesn’t follow from the previous episode and b.) this episode mostly plays Jessica’s aggressive moments with a lightly comedic touch so they don’t land with the weight they should if it’s trying to tell a darker story about Jessica’s morality.

There’s a cognitive dissonance between what Jessica’s doing, how it’s being presented, and how she seems to feel about it. And that makes it really hard to track her arc. Good thing there’s nothing like a talking to from mom to straighten a girl out.


Stray observations

  • Jessica’s clothes are dry but her phone was somehow soaked in the aquarium accident. Okay.
  • I definitely hadn’t picked up on the idea that Malcolm has a crush on Trish. I’m curious if other people did.
  • Jessica casually carrying Justis Ambrose’s golf bag was a great use of her powers.
  • I didn’t realize all-male golf clubs still existed.
  • Even more so than questions about her mom, the biggest mystery of this episode is how did Jessica have sex on a paint-covered floor yet somehow wake up with no dried paint in her hair the next morning?
  • “Fish were hurt. People were terrorized. We just wanna find the people responsible.”