Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

Well, it was nice while it lasted. After a string of solid episodes, “AKA Pork Chop” returns to the messiness that defined the first half of Jessica Jones’ second season. But it does at least provide an informative case study on how to build a season-long story. And how not to.

Let’s examine the most successful element of the episode first: the culmination of Jeri Hogarth’s storyline. Hogarth’s illness was introduced in the very first episode of the season and it’s shaped her arc ever since. We’ve seen her blow off steam with drugs and sex, consider ending her own life, and eventually become committed to the idea of finding an extralegal means of curing herself. Grappling with her diagnosis has allowed Hogarth to grow and change as a character. She began as a cynical power player and grew to become an optimistic woman who believes in miracles.

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Hogarth’s diagnosis also provided season-long storytelling fuel as well. It inspired Hogarth to make amends with Jessica in order to hire her to find dirt on her law firm partners, which has served as an ongoing subplot for the season. And it made Hogarth open to the idea of taking Inez into her home when Jessica needed a safe house for her. Hogarth’s played a role in other storylines this season—like the way she serves as Alisa’s lawyer in this episode—but she’s had one central through-line to anchor her. And that journey comes to a devastating conclusion in “AKA Pork Chop” as she realizes her healing transformation was a scam.

That’s how you tell a season-long story. You weave it throughout the season and allow it to morph and change along the way, fueling both plot and character in the process. And you make sure it’s actually building to something, like the absolutely heartbreaking reveal in this episode.

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I was mostly neutral on Hogarth as a character in Jessica Jones’ first season, where I felt that she often veered too close to being a one-note icy corporate woman trope. But this ALS storyline has allowed the show to reveal complex new layers to her personality. For the first half of this episode, Carrie-Anne Moss softens her performance to capture Hogarth’s newfound sense of joy and freedom. She thinks she’s gotten a second lease on life and that’s entirely changed the way she interacts with the world. When Jessica tells her that Shane and Inez scammed her, Hogarth initially refuses to believe it. But Moss layers in just a little bit of doubt behind Hogarth’s eyes. And when she returns home to find her entire apartment has been robbed, Moss perfectly captures the way Hogarth’s disbelief melts into grief. It’s a standout sequence that presents Hogarth’s emotional reality in a visceral, compelling, devastating way.

On both an episodic and a season-long level, everything about Hogarth’s storyline is a home run. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of this episode.

Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

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You could argue that some of the big things that happen in “AKA Pork Chop” are culminations of season-long storytelling, like Trish’s obsession with IGH, Alisa’s hatred towards Trish, Jessica’s fears about becoming a killer, and the overarching theme of women being abused by powerful men. But unlike Hogarth’s storyline, they’re culminations that work only on an intellectual level, not an emotional one.

Case in point: Trish’s tense prison visit with Alisa. Ostensibly it was established early on in the season that “The Killer” was motivated by a deep hatred towards Trish’s reporting on super powered people. And yet, when Alisa sat down to talk to Trish I couldn’t for the life of me remember how those two characters even knew each other. The problem is that while we saw plenty of Trish’s investigation into IGH, we saw very little of her talking about it on the radio. So it’s hard to connect to the idea that Alisa was so terrified of Trish’s reporting that she was willing to kill to make it stop. Really all we ever saw Trish do was mention the name Leslie Hansen on air and while I can maybe intellectually understand why that would scare Alisa, it’s hard to emotionally connect to her fear. Especially because we never even saw Alisa listening to Trish’s show.

In other words, the season spent its time telling rather than showing us the Trish/Alisa tension (and it didn’t even do that much telling either), so the big payoff in this episode rings hollow. The most interesting idea revealed in the scene is that Trish is jealous of Jessica’s superpowers, which does feel like it’s building on her overall storyline this season. However, getting from that to Trish knocking out Malcolm and stuffing him in her trunk still feels like a pretty big leap. Trish is off of Simpson’s inhaler but apparently her increased aggression hasn’t entirely gone away.

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And then there’s the story of abusive prison guard Dale Holiday, which can only provide so much emotional payoff because he’s a character introduced and killed in the same episode. Again, I can intellectually understand what the show is going for. Like Kilgrave and Max Tatum, Dale is another example of an abusive man misusing his power. And questions about Jessica’s ability to kill have certainly been a major part of this season. But we barely have time to process the idea that Alisa’s been imprisoned before we’re suddenly thrust into a whole new storyline about her horrible experience there. And just as soon as we’ve started getting used to that status quo, we’re suddenly watching Jessica accidentally murder Dale in his own home.

There has to be a balance between letting season-long stories build while still keeping things clipping along at a brisk place. And while Hogarth’s storyline proves Jessica Jones is more than capable of doing that when it wants to, the rest of “AKA Pork Chop” can’t match that level of storytelling confidence.

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Stray observations

  • We see enough of Trish’s ZCN trial run to understand that she bombed, but it feels like the episode is building towards an even bigger moment of embarrassment when Ronald Garcia tells Trish to improvise. Instead, we cut away from the scene and when we return to it the trial run is over.
  • There’s also no real payoff to the moment Malcolm freaked out and ran away after trying the inhaler in “AKA Ain’t We Got Fun.”
  • I’d love some more clarification on how Trish is doing in her post-inhaler state. Are her emotions still being directly influenced by the drugs in the inhaler (which we learn contains enough toxins to kill someone)? Or is she simply emotionally spiraling without any kind of outside influence?
  • Jessica and Oscar are very, very sweet together.
  • The most shocking moment of this episode is that Jessica briefly wears a dark wash jean.

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