Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

We’re a little more than halfway through Jessica Jones’ sophomore outing, which seems like the perfect time to stop and take stock of how the season is shaping up. So here’s my biggest question: What was the point of anything that happened in the first six episodes?

I’m being slightly hyperbolic, but based on the solid, intriguing place things are at by the end of this episode, I can’t help but feel that the first string of episodes were a real waste of time. Why did we need a scene of Jessica investigating Whizzer’s mongoose-shrine of an apartment? Why did the show bring back Will Simpson? Why did we have a scene of Malcolm punching Max Tatum? What was the point of that lengthy investigation into Leslie Hansen or Malcolm’s visit to the landlord or that whole thing at the golf club? And why on Earth did we spend so much time on Griffin? (Remember Griffin?)

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Obviously, some of those things could and probably will be relevant later in the season, especially Griffin. But looking back it feels like it took this season far too long to get going. It would be one thing if those episodes were entertaining in their own right or if they offered context that would be relevant down the road, like info on Dr. Karl Malus’ past or details about Jessica’s relationship with her mother. But they weren’t and they didn’t. They were sluggish intros to plot points that now feel totally irrelevant.

Thankfully, “AKA Ain’t We Got Fun” is the first episode of the season that actually feels like it’s going somewhere. But before I get on to the business of praising this episode—which I did very much enjoy—I do have one more big picture complaint to get out of the way first: It’s strange that the tense but controlled Alisa we meet in this episode feels nothing like the unhinged Killer we met in the first half of the season. Perhaps when I get a chance to go back and rewatch those earlier episodes (which I certainly don’t have time to do in the middle of a binge review), I’ll be able to pick up on the subtle nuances Janet McTeer was weaving into her performance. But my first impression is that the character has shifted dramatically in these past two episodes and the show is trying to handwave that away as being part of Alisa’s inherently volatile nature. To be clear, I very much like the performance McTeer is giving in this episode and I’d much rather have it over her one-note “craziness” from earlier. I just find the shift strange and unmotivated.

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Anyway, now on to praising what I liked about this episode, which is most of it actually! “AKA Ain’t We Got Fun” downplays the procedural aspects and ups the focus on character. And the procedural stuff that does exist—like Malcolm’s attempts to help one of Hogarth’s partners live a more honest life while also trying to get dirt on the other partner—is actually engaging to watch. Most importantly, it feels like everything in this episode actually matters to the ongoing story this season is telling.

“AKA Ain’t We Got Fun” centers on three key relationships: Alisa and Dr. Karl’s romance, Jessica and Dr. Karl’s antagonism, and—most importantly—Jessica and Alisa’s incredibly complicated mother/daughter dynamic. Though Karl is only in this episode for the first 10 minutes, he makes a big impression. He and Alisa both perceive their relationship as being a romance of equals, although that’s clearly complicated by the fact that he “created” her and that she has the potential to kill him at any moment.

Jessica, however, doesn’t give Karl an inch during their conversation, which is especially fair considering that she wakes up shackled to a bed with Karl standing over her. One of Jessica’s best qualities is her ability to call out emotionally manipulative behavior, especially when it comes from men. Each time Karl tries to frame himself as a hero or even just an innocent bystander, Jessica is there to hold him accountable for his actions. The two characters have a fascinating dynamic, one that’s related to but also different from the dynamic she had with Kilgrave in the first season. And though Karl winds up on the lam, I hope we get to see more of him and Jessica together before the season is over.

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The heart of this episode, however, belongs to Jessica and Alisa, who set about trying to navigate the strangest mother/daughter reunion imaginable. As Jessica puts it: “There’s no manual that tells you what to do when your mother who’s been dead for 17 years comes back and is a mass murderer. I’m kind of winging it.”

Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

Though Jessica knows she should turn Alisa over to the police, she can’t quite bring herself to do so. She doesn’t see her mother when she looks at Alisa, but she recognizes her voice. And, of course, she recognizes their shared memories, which is an experience Jessica hasn’t had since she was a teenage. She spent the past 17 years thinking she was the only surviving member of her family and that all the experiences they shared together would be remembered solely by her. Now she has someone else to share them with. It’s only natural that Jessica would struggle with the idea of giving that up.

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But Alisa isn’t a cuddly, easy-to-love mother figure, even when she’s not in one of her rage-filled states. She feels it’s her job to “correct” Jessica’s happy childhood memories with the more depressing reality (Jessica’s parents had an unhappy marriage and Alisa felt stifled by her husband). I wish we had a better sense of what Alisa was like before the accident so we could understand which parts of her personality are new and which have always been there. But even without that, it’s still entertaining to watch Alisa and Jessica snarkily bounce off one another. Jessica is angry at her mom for staying away for the past 17 years and even angrier about the fact that her mom is a violent killer. On the other hand, she’s also willing to take a bullet for Alisa too, so clearly it’s complicated.

The live action superhero genre is severely lacking in complex mother/daughter relationships and the Alisa/Jessica dynamic fills that void perfectly. Between this episode’s intriguing setup and the compelling flashbacks of “AKA I Want Your Cray Cray,” it feels like Jessica Jones’ second season is finally starting to find its feet. Hopefully the rest of the season will only continue to build on that.

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Stray observations

  • Jessica mentions that if Alisa is arrested she’ll be sent to The Raft, the underwater superhero prison that appeared in Captain America: Civil War.
  • Alisa speaks fluent Spanish and uses it for some prime mom bonding time with Oscar. Good thing Jessica never told Oscar that her whole family died in a car crash!
  • Hogarth pays a visit to IGH’s former healer Shane Ryback, who seems to prove that his healing powers are legit. Either that or he and Inez are working together to scam Hogarth, which is a thought that occurred to me while watching this episode. (I haven’t watched ahead so that’s a complete guess on my part.)
  • Malcolm immediately spots that Trish is on drugs, but he isn’t able to say no a hit of the inhaler himself. All I could think about during that scene was Bruce Wayne’s line from Batman Begins: “You know how it is. You’re out at night looking for kicks and somebody’s passing around a weaponized hallucinogen.”

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