Photo: Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix)

“AKA Pray For My Pats” is a relatively solid episode of Jessica Jones that nevertheless helped me figure out why this season isn’t working as well as the first. It’s now clear that this season is telling an overarching story about female anger, but it’s struggled to find compelling motivations for why so many of its characters are angry. For instance, Trish Walker and Alisa Jones both have anger issues that stem mostly from artificially induced states. Unfortunately, Trish became a less interesting character the second she started using Simpson’s inhaler. And Alisa is also at her least interesting when she’s in one of berserker rage fits. Rather than exploring female anger and the ways in which it manifests, Jessica Jones has written two female characters whose stories revolve around the fact that they get angry without any real logical reason.

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It would be one thing if Jessica Jones were using Trish and Alisa’s stories to meaningfully comment on addiction or mental health or rage issues. But that’s only happening at the most surface level. There are a couple times in this episode where Jessica explains that her mom acts the way she does because her brain is “broken.” But that’s not a meaningful metaphorical representation of mental illness. Nor is it a substitute for actual character motivation.

It’s incredibly hard to get invested in Alisa as a character because there’s no real rhyme or reason for why she acts the way she does. Fiction is full of characters with dueling personalities—from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Gollum and Sméagol to Bruce Banner and the Hulk—but those characters have a much clearer push-pull dynamic at their core. Alisa’s condition just feels arbitrary and poorly defined, which is something Jessica seems to confirm when she finds a note in Karl’s journal that reads, “Patient experiences dissociative episodes often marked by an obsessive, destructive fixation on a singular object or person.”

Why is Alisa so dead set on killing Trish? Well, there’s basically no reason other than to add some stakes and action to the series. Similarly, while the core of Trish’s desire to be a superhero seems true to what we know of her as a character, Simpson’s inhaler is a writing shortcut designed to quicky get her to a place where she was willing to agree to a dangerous superhero surgery. A crucial aspect of storytelling is exploring why characters act the way they do. This season of Jessica Jones has spent far too much time answering the question of “Why?” with “Just because.”

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Once again, Jeri Hogarth’s story provides a really helpful point of comparison for the rest of the season. Everything Hogarth does in this episode builds naturally on both her character and her situation. I absolutely believe that Hogarth would be hellbent on getting revenge and that she would enact her revenge in the psychologically cruel manner that she does. She doesn’t want to see Inez and Shane brought to justice or even to inflict physical pain on them herself. Instead she manipulates Inez into shooting the man she loves and then ensures Inez will be put away for that crime instead. It’s a dark but compelling moment for Jessica Jones. And Hogarth’s revenge mission is one that explores female anger in a way that doesn’t just involve a woman flipping over a table or smashing through a window.

Looking back, I’ve spent more of this review talking about stuff I didn’t like than stuff that I did, which perhaps makes my grade seem a little incongruous. But “AKA Pray For My Pats” benefits from the better pacing and livelier storytelling that’s characterized the back half of the season. And there are a lot of strong individual moments within the episode, like Dorothy milking her daughter’s injuries for publicity, Trish and Jessica’s complex sisterly tensions (even in the mist of a fight, Jessica still tells Alisa that Trish is her best friend), and the image of Jessica stowing away in a body bag.

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And who knows, perhaps there’s a greater metaphorical resonance to Trish and Alisa’s storylines that will click into place for me in the finale. There’s certainly a lot of potential there. These two troubled women are Jessica’s only family and she can’t bring herself to give up on them, even when that seems like the most logical choice. Human beings don’t always act logically. And maybe Jessica Jones is exploring that fact more intentionally than I’m giving it credit for.


Stray observations

  • I know the show needed to make it immediately clear that Hogarth lied about Shane’s letters, but you’d think she would have at least written up a few fake examples in case Inez wanted to check the folder.
  • Just to clarify a point I made above: I definitely don’t mean to imply that characters with mental health issues can’t be compelling if their behavior is erratic or illogical. I just don’t think Jessica Jones is doing a good job of exploring that, if, indeed, that’s even what it’s setting out to do. Regardless, I recommend the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the John Green novel Turtles All The Way Down as stories that feature protagonists with mental health issues whose sometimes erratic behavior is compelling explored.
  • Shakina Nayfack, who plays the pawnshop owner in this episode, also had a recurring role on Hulu’s Difficult People, which is another show I highly recommend checking out.
  • Not gonna lie, I was really starting to feel the binge-review exhaustion during this episode. Thankfully a cameo from Rob Morgan’s Turk Barrett was all I needed to pick me back up! (And because these Stray Observations have apparently just become Caroline’s Recommendation Corner, I also recommend checking out Morgan in the phenomenal Netflix original film Mudbound.)
  • Why did that final shot of the RV go on for so long?

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