Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

“You should be very afraid of the woman who has absolutely nothing left to lose.”

“AKA Playland” feels a bit like Thelma & Louise if instead of driving off a cliff together at the end, Louise got shot in the head and Thelma went on to live a normal, happy life as a superhero. The episode opens with Jessica and Alisa on the run, vaguely headed towards the Canadian border as a means of escape. But though they continue to pretend that living as fugitives would be sustainable for them, it’s also clearly a pipe dream. Alisa—initially the instigator of the plan—comes to that realization first. She can’t keep putting her daughter in danger. The problem is, Jessica can’t walk away from Alisa, especially not after witnessing her mom almost die while helping a roadside accident. And she certainly can’t kill her. So instead it’s Trish who winds up pulling the trigger that ends Alisa’s life.

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Although Trish murdering Alisa is one of the most darkly shocking things that’s ever happened in one of these Defenders shows, “AKA Playland” is actually an episode characterized first and foremost by hope. Alisa doesn’t just want to run away with her daughter—she wants them to team up to save the world. And while they don’t get a chance to live out that dream, Jessica seems to take it to heart anyway. She isn’t quitting her PI job anytime soon, but she does pull off an act of genuine superhero altruism when she stops a liquor store robbery. And perhaps even more impressively, she actually allows herself to take pride in what she did as she recounts the story to Vido.

Like Daredevil’s second season finale, “AKA Playland” leaves its main cast scattered but not unhopeful. Jessica, Malcolm, and Trish may not be on speaking terms anymore, but they’ve each found new drives in their lives. Malcolm gets Hogarth the leverage she needs to negotiate a generous severance deal that allows her to keep her old clients (including Danny Rand). Hogarth’s new life plan is to continue managing her ALS symptoms while also starting her own practice. And though she isn’t willing to hire Malcolm directly, she’s more than happy to work with him through her new PI consultant, Pryce Chang.

The biggest seismic shift that results from this episode is the seemingly permanent break that occurs between Jessica and Trish. It’s not that Jessica can’t see the logic of what Trish did. As Officer Costa notes, Alisa had clearly crossed an ethical line from which there was no coming back. And since Alisa refused to be brought into custody and Jessica refused to leave her behind, Alisa’s death was the only hope Jessica had of ever leading a normal life again. But as Jessica rightly points out, that doesn’t mean Trish had to be the one to pull the trigger. Trish’s naive, desperate need to be a hero means that Jessica will now always see Trish both as her sister and as the woman who killed her mother. And there’s perhaps no getting over that. (If Jessica needs someone to commiserate with, however, Tony Stark has dealt with a very similar issue.)

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Yet even Trish’s story ends with hope. A nurse informs Trish that she’s used up two of her nine lives, which is a relevant metaphor given that Dr. Karl’s procedure seems to have left her with a set of catlike reflexes. It’s not an entirely surprising reveal given that Trish’s comic book counterpart masquerades as a superhero named Hellcat. But after not being fully invested in her arc this season, I’m now very curious to see what Jessica Jones plans to do with Trish’s story moving forward.

So has this relatively strong final string of episodes been enough to redeem Jessica Jones’ messy second season? Eh, I’m not so sure. Overall, I’m still disappointed by the season’s lack of thematic and narrative cohesion. There’s no denying that it went on some really strange tangents and too often introduced things without ever paying them off. Plus not only did the season start off painfully slowly, it also somehow managed to feel like it was rushing certain relationships and plot points too.

On the other hand, this season also offered elements I’ve never seen from a superhero show before, like a complex mother/daughter relationship centered on a pair of superpowered women. And especially in the second half of the season, the show made a clear and impressive commitment to telling stories that centered predominantly on women, which is still rare in the superhero genre—or in any genre, really.

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And despite its flaws, this season finds a truly lovely note on which to end. As Jessica explains in voiceover, she’s spent most of her life not fully living it. That’s understandable because each time Jessica allows herself to be happy, it seems to be ripped away from her (R.I.P. Stirling). But living a detached half life isn’t the same thing as living a full one. And this finale ends not with an act of physical strength, but with an act of emotional strength.

Jessica takes Oscar and Vido up on their open invitation to join them for dinner and, more importantly, she actually gives herself over to their familial happiness too. Krysten Ritter once again deserves massive kudos for the perfect way she plays that final scene. It’s the most warm and open we’ve seen Jessica outside of flashbacks to her pre-Kilgrave, pre-Stirling past. Although witnessing her mother’s brutal death is yet another trauma to add to Jessica’s extensive list of traumas, she chooses to let it strengthen her, not break her. She decides to stop simply existing and start actually living. I can’t imagine a better place to leave our central heroine.

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Stray observations

  • Griffin Watch: WHY THE HELL DID WE SPEND SO MUCH TIME WITH GRIFFIN IN THE FIRST FIVE EPISODES OF THIS SEASON?!?!
  • I have a lot of questions about the amount of time Jessica and Alisa spend driving and how little ground they seem to cover. Both Oscar and Trish are able to catch up to them like they’re just down the block.
  • Though I wish this season had delved more deeply into Jessica’s childhood relationship with Alisa, the Ferris wheel scene provided a lovely payoff for the story Alisa told about it back in “AKA Ain’t We Got Fun.”
  • My biggest hope for Jessica Jones’ third season is that the show will finally add some women of color to its main cast. If Jessica Jones wants to be lauded as a feminist show, it needs to remember that intersectionality is a big part of feminism.
  • Thanks for following along on these binge reviews! I’ll be curious to see how I feel about this season once I get a chance to sit with it a little more. For now, however, I’m happy to discuss all things Jessica over on Twitter.
  • “Maybe I don’t have to be amazing. Maybe I just made you.”

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