Katarina Schultz wrestles with the underwhelming narratives of Season 2 Episode 5 (AKA The Octopus)
Following the events of last week’s episode, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is in jail suspected of a crime she didn’t commit. At this point it’s not an unfamiliar situation for her. But no, she didn’t murder that man. The woman who is Not-Leslie-Hansen (Janet McTeer) did. Who is she? We still don’t know. What we do know is that she wears a very good (or so we are told to believe) wig, she’s stronger than Jessica, and she loves burning things in her back yard. Jessica gets out of jail by accepting Jeri Hogarth’s excellent advice to “stop alienating” people and jumps back on the case. She’s got a very scared, very prickly witness to protect. Inez Green (Leah Gibson) was a nurse for IGH who was attacked by a patient and is now homeless. Green gives Jessica the lead on the murder of another IGH nurse for which an IGH janitor is currently doing time.
Jess, posing as a therapist (in a lab coat, really?), visits the janitor, David Kawecki, in his psychiatric prison ward. Her interview with him proves that her people skills are actually excellent – when she chooses to use them. She is patient. She is kind. She is gently manipulative. She knows what to say to get what she wants. So why doesn’t she use these skills all the time, in her profession? As I imagine Jessica would answer, what fun would that be? Kawecki reveals the existence of a Doctor Karl, an octopus-loving scientist who is the next key to the IGH mystery. Jess tracks him to the aquarium where he loves to spend his time and spots him smooching Doctor Not Leslie Hansen. Not-Hansen cracks the glass of a fish tank and BLAM- end of episode 5.
Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) is still having a bad day, week, year, SEASON. Still reeling from taking Simpson’s super stimulant inhaler, she’s dragged by her mom to a meeting which turns out to be a surprise proposal by her sweet boyfriend Griffin Sinclair (Hal Ozsan). Who doesn’t love Griffin, right? Even Jessica likes him. Well, Trish doesn’t, as it turns out. In that moment she realizes she wants to be Griffin, the super slick, serious news reporter, not be with him (iconic, honestly). She rejects his proposal and his conflict-free diamond ring, and takes a big hit of Simpson’s inhaler instead. Throwing Trish, who is 10 years clean and sober, back into drug use in the name of an alternate Hellcat origin story is disappointing to say the least. To put her back through the ringer of addiction seems unnecessarily cruel. Trish wants to do good in this world, primarily through her journalism. To have her feel like she has to compete with people with abilities to do so would be a valid theme. But her story line so far lacks the development of this conflict within her, which makes the sudden return to drug use feel undeserved.
Just when I think I’ve had enough of Jessica Jones, the show gives me a few tasty kernels of suspense or humanity and I’m wading right back in. Jessica’s attitude has been grating on me more this season than it ever did in Season 1 or The Defenders. I understand less of where she’s coming from in this season. Perhaps that’s a personal relatability factor, but I also believe it’s the responsibility of the show to communicate a character’s motivations and cultivate relatability or at least understanding. This is not to say that all characters have to be lovable. Part of the magic of Jessica Jones is that she is unlikable. She is hostile. She is tough. She doesn’t conform to gender expectations or any stereotype of what survivorship should look like.
This leaves me conflicted over the moments where, honestly, I can’t stand Jess. Is it a good thing, to wrinkle the character to this extent? To have the viewer oscillate between like and dislike? Or should understanding, even in the face of dislike, always be key? The moments that draw me back to Jess in this episode are those that soften her, that show her vulnerability. When she’s watching Trish get proposed to with a mix of surprise, concern, and disbelief written on her face, even appearing a little choked up against her will. When she’s watching her super, Oscar (J.R. Ramirez), sit down with his mother and son to a home-cooked meal, realizing she will never be a part of a scene so functionally domestic. Even when she’s interviewing Kawecki, showing him a compassion, even if performative, that she rarely reveals to others. It’s these small moments, even more so than the plot, that keep me coming back each episode to this messy, problematic show.