Photo: Netflix
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In our flawed criminal justice system, there’s unfortunately often a factor that’s more important than guilt or innocence: Narratives. How you spin a story, including how you spin it in the publicity around a case, can be as important as hard evidence. “A.K.A The Double Half-Wappinger” is all about public narratives vs. private truths.

When Hogarth inquired about Sallinger’s case last episode, I naively thought she was planning to help Jessica from behind the scenes. I clearly forgot who I was dealing with. Instead, Hogarth uses Jessica’s tip to take on Sallinger as a client. Her first move is to call a press conference upon his release from jail. She wants to reframe the narrative as one of an innocent man unfairly held despite any clear evidence. More importantly, she wants to reframe the narrative around Hogarth and Associates. It’s not a flailing law firm that just lost its biggest client; it’s an impressive institution willing to take on high-profile cases.

Sallinger has his own publicity plans, however, and he takes over the press conference to call out Jessica Jones and her masked vigilante friend. He suggests these superpowered women are leading a “take back the night” vendetta, and that he’s just an innocent single white man who unfairly got caught up in their feminist vengeance. Hogarth never meant to involve Jessica in the publicity, but the damage is done as soon as Sallinger takes over the narrative. And as he points out, Hogarth needs his case more than he needs her as his lawyer.

Jessica and Trish each respond differently to Sallinger’s accusation. Jessica, who values her anonymity, is frustrated by her newfound public persona—she doesn’t like when people look at her like a freak to avoid or a hero who can magically make all their problems go away. Trish, meanwhile, quietly bristles at not being able to claim credit for her heroism. True, she’s chosen to keep her identity a secret. But that gets frustrating when her superhero value continually comes from causing a distraction by playing a ditz while Jessica is the one who gets her hands dirty.

“A.K.A The Double Half-Wappinger” centers on Jessica and Trish’s out-of-town investigation into Sallinger. His most recent seven kills are clean, but Jessica suspects his first kill might have been less pristine. They travel to his small, bucolic hometown of Wappinger Falls, on the suspicion that Sallinger staged the tractor accident that killed his brother. Once Jessica learns that tractor rollovers are actually a thing, however, they dig deeper and find a different victim: Sallinger’s best friend and fellow high school wrestler Nathan Silva. He went missing shortly after the two fought about Nathan’s scholarships, which stemmed from his natural talent at wrestling. As Jessica uncovers in a brutal scene, Sallinger jealously murdered Nathan and buried his body under Nathan’s parents’ gazebo, where it’s remained this whole time.

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Though I usually love a good road trip episode, the excursion to Wappinger isn’t a hugely exhilarating anchor. Despite the red herring of Donnie’s death, finding Sallinger’s first kill still comes together way too easily. The episode sort of wants to dig into the emotional realities of Nathan’s parents, but it’s hard to care about them in anything but the abstract. Assuming Sallinger left DNA on his first kill (and assuming Costa can get jurisdiction over the body), this could be the thing that takes Sallinger down. Right now it feels more like a stall than a satisfying reveal.

Photo: Netflix

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What I’m more impressed by is how much the early plotting of this season has continued to matter down the line. These Marvel Netflix shows (especially Jessica Jones’ second season) often have a bad habit of filling their early episodes with procedural distractions that don’t really have any bearing on the rest of the season. Here, however, Trish’s early days as a vigilante— particularly the time she prevented a rape and sent a rapist to jail—matter a whole lot, as Zaya starts to piece together the full story of the masked female hero Sallinger mentioned during the press conference. The mysterious vigilante seems to be specifically targeting Hogarth’s clients, and Zaya’s investigation leads her to security footage of Malcolm and Trish’s confrontation back in “A.K.A Customer Service Is Standing By.” It’s great to see that early stuff continue to matter in a such a major way.

Malcolm is yet another character grappling with public vs. private narratives. He tells Hogarth he’s willing to put aside his personal feelings and work Sallinger’s case. In actuality, however, Malcolm decides to become a double agent and help Jessica’s investigation instead. Malcolm argues that he needs to work with Hogarth for stability and Jessica for morality, which seems a little bit strange (couldn’t he get, like, literally any other job to pay his bills?). On the other hand, I’m glad to see both Zaya and Malcolm getting storylines that feel more relevant to the rest of the season.

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While waiting for the cops to gather enough evidence from Nathan’s body to arrest Sallinger, Jessica and Trish each decide to embrace the value of publicity in a way they haven’t before. In one of the episode’s most fun scenes, Trish calls in an anonymous tip to the New York Bulletin and stages a masked vigilante photo shoot. She doesn’t go so far as to reveal her true identity, but she takes her superhero persona out of the shadows and into the public eye. (Now all we need is for J. Jonah Jameson to take a job at the Bulletin and start demanding more pictures of Hellcat.)

Jessica’s publicity tour isn’t quite as calculated, but when Sallinger challenges her to a “fair fight” during one of his wrestling practices at the community center, Jessica makes a savvy media decision. Rather than play by Sallinger’s rules, she demonstrates the full extent of her abilities—not in a way that makes her seem scary, but in a way that makes him seem weak and foolish. The kids in his class eat up the chance to see a real-life superhero in action. They’re immediately on her side, in a way Sallinger didn’t anticipate.

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Admittedly, it’s a little bit of a silly scene, and I’ll be curious to see how it fits in with the larger thematic portrait of the season as a whole. Questions about the ethics of superheroes and the nature of heroism can sometimes come across flat or inauthentic in superhero properties. Between that and this season’s serial killer villain, Jessica Jones is wading into some overly familiar territory across the board. Hopefully the moments of originality—like that fun Hellcat photo shoot—will be enough to elevate the season into something more unique.


Stray observations

  • Erik and Berry are laying low out of town.
  • Trish’s car alarm meltdown distraction was incredible. (“I am psychologically shutting down!” ) It was also a really smart way for her to play upon a ditzy celeb persona without doing something that would actually damage her brand/career.
  • This series doesn’t always do the best job showcasing Jessica’s powers, but watching her casually upend an entire gazebo was pretty impressive. I also enjoyed the moment she simply stood stock-still as Sallinger ran at her with full force.
  • People accidentally sending texts to the wrong person is usually used for sitcom fodder, so I appreciated how chill Zaya and Hogarth were about the fact that Hogarth accidentally texted her employee instead of Kith.
  • Jessica forms a begrudging sense of respect with Wappinger Falls’ cop Ronnie Velasco. I was mostly distracted by the question of why this episode named her Ronnie when Sallinger’s brother was already named Donnie.
  • Gillian: As great at her job as she is at interpreting Malcolm’s facial impressions.

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