Back in my review of Jessica Jones’ first season finale—the wrap-up to my first ever Marvel Netflix binge-review experience—I wrote about how conflicted I felt about Kilgrave’s death. On the one hand, it felt like the right thematic capper for the season and for Jessica’s arc. On the other hand, I was disappointed that we were losing David Tennant’s absolutely captivating performance from Jessica Jones’ world. I’ve had the exact opposite experience this season. Sallinger has been a massive drain on the series, a completely lackluster antagonist who was a total bore to watch each time he was onscreen. I didn’t actively cheer when he died, but I did feel a sense of relief at the fact that we’re finally (finally!) done with him.
Of course, you could certainly make the argument that Trish has actually become the true Big Bad of this season, but, regardless, Sallinger is still a crucial tipping point on her slow descent to the dark side, and one who’s gotten a lot of screentime in his own right. A good superhero antagonist should feel worthy of the heroes he’s going up against. In this case, Trish and Jessica both deserved better.
There are two big problems with Sallinger. The first is that Jessica Jones never succeeded at actually making him seem like a terrifying genius. We’re given no real insights into how he managed to kill seven people without leaving behind any evidence, which would’ve been a much more effective way to demonstrate his intelligence rather than just continually mentioning his degrees. (I’m particularly curious to know how he kidnapped/lured his victims to him in the first place.) Instead, the details we do get about his crimes often make him seem ineffective and amateurish.
After stabbing Jessica in the premiere, he panicked and ran away, leaving her alive and his weapon behind. A kiss was enough to derail one of his earlier murders and leave behind another living victim who could’ve easily ID’d him to the police, which, again, makes Sallinger seem sloppy and impulsive, not hyper-intelligent. Far from feeling like a believably insurmountable threat, Sallinger felt like a character given magical plot armor that allowed him to do whatever he needed to do to make it through to the penultimate episode of the season.
The other problem with Sallinger is that he’s not a particularly interesting character to watch. The blame doesn’t fall solely on Jeremy Bobb—who was given some lackluster material to work with—but he never finds a way to elevate it or make it cohere either. In the scenes in this episode where Jessica becomes his reluctant protector, Bobb plays Sallinger with wry humor, almost like he’s trying to capture some of the strangely comedic energy Tennant managed to create with Ritter. That seems very at odds with Sallinger’s usual emotionally detached demeanor. Perhaps it’s supposed to be another example of Sallinger putting on an act (think of his relative charm and ease as a wrestling coach or the time he fake cried while making a 911 call), but I’m not sure he has any reason to be putting on a fake persona around Jessica as she’s guiding him through the hospital or trying to hand him over to Hogarth.
“A.K.A A Lotta Worms” is bookended by scenes of Trish going after Sallinger, but the bulk of the episode is divided into two equally boring plots: Jessica and Sallinger engage in a TV serial killer 101 storyline as he kidnaps her and forces her to “face her truth.” Elsewhere, Trish and Malcolm hash through an ethics 101 class at her loft, where he’s tied her up to ensure she can’t kill Sallinger before Jessica finds a way to take him down legally.
The Malcolm/Trish storyline demonstrates just how limited this season has been in its exploration morality. At one point Malcolm asks whether he deserves to die for being mean when he broke up with his girlfriend, and it’s somehow framed as a genuinely intriguing ethical question. Trish shares a deeply upsetting story about having to falsely claim that her dad beat her because Dorothy refused to report the domestic violence that was actually aimed at her. Malcolm has perhaps the least empathetic response a human being could possibly have in that situation by immediately launching into a lecture about how it’s wrong to argue that the ends ever justify the means. Ethics!
Elsewhere, Sallinger repays Jessica for saving his life by drugging her bourbon and showing up at her apartment for a photo shoot/murder session. He goes on a lengthy monologue about how her disinterested demeanor is an act and deep down she actually wants to find purpose in being a hero. Which, yes, that’s been the entire thesis of this show from the beginning, thanks for the summary! The storyline builds to the obvious reveal that Jessica has actually had the upper hand the whole time. With Erik’s help, she filmed Sallinger kidnapping her as well as the confession she provokes out of him by suggesting he kills for fun and that his moral crusade is just an act. It’s another idea that might be a revelation for Sallinger, but certainly isn’t one for the audience.
Even more so than “A.K.A Sorry Face,” this episode really feels like it could serve as a season finale until a last minute twist kicks the story back into gear. Trish tries to make peace with the idea of Sallinger facing his punishment in the criminal justice system, but all it takes are a few righteous words from Grace to send her back down the murder path. In the opening sequence of this episode, Trish fails at killing Sallinger but succeeds at saving her soul (or at least having it saved for her). In the final sequence, she succeeds at killing but loses her humanity in the process.
Of the many dangling threads left to be wrapped up in the finale, the biggest is the impending Trish vs. Jessica sister showdown. Then again, maybe it’s wrong to even think of Trish in those human terms anymore. To quote Taylor Swift: “I’m sorry, the old Trish can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead.”
- In “A.K.A Hellcat,” we saw Trish struggle to hold her own in a fight against Sallinger. Here, she easily takes down FOUR armed police officers and then… once again struggles to hold her own against Sallinger. Okay!
- So where does Jessica planting Sallinger’s knife and blood at Dorothy’s crime scene fit on the Jessica Jones ethical scale?
- Did Jessica (or Erik) switch out Sallinger’s tranquilized bourbon and she faked passing out? Or was she actually knocked out for a while but was strong enough to withstand the drug he put in to paralyze her?
- Malcolm explains his break up with Zaya by noting that he couldn’t live up to the pressure of being the “good guy” she thought he was, which seems like weird phrasing to me. I could understand if he’d said powerful/success/rich, etc., but his rejection of Hogarth and Zaya’s world was a rejection of their questionable morality, not a failure to live up to it.
- Wasn’t there a scene where Hogarth specifically said she was dropping Sallinger as a client? Did I dream that in my binge-review exhaustion?
- In an alternate universe, I spent this entire review discussing Costa’s unexpected taste in hats.