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Jessica Jones’ latest investigation uncovers this season’s new villain

Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)
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As someone who avoids watching trailers or reading too much about these Marvel Netflix shows ahead of their debuts, I was feeling smugly confident that Erik would turn out to be this season’s Big Bad. A charismatic man hitting it off with Jessica immediately set off all my mental red flags. But unless there’s another big twist coming down the line, it seems like I was wrong. Erik is designed to serve as yet another foil for Jessica’s morally grey loner tendencies. This season’s actual Big Bad is a creepy serial killer named Gregory P. Sallinger (Jeremy Bobb).

Before we get to Sallinger, however, we get to know Erik a little better. It turns out he’s also got superpowers, which manifest as a Spidey-Sense for bad guys. He gets a blistering headache whenever he’s near someone who’s morally bankrupt, which allows him to blackmail them without knowing their actual crimes. He then uses that money to feed his gambling addiction, which—along with booze and sex—is one of the only comforts he has from the burden of his powers. Since the person who stabbed Jessica is probably connected to one of Erik’s three most recent blackmail targets, they set off to figure out which one it might be.

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Jessica wants justice, or at least vengeance. Erik, however, just wants to collect the money they left for him so he can pay off his angry bookie before she drowns him a pool. He’s not a bad guy, exactly, but he’s content to use his abilities for himself and nothing more. He’s basically Jessica before she fully embraced the idea of being a hero.

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Though this season has been a bit too on-the-nose when it comes to discussing the moral grey areas in which its characters operate, a better and subtler theme is about justice and how it’s served. In a broken legal system in which rich people can buy their way out (often using Hogarth’s services), is vigilante justice any more unfair or arbitrary? Erik thinks the idea of justice at all is pointless. He and Jessica could spend a lifetime stopping bad guys and it would still just be a drop in the bucket in terms of all the immorality in the universe. Yet it’s also true that stopping a child pornographer and warning an insurance company’s employees that their pensions are being stolen has done some concrete good in the world.

Benjamin Walker emerges as a real highlight of this episode. You could easily see an actor playing up Erik’s tortured nature, but Walker leans into the confident, devil-may-care attitude of a man with a useful sixth sense. Though Erik is more charismatic than Jessica, Walker captures the same sardonic wit that makes Krysten Ritter’s performance such a joy to watch. (When Jessica informs him that Sallinger left something in her apartment, Erik deadpans, “Well that can’t be good.”) In the way their skillsets and personalities align, Erik and Jessica feel like a perfect match. The problem is, they’re too perfect of a match.

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Though Erik clearly cares about Jessica in a genuine way, he takes her up on her offer to lay low rather than pursue the Sallinger case any further. It turns out that Jessica doesn’t need someone who mirrors her personality, she needs someone who balances her out. For as much as Trish’s “clingy, smothering, tenacious” spirit can frustrate Jessica at times, there’s a value in that kind of persistence over Erik’s apathy. The scene where Jessica calls into Trish’s show is pretty silly and pointless (why not just call her personally?), but I didn’t expect the two of them to reconcile this early in the season, so I’m excited to see what’s in store moving forward. Especially now that Trish has learned about the potentially deadly consequences that can come when you take justice into your own hands.

Hogarth is another character swimming around this season’s tapestry of isolated loners. Carrie-Ann Moss and Sarita Choudhury are fantastic together, and their scenes bring an appreciable new energy to the season, even as their story feels thematically connected to everything else. Hogarth’s desire to reconnect with Kith seems to stem from a desire to find someone to take care of her as her health deteriorates. Only rather than just ask for help, Hogarth immediately delves into blackmail, bribery, and seduction. (Classic Hogarth.) When her attempts to win Kith over with her luxury and connections don’t work, she instructs Malcolm to blow up Kith’s world by releasing information about how Peter steals from their daughter’s memorial fund. (Also classic Hogarth.)

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Photo: Netflix

I really can’t say enough good things about how well paced this season has been so far. The Hogarth/Kith storyline provides a nuanced, character-centric dramatic throughline, while Jessica and Erik’s investigation gives this episode a solid episodic structure. We even get a fun Trish action scene to jazz things up! I don’t think season three is matching the thematic highs or complex world building that has defined Jessica Jones at its best, but it feels like we’ve already gotten so much crucial story and character building in just these first four episodes, which definitely wasn’t the case last season. Most importantly, “A.K.A Customer Service Is Standing By” builds to some big season-wide shifts too, so it doesn’t just feel like procedural wheel spinning.

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Rather than up the ante with a big superpowered villain, season three strips things back to a smaller-scale human drama. So far the little we’ve seen of Sallinger’s meticulous, intellectual, detached persona hits pretty familiar movie serial killer beats (albeit, very effectively portrayed by Jeremy Bobb). But if he’s going to be a Big Bad tough enough to withstand the efforts of two full-on superheroes, I have to assume he has something more up his sleeve.


Stray observations

  • One of this episode’s sweetest moments is the reveal that Erik doesn’t get a headache around Jessica.
  • The Punisher’s second season also featured Frank Castle busting a child porn photographer.
  • Jessica refers to the fact that the last powered person she didn’t believe wound up dead. That was Whizzer from the season two premiere, a “fear-based hero” who could only manifest his super-speed when he was scared.
  • I’m now wondering if Malcolm’s still poorly define girlfriend is going to turn out to be nefarious in some way. Maybe Hogarth instructed her to start a relationship with Malcolm in order to keep tabs on him?
  • With her strange family dynamics and penchant for drowning people in her backyard pool, Sal Blaskowski is the perfect low-level villain for Jessica Jones’ world. Despite falling on a crowbar during her fight with Trish, she lives to throw people into pools another day!
  • “Did you fly here or something? Do you need a ride?”
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About the author

Caroline Siede

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.