Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jessica Jones offers an effective, unexpected meditation on grief

Screenshot: Netflix
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Not only is “A.K.A Hero Pants” a compelling episode in its own right, it retroactively makes the previous episode more interesting too. Not the Sallinger parts, of course, those are well past saving. But it turns out we didn’t have the full context for the emotional arcs Trish and Erik were experiencing in that episode. In fact, we don’t get the full context until the final few minutes of this episode, which spends most of its time as a slow-burn character study about grief, before pulling the rug out from under us. The person who killed Office Nussbaumer wasn’t Erik, although he did serve as an accomplice. Instead, it was Trish who did the deed.

For me at least, the moment Jessica started to put the pieces together about Trish came as a total shock. The episode downplays Trish’s role to a quiet character study, so I wasn’t really thinking about her in relation to the larger plot mechanics. Plus, we had no reason to think Trish even knew anything about Officer Nussbaumer. Yet the final reveal doesn’t feel unearned, either, because the previous episode did such a great job laying the emotional groundwork to get us to this point.


Erik was racked with guilt about not putting Sallinger away on kidnapping charges when he had the chance, even more so once Trish rejected his attempt at an apology. And Trish was fundamentally broken by the reveal that Jessica destroyed the evidence against Sallinger in order to save her. Given that emotional context, it’s easy to understand why Erik would cross an ethical line to make things right with Trish in any way possible. And it’s easy to see why Trish would feel pushed to take her vigilante work to such a brutal level after experiencing yet another loss in a long, agonizing list of them.

As Trish explains during her mom’s eulogy, the thing Dorothy valued most was talent and the thing she feared most was wasting it. It was a philosophy that led Dorothy to do a lot of good in the world—as the mourners at her funeral explain to Trish. But it was also a philosophy that justified a lot of horrific, abusive behavior too. In pushing her superpowered talents to their most violently extreme uses, Trish is now continuing Dorothy’s legacy in more ways than one. Like mother, like daughter.

Screenshot: Netflix

“A.K.A Hero Pants” isn’t just a strong episode because of its twist ending. Up until that point it works really well as a character-focused drama with light procedural episodes, exactly the kind of thing I asked for in my previous review. While the police continue investigating Jessica in connection to Nussbaumer’s murder, Jessica and Trish have to figure out how to mourn a parental figure who caused them a lot of harm throughout her life. As Erik explains while talking about his own father, the death of an abusive parent closes the book on any hope of redemption and reconciliation—even if that kind of redemption was only ever a fantasy. “She wasn’t perfect,” Jessica sums it up later. “Doesn’t make it any easier to bury her.”

Dorothy’s complicated legacy is beautifully encapsulated in the photo Jessica chooses to pin to her memory board. It’s an accidental snapshot of their legs the day Dorothy, Trish, and Jessica tried and failed to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a day where everything went wrong, but as Jessica explains, “Normal wrong. Just like a regular family.” There’s not always an easy way to sum up the balance of good and bad in a person’s life. Sometimes you just have to make peace with the messiness of reality.


Malcolm is another character trying to balance his personal scales of right and wrong. I haven’t made much time to talk about Malcolm in these reviews, other than to note that most of his storyline hasn’t been working for me. So I’m pleased to report that Malcolm is back to feeling like himself again, and Jessica Jones is all the better for it! It wasn’t an inherently bad idea to stretch Malcolm as a character, this season just didn’t do the legwork necessay to justify his turn to the dark side in the first place, which made it less interesting to watch him struggle to return to his old self. In his breakup with Zaya, he makes it sound like he was seduced by the money, power, and luxury of Hogarth’s world, but we never really saw that in action. Sure, he bought a couple new suits and upgraded units in his rundown apartment building, but it hardly felt like he was luxuriating in a lifestyle that made his ethical compromises understandable.

Screenshot: Netflix

Jessica and Malcolm’s reunion is wonderfully underplayed (“If the new you is less of a sanctimonious asshole, then it’ll be an upgrade”), and his willingness to help Brianna get a fresh start feels entirely in line with who Malcolm is. He’s been on a path of recovery and reclamation ever since Kilgrave derailed his life, and it makes sense that he would be empathetic to someone else looking for a second chance. As for his hookup with Brianna, well, I’m gonna have to wait and see how I feel about that one once I have a better sense of where the season is going with it.

“Wait and see” is actually how I feel about the big Trish reveal too. It works really well as a surprise endpoint for this episode, but I’m not yet sure how I feel about the way it restructures the season, especially since we’ve only got three more episodes left in Jessica Jones’ world. I’d love to see this series end on a note more akin to Daredevil’s self-contained finale than the open-ended tablesetting of Iron Fist and Luke Cage. For now, however, this episode leaves Trish and Erik on the loose, and Jessica locked up in police custody.


Stray observations

  • Of course Dorothy used “I Want Your Cray Cray” as her ringtone.
  • I can’t tell if I’m emphasizing it enough in these reviews, but at least a third of my notes for each episode are about how much I love Gillian. On what she told the cops when they questioned her about Jessica: “That I’d never personally seen you murder anyone.”
  • Hogarth seems to be somewhat randomly trying to turn over a new, more heroic leaf, even if that means convincing Kith to blackmail an adversary. Still, at least she’s dropping Sallinger as a client.
  • Jessica and Erik are so, so sweet together.
  • Krysten Ritter is absolutely heartbreaking in that mirror scene where Jessica tries to keep her emotional devastation in check.
  • So why did Trish take Officer Nussbaumer’s badge? Is she starting her own trophy collection like Sallinger’s photo album?
  • If your boyfriend is going to dump you while questioning the value of all of your life choices, you might as well be wearing an ’80s power ensemble when he does it.
Screenshot: Netflix

Share This Story

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.