Because the stories in Marvel’s Netflix series were always far more grounded than their big screen counterparts, many characters were drastically reimagined in order to fit organically into the MCU’s heightened, yet still realistic New York City. Despite Patsy Walker’s heroic origins in Marvel’s comics being explicitly mystical—the kind of mystical that doesn’t really exist within Jessica Jones’ world—the series began to explore that part of her mythos in its second season as Trish desperately fought to become empowered like her sister.
While the series could have easily just given Trish “Patsy” Walker cat-like reflexes, a quick Hellcat costume joke, and called it a day, it instead turned the idea of Trish descending into hell into an exploration of her own deep-rooted, psychological traumas and how leaving those kinds of experiences unaddressed can profoundly harm a person.
In the brief time between Jessica Jones’ second and third seasons, Trish began honing her newfound superpowers and thinking about what kind of heroic vigilante she wanted to become now that, in her mind, she had everything she needed to fulfill that dream. But as season three opens, Jessica Jones quickly established that Jessica herself, perhaps the most crucial part of Trish becoming a hero, was still conspicuously missing from her life.
There’s no hard and fast rule about a freshly minted vigilante needing to be guided by a mentor. But Trish’s desire to become a superhero was so inextricably tied up in her relationship with her sister that it felt as if without Jessica, Trish would be flying blind, night vision notwithstanding. By killing Jessica’s biological mother in season two, Trish took away Jessica’s one chance to hold onto a piece of her former life before the fateful accident that killed her family. Trish understands the pain she’s caused her, but she’s far from remorseful for her actions because she sincerely believes she did the right thing. The two women remain firmly opposed to one another’s actions as season three opens until Gregory Salinger, a new serial killer on the loose, convinces them to begrudgingly join forces.
Similar to his Foolkiller comics counterpart, Salinger operates based on a personal code of justice he uses to judge whether a particular person is somehow “cheating” at life in some way that makes life more difficult for others. From Foolkiller’s perspective, people with superpowers are merely fooling themselves into believing that their actions are heroic, while baseline humans like himself fight crime in a more fair manner. But because Salinger has no qualms about murdering his targets and delights in torturing them, he’s every bit the villain (if not more so) that he believes his victims to be.
Jessica and Trish are much more adept at tracking and taking Salinger down together than they were on their own, but what Trish in particular quickly learns about her new line of work is that doing the “right” thing doesn’t always necessarily mean that justice will be served accordingly or in a timely fashion. While the pair are able to apprehend Salinger and prevent him from killing Erik Gelden, an empath who can sense the presence of evil in people, they learn that there isn’t enough evidence to send Salinger to trial, meaning he’ll soon be free on the streets to resume his hunt. It’s here that the contrast between Jessica’s years of experience fighting killers and Trish’s distinct lack of experience becomes important, because it informs how they both handle the realization that their work isn’t through.
Where Jessica’s long since become accustomed to playing extended games of cat and mouse with villains, Trish struggles to understand the point of being an empowered person if, when the judicial system fails, they can’t take matters into their own hands. It’s the sort of life lesson that would come from working cases like these and coming to understand how outsized displays of power can backfire and inadvertently harm heroes and their loved ones rather than helping people. But because Jessica always made a very understandable point of trying to keep Trish as far away from this life as she could, Trish never had a chance to gain that kind of first-hand perspective—and it drives her to continue to push forward even when Jessica urges her to pump the breaks.
Being a vigilante gives Trish purpose at a time when she’s trying to redefine herself on her own terms after spending a lifetime pretending to be someone she’s not, in order to keep others happy. As word of the “Masked Vigilante” begins to spread, Trish is emboldened to embrace the identity in order to become the kind of hero she believes New York City needs, which also makes her precisely the kind of person Salinger would want to torment before ultimately murdering. With Gelden’s help, Trish is able to go out and target other criminals as a means of making up for Salinger going free—and the fact that Jessica won’t break her own moral code to stop villains—but her doing so is precisely what makes Salinger take an interest in her.
The more Trish tries to make up for Salinger’s release by going out and targeting other criminals, the more on his radar she becomes, but Trish is too concerned with the thrill she gets out of her work to understand the danger she’s gotten herself into. There’s no way either Jessica or Trish could have anticipated Salinger killing Trish’s mother Dorothy, but it’s exactly the kind of move he would make because it works to hurt both of his foes simultaneously. Difficult as their relationship was, Jessica’s nonetheless shaken by Dorothy’s death, but Trish takes it to heart in such a way that pushes her up to the edge, and years worth of emotional trauma cause her to tip right over it.
All of Trish’s new character building becomes thoughtfully contextualized in “A.K.A Hellcat,” the 11th episode of the season; it features a number of flashbacks to Trish’s past as a child star just breaking into show business at the behest of her overbearing mother. In young “Patsy” (played by Audrey Grace Marshall), you can see all of adult Trish’s desire to do good by others and to make them happy, but you also see how Dorothy’s own selfish desires for fame inadvertently caused Trish’s worldview to become warped very early on. Though Trish merely wanted to be a kid actor and have fun, Dorothy’s sights were always set on stardom for them both, and she understood she could capitalize on her daughter’s need to please to make that happen.
At one point, after making sure that Trish becomes the leading star on her own series, Dorothy pulls her aside to explain all of the responsibilities that come along with her newly-earned role. But rather than emphasizing how hard Trish worked to get where she is, Dorothy instead plays on Trish’s insecurities and sows dangerous seeds in her daughter’s mind that, in time, factor into the villain she becomes:
You’re number one on the call sheet. You have to lead by example. You help the other actors and you let them know you notice if they’re unprepared. You set the tone and land the jokes. A hundred people could have jobs on this show, for years. But they only feed their families if you do your job perfectly every day. There’s no backing out now. You owe this. I understand this is daunting. But if you don’t do it, you are being selfish.
Within the episode, Dorothy’s words to young Trish come across as decidedly maudlin, overwrought, and a bit on the nose, but when you factor in that this is meant to be an adaptation of a comic book character like Patsy Walker, the scene works and makes Trish’s arc in the present that much more significant.
Following her mother’s murder, Trish loses a part of herself the way that so many other comics heroes classically do, but again because so much of her journey’s been fraught with misfires and unhealthy coping mechanisms, the new purpose Dorothy’s death gives her is an unhealthy one. Trish sincerely believes that so long as a person can truly be said to have committed heinous acts, it’s her responsibility to do any and everything in her power to remove them from the larger equation in service of the greater good.
At first, her tenuous partnership with Gelden allows her to continue to hunt people knowing for certain they’re “bad,” but after Trish’s inability to prevent herself from straight-up killing people causes Gelden to ditch her, she figures she’s better off by herself. Though Jessica is ultimately able to collar Salinger on her own with the assurance that he’ll be locked away forever, that isn’t enough for Trish. She wants him dead, and after she kills him, it becomes easier and easier for her to kill people while she reassures herself that she’s only doing it because she has to.
The tragedy of Trish’s story is that, more often than not, it genuinely seems as if she understands that what she’s doing is wrong and why Jessica desperately needs her to stop, but she can’t because she’s on a downward existential spiral into her own personal hell. By the time Trish and Jessica have their final confrontation, Trish is willing to recklessly endanger the lives of innocents just to save herself, and all Jessica can really do is wait for the right moment to take her best friend out. Jess has always known that when things got into endgame territory, there was no question about how things would go down in a fight.
For all of Jessica’s strength, she never could have hoped to stop Trish from going dark, because that part of Trish came from something that had nothing to do with Jessica. What Trish needed was support and understanding in her formative years, which would have perhaps made it less likely that she ever would have felt such a strong compulsion to become a hero. But those are luxuries MCU Trish never enjoyed, and they’re what ends up sending her to the Raft where all of Earth’s other powered criminals are held, because that’s what she’s become and what she doesn’t realize until far too late.
Trish’s fate is a far cry from her destiny as an easy-going street-level hero in the comics, but it’s one of the best additions to Jessica Jones’ overall story, and one of the strongest examples of why taking these characters and remixing them wildly can really end up paying off in huge ways.
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