Jessica Jones season 3 finally saw Trish Walker become the vigilante Hellcat - but fans of the character may not be pleased with Marvel Television's interpretation. The character Hellcat was originally created by Otto Binder and Ruth Atkinson back in 1944, and (under the comic book name of "Patsy") was the star of a series of high-school/romance comics.
In the 1970s, writer Steve Englehart decided to reinvent Trish for modern comics. He suited her up as a superhero, and a few years later she earned the codename "Hellcat." In a surreal twist, Marvel established that the Patsy Walker comics were actually fictional accounts of Trish's life, published within the Marvel Universe itself. Hellcat has been a background character in Marvel Comics ever since Englehart relaunched her as a superhero, and she even served as a member of the Avengers.
Marvel's Jessica Jones reinvented Trish once again. She was introduced as a talk-show host, whose mother had adopted Jessica into their family after her parents were apparently killed in a car accident. The experience of growing up in the shadow of a superhuman had changed Trish, setting her up for a fascinating character arc that comes to a head in Jessica Jones season 3, when she finally becomes Hellcat.
How Jessica Jones Set Up Hellcat
Jessica Jones is hardly the first superhero TV show to examine how hard it is for ordinary humans to grow up next to a superhuman; that trope has been most famously explored in Supergirl, for example. But the case of Jessica Jones and Trish Walker is a far more troubled, complex one, with Trish increasingly frustrated at her sister's refusal to use her powers as a hero. It was Trish who pushed Jessica to first try to make a difference in a world, but in a heartbreaking twist that led Jessica to come to the attention of Kilgrave, who pretty much broke her. In spite of all Trish's effort, Jessica still wouldn't commit to using her gifts as a hero.
Jessica Jones season 2 saw the envious Trish given an opportunity to become a hero herself. She obtained Nuke's inhaler, which was filled with toxic chemicals that would grant temporary superhuman abilities on a par with Jessica's. Trish unwisely chose to take a single puff, and became addicted to the sensation of power and to the thrill of adrenaline. When the inhaler ran out, Trish was left with a burning desire to find another way to become the hero Jessica refused to be. She betrayed all her friends to track down Dr. Karl Malus, a scientist who had created the genetic editing process that had given both Jessica and her mother their powers, and she forced him to repeat the experiment. Jessica interrupted the process when it was only partway through, but she was evidently too late.
At the same time, though, Jessica Jones season 2 suggested that Trish didn't really understand the complexities of life. She saw everything in black and white, identifying people as heroes and villains, and as a result was willing to exercise brutal judgment no matter the cost. That mindset manifested particularly strongly in the season finale, when Trish tracked down Jessica's mother and shot her, killing her. Ironically, Trish was probably right; Jessica's mother was indeed a psychopath, and Jessica herself was unable to do the deed. But Trish's decision would clearly send her down a very dangerous road.
Hellcat in Jessica Jones Season 3
At first, Jessica Jones season 3 seemed to be handling Trish in quite an innocent way, or at least as innocent as the Marvel Netflix world can ever be. Season 3's second episode, "AKA You're Welcome," saw Trish hone her newfound abilities and begin her career as a vigilante. There was even an entertaining scene in which she attempted to choose a costume, and tried on a range of designs her character her used in the comics, including the traditional Hellcat bodysuit. She rejected these (and an amusing Captain Marvel cosplay), going for an outfit far more suited to working in the shadows. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that something wasn't quite right; actress Rachael Taylor played Trish with an unhealthy degree of intensity, and the vigilantism swiftly developed into an obsession.
And then came the turning point, when Gregory Sallinger aka Foolkiller - attempting to push all of Jessica's buttons - murdered Trish's mom. Trish was the one who found Dorothy's tortured body, and something within her broke. She became convinced that, as a hero, she had the responsibility to dispense justice - and that meant killing criminals. The murders were committed with brutal abandon, with Trish using the adrenaline rush to help release her pain and grief. She became addicted to killing, justifying it when she realized that Erik Gelden's empathic powers sensed the world becoming a better place as evil people were removed from it. In the end, Trish went to insane lengths to murder Sallinger, literally breaking into the courtroom and tearing him apart inside the elevator that was taking him to court.
Hellcat's attacks escalated, and she badly injured a man guilty of tax evasion after Jeri Hogarth pointed her in his direction. Jessica realized that she was faced with the same nightmare she had dealt with the year before, when she'd refused to accept that her mother had become a monster. This time, Jessica found the strength to accept the truth that her beloved sister had fallen as well, and she exposed and defeated Trish. Hellcat's story ended with Trish Walker, style icon, being taken away to the Raft in a disheveled state. It was a heartbreaking conclusion to the story of the woman who only wanted to be a hero.
What Does It Mean To Be A Hero?
The central question of Marvel's Jessica Jones is a simple one: What does it mean to be a hero? Trish Walker's understanding of heroism was fundamentally flawed; she didn't understand that a hero exists in a complex world, one where right and wrong are complicated ideas, and where there's a moral dimension to every decision. Her heroism wasn't really about making a difference in the world; it was about a compulsive need to believe that she mattered. That was why Erik's empathic senses were so important to Trish; they seemed to provide objective proof that killing murderers and arsonists was making the world a better place. What she failed to understand, though, was that committing to this path meant losing her own humanity, and soon Erik was getting headaches around Trish when he sensed the growing evil within her as well.
The end of Jessica Jones season 3 is deliberately designed as a parallel with season 2, with Trish becoming exactly the same kind of monster as Jessica's mother, Alisa. But where Jessica wasn't strong enough to stop Alisa, she is strong enough now to defeat Trish, revealing Hellcat's true identity to the world and beating her down herself. In a sign of how far Trish has fallen, in that final confrontation she makes an attempt to murder Jessica, launching herself at her sister with the same knife Sallinger had stabbed her with at the beginning of the season. Jessica Jones' portrayal of Hellcat is a fascinating and complex one, but it's very different to the comics, where Hellcat is a light-hearted superhero who's never really explored any of these questions. Comic book fans will probably be quite unhappy with this version, but in narrative terms, it's powerful and effective, not to mention very much consistent. Looking back, it's clear that the Marvel Netflix version of Hellcat could only ever have ended in this way, because Trish Walker was never stable enough to become a hero.