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Warning: Spoilers for Jessica Jones Season 3 up to Episode 7.

I've been working my way through Jessica Jones Season 3, and just finished the episode where she returns from her trip to Sallinger's hometown and goes to the middle school where he's teaching wrestling. The following scene really confused me and the internet hasn't been much help. I've never liked Jessica much as a person, nor empathized with her decisions, but I could understand them in the context of her life and her personality. This scene, on the other hand, made no sense to me.

The Invitation In

Sallinger is shown to be a gifted orator and very manipulative, and she could assume that he could turn any listener against her in an open, public discussion. As such, she had much to fear from entering the gym, but nothing that I could see to gain. She should have been hiding her presence while surveilling him (something she'd be used to as a PI). Instead she stood there in the middle of the window, and then entered with little hesitation.

Note that although she's made poor decisions in the past, they seemed to have a purpose. Even if all she had to gain was feeling good by hurting someone who annoyed her, that's still something to gain. She didn't even have that in this situation.

The Challenge

Killing Sallinger in public, or at all, would be risky for her personally, and doesn't seem to be consistent with her new 'heroic' goals. So all she could hope to achieve when he challenges her to a match is to fight him without her powers (and likely lose to someone with expertise) or to fight him with her powers and confirm his claim that she cannot win using skill. The former accomplishes nothing but her chagrin, while the latter will cause an already fearful public to fear her more while buttressing his claims against her. Neither is desirable, yet she engages anyway.

Sallinger is in a similar situation. He is seen publicly as the aggressor (by making the challenge) and extremely unprofessional (by doing it at work). If he then wins he loses some of that public support her gained through his claimed victimhood. However, if he loses then he potentially gets hurt, and will still likely lose some support because some watchers will feel like he deserved it for escalating the conflict. This is inconsistent with his cautious demeanor and careful well thought out plans in previous episodes.

The Fight

Jessica then wins, clearly by using her powers. While this strange woman who has been demonized in the public eye causes potentially fatal injuries to a beloved teacher who thus far has only been shown to have been supportive and beloved by his students, the watching students cheer for no good reason at all. This continues and grows while this stranger tosses their teacher around the room for no good (apparent to them) reason. The parents also do nothing.

I'm a parent, and have taken quite a few psychology and child psychology classes and this is the point in the scene where I started getting really lost. Kids that age may not always like their teachers, but in their minds they grant them expertise and include them in their 'clan' when confronted with an 'other'. They would like not to see their teacher shown to be incompetent or inferior to an outsider, especially a teacher that they liked (and Sallinger is shown to be likable and liked). I've seen in this happen in real life, not with a teacher being physically beaten but with them losing in a competition of expertise, and the cognitive dissonance taking place in the students was clearly uncomfortable (even painful).

So the children are shown to act just as oddly as the main characters.

The Reveal

I expected there to be some revelation by the end of the scene. Either:

1) Jessica or Sallinger or both had some sort of plan that they put into action to weaken the other

2) The characters were acting inconsistently because the writers wanted to convey something through the scene and needed the characters to act that way in order to do it

(1) didn't seem to happen. Sallinger does taunt Jessica, but as mentioned previously it didn't seem like it would help him even if she did lose control...especially if she killed him. And keep in mind Sallinger is supposed to be much smarter than me; he should be able to come up with a far more effective plan than this. Meanwhile Jessica has no real plan, or reason for her actions, at all. She can't even 'enjoy' beating him up since she can't do it properly and is in front of a huge crowd.

(2) seemed more likely to me, but by the end I was just more confused than ever. Not because it seemed like the writers were trying to convey something that I didn't understand, but because it didn't seem clear that they were trying to convey anything at all.

The Purpose

So what was the purpose of this scene and why did the characters (all of them) act the way they did? Was there some message or idea that I was supposed to get out of it that I missed? Or is this explained in later episodes that I've yet to get to yet?

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Jessica isn't acting perfectly rationally here. She's intelligent, certainly, but that doesn't mean she always makes optimal decisions. Her behavior has nothing to do with what's best for the case. It has everything to do with how she feels about Sallinger. She's furious with Sallinger. He stabbed her and nearly killed her. He's demeaned her and insulted her. He's made her feel even worse about trying to help people, by accusing her of framing him. He's spreading his sick beliefs to children.

JESSICA: It's insane that that deranged murderer is teaching little kids.

Jessica is really, really angry with Sallinger. And she's is determined to be proactive, and, in her own words, not to be a victim. Of course she's going to take the opportunity to vent a bit. And she also hates standing by while nasty people get away with their misdeeds.

Jessica's motivations are actually very straightforward here, and highly consistent with her character as established in previous episodes. They're not purely logical, but all of us have made decisions driven by emotions in situations with much lower stakes.

Sallinger is driven by emotion as well. It's true he has a clever plan, which Jessica says outright:

JESSICA: You want me to kick your ass. You think I'll lose my shit in front of these cameras.

SALLINGER: It is in your nature. And people want to know the truth. Especially yours.

He knows that she won't be able to resist using her powers to beat him up. She hates losing. And he's right. His goal is to make her seem like a deranged maniac using her powers to cheat, instead of playing by the rules. On the off chance that she doesn't use her strength, he knows that his superior skill will give him the advantage, and he'll beat her. Besides being immensely personally satisfying, it would make her look weak, to his mind. Your analysis of the downsides of the situation for Jessica is probably exactly how Sallinger sees it. Of course, he correctly is almost certain that she won't accept the loss.

But the truth is that his own beliefs, his own feelings, prevent him from seeing how this situation will likely turn out. As I expand upon later, he's never been great at hiding his beliefs, or looking beyond them, just at concealing how far he'll go in pursuit of them. First, he undestimates Jessica's self-control. He doesn't simply believe that she'll use her powers to win, he believes that she'll seriously injure him and make him look sympathetic. Obviously, he doesn't think she'll kill him: he understands her psychology that well. Because of his belief that he is ordered and rational and that people who got ahead by "cheating" have no discipline, and yes, because she's female, he doesn't think that she'll be able to resist seriously hurting him.

Second, he wants to put her in a situation where he can prove to her, and himself, that his way is better. Either by winning in a fair fight (ideal) or, more likely, showing her as a cheater. This is not logical reasoning: this is feeling.

Third, and most pertinent, for all his psychological understanding, he simply can't get past his own personal philosophy. At base all of us, and especially a self-centered person like Sallinger, feel at some level that all "reasonable" people must agree with us. He even tries to convince Jessica and Erik, people with powers, of the truth of his philosophy. He thinks that, having laid all the (non-illegal) evidence out, that people will sympathize with him. Jessica is a cheater. Powers aren't a fair way of winning a fight. She's a feminist vindicator. She used her powers to win unfairly. She's out of control. People won't see him as the aggressor; he just called out the cheaters. He understands that most people won't go as far as killing the cheaters the way he would like to, but he believes that they must agree with him to some extent, if they have any common sense.

But the truth is that Sallinger is viewed by a lot of people as a murderer, and more people than he'd like to imagine see Jessica as a hero.

What about the children's behavior? Now, this one is fun. I have to lean on some speculation in this case, because we're not told a bunch about the children's personalities.

You mention that Jessica has been demonized. Sure. But so has Sallinger. He's been accused of murder, for goodness's sake. He was all over the papers. You don't think the kids and the parents know this? In real life, being accused of a crime is frequently as good as having committed it for the general public. I think the children might have more than a few reservations about a teacher whom they think might be a murderer. He's not these kids' homeroom teacher: he might be seeing some of them only a few times a month. And I don't know about you, but I absolutely had a few teachers whom I would not have minded seeing taken down a peg. Usually they were the arrogant ones, who would criticize me because they thought I wasn't working hard enough—i.e., Sallinger to a tee. I'd even hazard a guess that these parents might be the sort who actively sympathize with Sallinger: after all, they're taking their kids to classes with him after he's been arrested on suspicion of murder. So some of these children are possibly being dragged to classes they don't have much desire to attend. That's why the parents don't cheer.

Nor is Jessica as hated as you say. Yes, she gets lots of negative press, but she's also seen as a superhero. She's the person who killed Kilgrave, for heaven's sake!

JESSICA: I'm not a superhero.

THEMBI: But you have squared off against some superpowered people. Kilgrave and that female serial murderer last year.

I'd say Marvel's profits suggest that kids really, really like superheroes. Because her own self-image is so negative, and the show focuses on the people who hate her because it's interesting, it's easy to miss that a lot of people actually do greatly admire her.

Further, I think Sallinger is very different from what you've mentioned. He is not a gifted orator. He is a highly cunning and manipulative person, which is different. He's good at putting people in difficult situations and predicting their actions. He's shown to be psychologically perceptive, but at no time does this translate into him being good at convincing people in a conversation, probably because his personal psychology is so different from that of the average person. I would go further: I would say he's an unpleasant person, and it's not hard for people to notice this, not least because he frequently doesn't try to hide it.

Consider that he felt the need to expound his whole personal philosophy at the police station when giving a press conference after being released from custody. Hogarth, a legal expert, criticized the manner in which he did this, and thought it wasn't a great idea.

Consider how he talks to Hogarth:

SALLINGER: I take issue with unfounded arrogance. So start proving you're as good as you say you are. You need me more than I need you.

He doesn't have a ton of self-control, either. Consider how he shouted at Jessica

SALLINGER: They'll see who you are. They'll all see.

Consider that he wasn't all that capable of convincing the police that he wasn't actually a murderer. He got away initially because he was smart at covering up his crimes.

In fact, the only people we see who actually thought he was nice are two people who knew only slightly as a kid, and the fellow who thought Sallinger tying him up and choking him was just some sexy foreplay, i.e. a terrible judge of character.

I'd say that Sallinger is a bully, and I'd say he doesn't make much of an effort to hide it. He thinks he's better than everyone else, and he loves to demean people. We don't see him putting these kids down, but I would bet he does. He certainly puts down everyone else he interacts with. Children don't like bullies, and they certainly like it when someone stands up to bullies when they don't have the power to do so. Yes, I think the children see Sallinger as a bad guy, as a murderer and as the teacher who probably bullies them and regales them with his strange philosophy. And I think they see Jessica as the hero standing up to him; the hero who killed Kilgrave and the other superpowered serial killer!

Finally, children can be a little shallow, even cruel—for that matter, even people in general can be. They like a good fight. And it was certainly that.

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