Hey folks, welcome to my final daily review of Jessica Jones. Grant will be taking over for episodes 7-13, so make sure to check back tomorrow for his take on the second half of the season. For previous episodes, you can check out my reviews for episodes One, Two, Three, Four and Five.
Jessica Jones may be the title character of her show, and she’s definitely the one who gets the most screen time, but an argument could be made that Jessica Jones isn’t really about Jessica Jones. It’s about Kilgrave. Nearly every episode of the series offers a look at the trail of broken people Kilgrave leaves in his wake. In some ways, it could be said that focusing on Jessica’s story is simply an in-depth look at the effects of Kilgrave. Even in the first few episodes where he barely appears, Kilgrave’s presence is overbearing. The first five episodes of Jessica Jones are dominated by establishing Kilgrave as a monstrous threat to Jessica and everyone around her, and episodes seven through thirteen are all about the plot to take him down.
None of this is a criticism of the show. Kilgrave is quite possibly the most fascinating character the MCU has ever put to screen, so it makes sense that he should draw so much attention. However, ‘AKA You’re A Winner!’ serves as Jessica Jones‘s midway point, offering a detour from the Kilgrave-driven narrative, and is a welcome pallet cleanser between the two halves of the season. That’s not to say Kilgrave is completely absent from this episode–in fact, the episode is book ended by two fantastic Kilgrave scenes–but his oppressive presence isn’t felt quite as strongly, since the main story-line of the episode is only tangentially related to the hunt for Kilgrave. Instead, the return of Luke Cage sets the stage for a classic gumshoe team-up between the two heroes as they search for Antoine, a down-on-his-luck farmer/entrepreneur (he grows and sells weed, what would you call him?). The search for Antoine is much more Luke’s case than it is Jessica’s, as the safe return of Antoine to his sister could bring Luke closer to discovering the truth about his wife’s death.
Of course, by this point in the series, the audience has seen Jessica’s tortured flashback enough times to know exactly how Reva died, and part of Jessica’s goal in helping Luke find Antoine is making sure he doesn’t find out the truth about his wife’s murder, going so far as to abandon Luke in the middle of a fight in order to get to the evidence before he does. It’s a shitty, selfish thing for her to do, as she attempts to prevent Luke from having closure in order to save herself. And the show allows Jessica to be shitty. There’s no last-second crisis of conscience that leads to her telling Luke the truth about his wife. When she does finally tell him, it’s only because he’s seconds away from killing the bus driver who he believes is responsible. Luke asks her if she ever would have told him the truth if she didn’t absolutely have to, and she can’t answer him. She doesn’t have to: we know she wouldn’t have.
If there’s a complaint that can be made against almost every hero in the MCU, it’s that even their flaws are either presented as one-time mistakes or endearing parts of their personality. Thor is only arrogant and selfish until the end of Thor, but he’s been a paragon of humility and good judgement since. Coulson has made a hell of a lot of shady decisions on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he always turns out to be in the right. Those who question him turn out to be lunatics, or Hydra sleeper agents, or misguided people who won’t listen to reason. Even Matt Murdock, who is fueled by Catholic guilt and blind rage just as much as he’s driven by more noble qualities like a desire for justice, is absolved of all flaws simply by occasionally questioning if he’s doing the right thing or not. When Foggy finds out the truth about Matt’s night-time activities, his anger seems like an overreaction. Because the previous nine episodes of the show had told us that Matt was doing everything right, his betrayal of his friendship with Foggy seems justified, and Foggy’s reaction seems extreme.
Perhaps the worst offender is Tony Stark, whose pattern of arrogance and dishonesty has proven to be dangerous time and time again. But his arrogance is seen as just another part of his charm, his alcoholism is downplayed almost to the point of non-existence, and the fact that he created Ultron behind the rest of the team’s back and is directly responsible for the near-destruction of the entire world is portrayed as an honest mistake that’s both out of Tony’s control and born out of a goodhearted desire to protect the world. Sure, he gets lectured by Steve and Thor, but at the end of the day, he isn’t held accountable for his actions. All of that may change in Captain America: Civil War, but as it stands now, it seems that the absolute worst a hero in the MCU can be is slightly, understandably, temporarily flawed.
Not so with Jessica Jones. Her tearful confession to Luke that she killed Reva under Kilgrave’s control, and hid that fact from him while they were sleeping together, ends with a disgusted Luke telling Jessica that she’s “a piece of shit.” Luke’s anger and disgust with Jessica isn’t portrayed as an over-reaction to an honest mistake: it’s an honest and understandable reaction to Jessica doing something awful. It doesn’t take away from the fact that Jessica is a hero and a good person, it doesn’t make us root against her in the future, and it doesn’t make her any less likable. On the contrary, it makes her a better and more sympathetic character by holding her accountable for her actions.
Likewise, Luke is portrayed as an unrepentant murderer in this scene. Armed with evidence that the MTA covered up the fact that the driver of the bus that struck Reva was drunk, Luke decides to punish the man who he believes killed his wife by murdering him. Even after the driver admits his wrongdoing, apologizes, and says that he hasn’t had a drop to drink since that accident, Cage doesn’t care. If the driver had been uncaring to Luke’s story, or had continued to drink and risk lives, the audience might be willing to say that he deserved to die. But when Luke throws the driver through the windshield of his bus, then leaps after him finish the job, there’s no doubt that he’s wrong. And, just like Jessica, Luke doesn’t stop himself from committing a terrible act because of a change of heart or a show of mercy–he does it because Jessica physically stops him, then redirects his anger.
When the truth is out, and Jessica and Luke finally face the truth about Reva’s death, neither hero is completely wrong or right. Luke is a wrathful man on a path of vengeance, and Jessica is a selfish liar who abused Luke’s trust. At the same time, Luke is a grieving husband who is rightfully angry at Jessica’s betrayal, and Jessica is still a victim of Kilgrave, who couldn’t share the truth about her actions out of a deep sense of guilt and shame. The fact that neither is a perfect person makes both of them phenomenal characters, and that’s somewhat unprecedented in the MCU.
On the Kilgrave front, this episode sees a major development from Hope, who is pregnant with Kilgrave’s child. She’s so disgusted by the idea of bringing another Kilgrave into the world that she pays her fellow inmates to beat her in the hopes of triggering a miscarriage. Jessica and Jeri ultimately help her abort the pregnancy, and Hogarth secretly has the fetus taken away to be researched–a decision that will have consequences later in the season. The one issue I had with this plot-line is that, to my knowledge, Hope never takes a pregnancy test to confirm that she’s pregnant. She says she just knows, and “can feel it,” and every other character just takes her word for it. As someone who has never been pregnant, I guess I can’t say that that’s definitely not how that works, but it struck me as odd that the show decided not to confirm the pregnancy with a test.
The other development in Kilgrave’s story this episode is his purchase of Jessica’s childhood home, which he purchases without compelling the owner to sell it to him. I mean, sure, he steals the money from a high-stakes card game using his powers at the beginning of the episode, but the symbolic importance of Kilgrave purchasing the house “honestly” gives us a hint as to how he’ll act towards Jessica in the next episode.
The return of Luke, the willingness to portray Jessica as a deeply flawed character, and the diversion from the singular focus on Kilgrave come together to create one of the best, if not the best episode of the season so far, and serves as an excellent primer to the whirlwind second half of the season.
5 angry attack dogs out of 5. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my two favorite episodes in this half of the season are the most Luke-heavy ones. Not only is Luke a phenomenal character, but he brings out the best in Krysten Ritter‘s portrayal of Jessica as well.
Kilgrave’s line at the end of the poker scene, “Assholes try, I just do.” is probably the most Kilgrave thing he’s said this season, and actually provides a surprising amount of insight into the mind of a person who literally can’t be refused.
Malcolm tells Jessica that he knows Kilgrave’s powers aren’t magic “the same way [he] know[s] elves don’t exist.” Apparently, Malcolm’s never been to Svartalfheim.
Jessica’s bubbly airhead voice she uses when calling Antoine’s phone to let him know he won an X Box One is a highlight of the episode.
Luke utters “Sweet Christmas!” for the second and final time this season in this episode. It’s such a cheesy catchphrase, I wondered if they’d be able to use it at all, but the show manages to put it in the two best possible circumstances: after having really great sex, and after seeing a whole bunch of weed.
Luke’s insulted when Jessica asks if the dogs that attacked him are okay. He doesn’t hurt dogs, he tells her. But of course he’ll beat the shit out of a bunch of gangsters a second later.
After watching this episode, a friend of mine asked me a really tough question: If you could wake up tomorrow and find Jessica Jones season two or season one of Luke Cage on your Netflix queue, which would you choose? I’m still not sure which I would pick, but sound off in the comments below to let us know which you would want more.