Marvel’s Jessica Jones
When we first met Jessica Jones, she was already “gifted,” and had been for years. At the time, it was refreshing to see a show so deliberately ignore comic-book tropes. Save for a brief series of flashbacks, we’ve learned nothing of the time when little Jessie gained her powers.
But in a way, the entire first season has been an origin story — it just doesn’t belong to a superhero. Instead of exploring how a sullen teen discovered her impossible strength, Jessica Jones wisely focuses on her inner transformation. She starts off as an isolated victim, and by the end, she’s forging emotional connections with others, which is arguably more valuable than any super power.
“AKA Smile” begins with Jessica rushing a knocked-out Luke to the emergency room, where doctors attempt to deal with his rising blood pressure. But Jessica, desperate to save her companion, hasn’t thought this plan through. A nurse tries to stick a needle into Luke’s arm, but it bends against Luke’s unbreakable skin. Luckily (and conveniently), Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) from Daredevil just so happens to work in the same hospital. When her attempts to penetrate Luke’s skin also fail, an ER doctor decides to take a drill to his head. When the drill won’t cut it, the doctor disdainfully says, “Okay, he’s one of those,” and heads off to consult with the hospital higher-ups.
Jessica doesn’t plan on waiting. With her super-strength, she lifts Luke off the hospital bed and into a wheelchair. Claire does a double-take at this sight, but, as she tells Jessica, “You don’t scare me. And you’re not my first.” She decides to help Jessica sneak Luke out of the hospital. As they ride the elevator together, they strike an immediately familiar vibe, which strikes me as strange since Jessica routinely pushes people away. Claire tells an anxious Jessica that her guilt won’t help Luke. “I’m not guilty,” she says, as if repeating a mantra, and then adds, “It’s not my fault.” Unlike her conversations about Reva, where Jessica repeatedly corrects herself that she didn’t kill Reva, she never wavers about responsibility in this scene. She’s stopped blaming herself.
As they pass a reception desk, a nurse holds a phone out to Jessica and demands that she take the call. Jessica, knowing that it’s Kilgrave, gives Claire her business card and asks her to take Luke to Jessica’s place. She grabs the phone and listens to Kilgrave blather on about himself and the expanded reach of his mind control. Who’s watching her on monitors from the hospital’s security office, he tries to defend his actions. He’s not evil, he claims. He sees killing as a sort of public service. But, within the same breath, he notes how much he’ll enjoy Jessica’s death. He’s too busy lecturing to realize she’s figured out his location, but by the time she storms the security office, he’s gone.
Kilgrave is serious about that death threat. As Jessica chases after him, a security guard appears in hallway and starts shooting at her. When she ducks into a patient’s room for safety, Kilgrave’s voice booms over the hospital’s p.a. system. He announces that Jessica Jones is a dangerous poison and that she must be killed. Kilgrave even hacks the hospital video screens, flashing photos of Jessica. While hospital workers and patients wander the halls hunting her, Jessica tries to hide under stolen scrubs. One patient isn’t tricked by her disguise, and Jessica makes a run for it. Before she reaches the door, a doctor slices her leg with a scalpel. Jessica keeps running.
Kilgrave has taken his anger and violence against Jessica to a new level. While she repeatedly rejected and insulted him throughout the series, he never physically hurt her. (He did hurt everyone around her, though.) In his own delusion, he even claimed to love her. But after he learned that Jessica had been sleeping with Luke, he couldn’t keep up his façade. He’s a murderous version of the guy friend who is sweet-as-pie until he realizes he’ll never be more than a friend. He stews in unearned bitterness and entitlement. You owe me.
Jessica really owes Claire, who’s been watching over Luke at Jessica’s apartment. Jessica arrives just as Luke is convulsing. Claire takes out a large needle, then jams it in Luke’s eye socket. It’s a gruesome moment, but for now, Luke is stabilized. Later, there’s a sweet scene where Jessica cuddles with a still unconscious Luke. Maybe it’s because she knows he can’t hear her, but Jessica opens up about her fantasies of a “normal” life with him. “You’re the first person I’ve ever pictured a future with,” she says sadly, before adding, “You’re also the first person I ever shot in the head.” It’s her way of saying goodbye, in case her fight with Kilgrave goes south. She plans to find Kilgrave through Luke’s phone, which he used to control him. She traces Kilgrave to an apartment owned by a hedge fund broker named Justin.
Meanwhile, Kilgrave is becoming more desperate to control Jessica. He talks to himself as he looks out over the New York City skyline. As he hunches over a balcony, his eyes darting and lips pursed, David Tennant embodies the depravity within Kilgrave. For once, Kilgrave seems to be losing control of himself. He compels Albert to inject him with the remainder of the brain-chemical formula.
Jessica and Trish wait in a car near Justin’s apartment. Trish had been trying to share something with Jessica, and Jessica wants her to spill the beans before she goes faces Kilgrave. It’s the IGH connection. Trish’s dedication to discover the truth clearly touches Jessica, but she’s got a mind-controlling psycho to defeat. Jessica tells Trish to stay nearby, in case she needs back up, but first, they need to agree on a code word to ensure Trish that Jessica won’t be under Kilgrave’s control. “Something you never say … ‘sardines’ … or ‘pickle juice,’” Trish suggests. “Or ‘I love you,’” Jessica responds. Somehow, Krysten Ritter delivers this line as a joke and a sincere declaration at the same time.
Jessica enters Justin’s apartment, which Kilgrave has turned into a house of horrors. Justin’s partner is dead on the floor, a syringe and a bottle of Draino nearby. Further inside, Albert lies in a pool of blood where his arms used to be, while Justin furiously tries to stuff Albert’s arm down a garbage disposal. Jessica stops him and he protests, saying, “I have to remove Dad from the face of the Earth!” She knocks him out and locks in him a closet. She walks over to the bloody, armless Albert. As she leans over him, he pops open his eyes and says, “He’s stronger. Don’t look at him, don’t listen. He’ll make you kill,” before he finally dies. (The death fake-out is a little cheesy, but it still made me jump.) Jessica texts Trish “I love you” to let her know that she’s still in control — and she knows where to find Kilgrave. He left a photo of a boat in the middle of the room. It’s a message for her.
With the final showdown moments away, we see a slow-motion shot of Jessica’s boots and black hoodie as she strolls into the ferry terminal. To avoid Kilgrave’s control, she’s covering her face and listening to Sleigh Bells. When Kilgrave spots her, he compels a large group of police officers to surround her, weapons drawn. There’s a neat aerial shot of the officers pulling out their guns, while she keeps walking, head and hoodie down. Then Jessica pushes back her hood … and it’s not Jessica! It’s Trish! “Oh for God’s sake, it’s Patsy,” Kilgrave complains. The real Jessica pops up on a nearby balcony, and Kilgrave orders the police to shoot her. Jessica waits until the officers need to reload their weapons, then takes a very long jump across the ferry terminal. (Okay, sometimes those super powers are valuable.)
Standing on the dock near his getaway yacht, Kilgrave is shocked to see that Jessica survived the police shootout. (“Unbelievable!”) As she approaches, he compels a random group of strangers to kill themselves. It’s an interesting trick: he’s betting her desire to help others will allow him to escape. But, she waltzes through the fight, ignoring the chaos around her. As she gets close to Kilgrave, he yells, “STOP!” Everyone stops moving, even Jessica.
“Don’t insult my intelligence,” Kilgrave spits. He thinks she’s pretending to be under his control, so he decides to test her. As he eyes Trish, Kilgrave tells Jessica that she’s incapable of loving anyone, except for one person: Trish. He calls Trish over, then tells Jessica that “Patsy” will be his new plaything. He compels Trish to kiss him. All the while, Jessica stands still and silent. Kilgrave stops mid-kiss and looks at Jessica in disbelief. “It’s true,” he says. He leaps for joy. Jessica seems to be under her control again. His first command to her? “Smile.” Jessica delivers a robotic, creepy grin. Kilgrave leans in and, in a whisper, commands Jessica to say she loves him. She looks up at him, then turns her head to look directly at Trish. “I love you,” she says to Trish. Jessica picks up Kilgrave by his face, holding his mouth shut with her fingers. “Smile,” she says, before snapping his neck. Kilgrave is dead.
It’s tremendously satisfying to see Jessica triumph over her tormentor. Kilgrave’s brand of evil was particularly heinous. His violations of Jessica’s body and mind were unforgivable and atrocious, even if he was too twisted to admit what he’d done. (Minutes before his death, Kilgrave still denied that what he had done was rape.) But the larger torture, of course, was that Kilgrave’s specific power — mind control — created an environment where very few people would believe Jessica’s cries of rape, an obvious nod to our own society’s struggle with consent. The futility of trying to convince others that she was mind controlled still traumatized Jessica long after Kilgrave lost command of her body.
Later, Luke wakes up from his coma across town. He sees Claire, who’s still watching over him. Claire tells him that Jessica was arrested for killing someone, and Luke guesses that it’s Kilgrave. He asks for a glass of water, and as she gets it for him, he ghosts on her. He’s got his own Netflix series now! He’s got places to be.
Meanwhile, Jessica is with Jeri at the police station. Jeri uses the officers’ attack to strong arm the police into releasing Jessica with no charge. When she returns to her apartment, she sees no sign of Luke or Claire, but Malcolm is in the kitchen washing dishes. They don’t exchange words, but it’s clear that Malcolm, who’s struggled with his purpose in life, has decided that helping Jessica is the best way he can contribute to the world. She doesn’t welcome his presence, but she doesn’t reject it either. Little by little, Jessica is letting others in.
She powers up her phone and hears that she has twelve voice messages. One after another, the callers, who heard about Jessica’s fight with Kilgrave, reach out to see if they can hire her to help them. While she deletes each message, her landline rings. The camera pulls back through the (still-broken) glass of her apartment door, and Malcolm answers the call: “Hello, Alias Investigations.”
And goodbye to Jessica Jones!
- Overall, I think this season is a consistently well-executed drama. A big part of the draw, for me, was a villain who affected Jessica so personally. David Tennant created such a memorable bad guy, so it’ll be difficult to top Kilgrave in season two. With that last glimpse of Trish looking through IGH files, though, I wonder if Jessica’s beloved Patsy will go down a dark path…
- I’m surprised it took Kilgrave so long to realize that Patsy was Jessica’s most vulnerable weakness.
- With Luke’s own Netflix series in the works, I’m assuming he’ll only pop from time to time in season two, which is a bummer because Mike Colter and Krysten Ritter have such great chemistry. Who else would you want to see back in season two? Simpson? Mama Walker? Jeri?