Jessica Jones: “AKA You’re a Winner!” & “AKA Top Shelf Perverts”

Posted on November 29, 2015

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In the sixth episode of the series, Kilgrave putters in the background playing high-stakes poker (i.e., committing high-end robbery) and dabbling in the real estate market (i.e., throwing his ill-gotten money at people to give him what he wants), while the rest of the story deals with people trying to dig out from under his influence. Malcolm is slowly coming back to the person he once was, but questions how much of that person even exists anymore after Kilgrave ravaged his psyche. Hope resorts to desperate measures to strip her body of the lingering effects of Kilgrave’s violation. Luke goes on a misguided quest to find the man who killed his wife, completely unaware of who’s truly responsible. And Jessica is forced to deal with new daily violations as she tries to stick to a strict selfie-schedule that will keep Kilgrave away from her friends. It’s one of the very best things about the show; the commitment to showing the effects of physical and emotional abuse on people and making sure to depict it as something that ripples outward, affecting people who don’t even know how or why they’re effected. In a series that doesn’t even hesitate to make rape metaphors (when it’s not talking about actual rape, that is), it’s almost exhilarating to see them take the topic further than it normally goes in stories like this by pointing out that rape is a societal problem and not just something women are unlucky enough to have to deal with. Kilgrave rapes, in ways both literal and metaphorical, and when he walks away from the destruction he’s caused, countless lives are affected.

But lest we get smothered under all the depressing story aspects and the heavy messaging about living in rape culture, here comes Luke Cage to lighten things just a little by providing Jessica with some convenient heads to crack, giving her an erotic ride on his motorcycle (not a metaphor), and taking off his shirt (also not a metaphor, but a very welcome sight). The chemistry these two actors have is completely off the chain and it’s a lot of fun watching them interact. So much so that we’re wondering if the upcoming Luke Cage series is going to be a bit of a let down if Jessica’s not in it at least as much as he’s been in her series. Regardless, it’s just great fun to hear Luke utter knee-weakening lines like “Jessica Jones, you are a hard-drinking, short-fused mess of a woman, but you are not a piece of shit.” Seriously, could anyone blame her for practically devouring him after he said that? That is high romance in the world of Jessica Jones.

But of course, it’s built on shifting sand, because Luke needs to find out who killed his wife and Jessica would give anything for him not to find that out. It’s not exactly admirable that she’d continue to sleep with him while trying to prevent him from finding out her role in his wife’s death, but it’s a lot more understandable this time around. Her world is falling apart, her friends and associates are all in danger of coming into Kilgrave’s line of fire, she’s completely consumed with guilt and self-loathing, and here comes a beautiful man to tell her she has worth. Who wouldn’t, in those circumstances, try to hold on to the fiction for just a little longer?

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But while Luke provides a distraction in the form of that body (and also, y’know, being like totally sensitive and accepting) and a case to distract her from her troubles (and also show how good she can be at her job – that “YOU’RE A WINNER!” phone call was a masterful bit of on-the-fly roleplay that comes from years of observing – and judging – other people), the reality of the horror of Kilgrave seeps back into the story with the news that Hope is pregnant and will do literally anything to make that no longer be the case. It’s a rare thing to see abortion handled this way in any American film or TV show – completely and utterly unapologetically.  No one in the story tries to talk Hope out of her choice or gives any speeches about how uncomfortable they are with the whole thing. Instead, it’s treated as an absolute necessity for Hope’s well-being and entirely her choice to make, without any judgments. “Every moment it’s in there,” she says with anger and disgust, “I get raped again.” That’s some powerful shit that doesn’t get said often enough when these storylines come up. Rape isn’t just a discrete event that happens to a person. It’s an act that exists on a larger continuum and its effects linger on long after the act is over.

In the end, Jess tried as much as she could to keep the truth from Luke, waiting only until he was on the verge of killing a innocent man (which doesn’t exactly cover her in glory as the ostensible heroine of the story). Although we admit the particulars of Reva’s death are a bit confusing to us. Did a bus crash just happen to occur near Reva’s body or something? Regardless, the truth comes out and Luke, hurt and angry, takes back what he said earlier and tells Jess that she was right in the first place: she is a piece of shit. Kilgrave’s influence continues to linger on and destroy her live in bits and pieces, taking away from her the first man to ever tell her she had worth, a sentiment underlined in the final, masterful reveal of the episode: that the house Kilgrave bought is on the corner of Birch Street and Higgins Drive, the two oft-repeated childhood streets of Jessica’s nearly useless anxiety-reducing mantra. Kilgrave is no longer at the edges of Jessica’s life.

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Picking up right on the horror of that closing shot, the next episode opens on the realization that Kilgrave has stepped up his invasion game and is in Jessica’s apartment, touching her things and even marking his territory by urinating in her toilet. With each successive scene and episode, he gets closer and closer to being fully integrated back in her life again. It’s methodical, relentless, and terrifying to watch, and it’s deliberately written to be just like the experience of being at the mercy of a stalker.

In the meantime, Jess has hit rock bottom after Luke called her a piece of shit and is getting thrown out of bars and into the gutter. And if that wasn’t enough to illustrate how low she’s fallen, she stalks Jeri’s wife Wendy and assaults her in a subway station in an attempt to intimidate her into signing the divorce papers. Jeri’s ongoing domestic drama seems like a total distraction from the main story at the moment, but scenes like this one (as well as Jeri making arrangements for Hope’s fetus to be delivered to her) act as a way of showing how none of this story is happening in a vacuum. Again, it’s that sense that violence and trauma have a way of rippling outward and affecting the whole community; not just the direct victims of it.

And to further illustrate that point, poor Ruben tries to drop off some banana bread for Jess because he’s in love with her and runs into Kilgrave, who orders him to slit his own throat. This is why so much time is being spent on peripheral characters in the story; because of this theme of psychological trauma being a community problem and not “just” something certain segments of society have to deal with. Kilgrave is a severely damaged man who acts out on society by damaging (in ways both physical and psychological) everyone he comes into contact with. And because he’s a stalker with superpowers, his obsession with Jessica can only manifest itself in a trail of human wreckage.

In a neat reversal of their relationship, a sober Malcolm finds Jess at the bottom of the elevator and the end of her rope. Strangely enough, the discovery of Ruben’s body, while upsetting to her, is the thing that manages to snap her out of her funk – and run headlong into what sounds like a terrible plan: to confess to Ruben’s murder, get sent to a supermax prison, and hope that Kilgrave comes after her and is caught on video using his powers. It’s insane and no one in their right mind would ever think a plan like that would work. But that’s entirely the point of it: Jess has been pushed so far and Kilgrave has so effectively cut her off from any support, that she’s completely lost any sense of perspective. She’s desperate to do anything to keep him away from her friends while at the same time consumed with the idea that she has to prove his existence and abilities to the authorities in order to get Hope released from prison. The entire setup for the season – the need to prove Kilgrave’s abilities – informs almost everything Jess does and we don’t think we’re going out on a limb here (because the story isn’t even all that subtle about it) but that driving need for proof is a white-hot metaphor for exactly the process rape victims are forced to go through in order to prove their rape; resistance from authorities, a legal system seemingly stacked against her, questioning of the victim’s sanity and motives, and humiliating treatment from the very people she’s supposed to turn to for justice. To underline this intense desperation as well as the ways in which it damages a person or pushes her to her limits, Jess’s blithe disregard for the integrity of Ruben’s body and the rights of his sister as his surviving family member is darkly disturbing. There’s “pushed to your limits” and then there’s “ripped a guy’s head off with your bare hands.”

And because this theme of post-trauma is so intense, we got a short scene with Trish’s mother that comes across at first like an aside just to give us some idea of how much Jess loathes her and how abusive a figure she was in her daughter’s life. Even as she’s heading off to a maximum security prison, she takes time out to threaten her friend’s abuser and warn her away. But it also does a nice job of illustrating Jess’s cynicism and anger, as well as her super-tight bond with Trish while keeping the whole thing thematically appropriate. The series is full of scenes like this one, that may have come across as diversions in the first watch, but when you finish the series and come back to them, you see how multi-layered they really are. Trish, for her part, is romping her way through the sheets with Simpson and triangulating Kilgrave’s position by tracking his security detail. She’s as committed to Jess’s well-being as Jess is to hers, but because she hasn’t suffered the same level of trauma that Jess has, she can approach the subject a bit more smartly and effectively.

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Jess’s plan was never going to happen, of course. And it all comes apart rather spectacularly in one of the best scenes of the series, when Kilgrave shows just how powerful he is by taking over an entire squad room. It’s a spectacular scene not only because of the creepy factor of a room full of cops silently pointing guns at each other, but because David Tennant and Krysten Ritter really get to go to town on each other for the first time in the series and the results are electrifying. Every pore of her body emits a loathing for him that would be withering if he wasn’t so clearly wearing his delusions like a set of armor. The great thing about his portrayal here is that you can see that he stumbles a bit in his justifications when she confronts him, to illustrate that deep down there’s a part of him that knows how small and awful he is, even if he does have an enormous ego to protect him from such introspection.

But ultimately, Jess is in way too emotional a state and pushed to such a point of desperation and fear for her friends that nothing she does right now, not even dropping a decapitated head on a cop’s desk, is having the slightest effect on anything. It’s all going Kilgrave’s way right now – or it seems to be, at least. We get the sense that if Jess could marry her intensity to Trish’s cool competence, the two of them could work wonders, but Kilgrave has done too effective a job separating her from any support (like a skilled abuser does), and the episode ends with what should have been a totally unbelievable act that makes perfect sense given how far things have gone: Jessica moves into her old childhood home with Kilgrave.

 

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