This is not a series that ever really lets up on the intensity, but the fourth episode is as close to a breather as we’ll ever get. And the timing couldn’t be more right, because a binge-watcher absolutely needs an episode or two in order to get their bearings, so to speak. We’ve talked about this a little bit in previous recaps, but it really bears repeating: the plotting and pacing of the entire series is absolutely meticulous. Nothing is wasted, every narrative element, plot turn and character introduction has some sort of meaning or part to play in the overall story. There’s a satisfying cause-and-effect, “actions have consequences” feel to the pacing, and you can always count on whatever minor thing is going on in the background in one episode will ultimately explode into the foreground in a way that makes perfect sense later on. Oddly enough, it reminds us very much of the first season of True Detective, which had the same kind of tick-tock-bam style of plotting.
And while we’re talking about the series generally, we might as well throw these two observations in here. First, the cinematography and location shooting are some of the best, most realistic representations of modern New York City appearing on any TV production right now. It’s such a treat to see the city as it really is, rather than either a very sanitized, touristy version, such as in Quantico or Blind Spot, or a version shot in another city that clearly doesn’t have the same flavor, such as Empire, which tries to pass off the mindwestern urban vistas of Chicago as the cramped canyons of Manhattan. Secondly, and we admit this is purely our own obsessiveness coming into play, if you’re having a rewatch, pay really close attention to the color purple. Kilgrave, in the comics, is also known as The Purple Man, and in pure comic-booky fashion, has purple hair and skin. In a (successful, we might add) bid to appeal to an audience much wider than comic book fans, the series has decided to dispense with such literalness. Instead, there’s a very subtle purple motif running through the series. Pretty much all of Kilgrave’s costumes have some purple element to them. That’s the easy part to spot. But pay attention to the lighting when people are either talking about him or being controlled by him or even remembering him. You’ll see a lot of purple tones occurring, like when Jessica has her flashback on the subway. Also, pay attention to the costuming of other characters and note how often you’ll see purple and how consistently it’s utilized in scenes that are connected to him, such as the purple sweater Trish is wearing when an enthralled Simpson attacks her. It’s just a fun little motif game to follow on a second watch.
Anyway, this is more of a setup episode, meant to give the Kilgrave drama a slight breather, get Trish more established as a character and show a little bit of the broader world in which this all takes place. Kilgrave isn’t in this episode at all but it’s all about the effects of coming into contact with him. In fact, it’s all anyone takes about through the entire episode. Jeri and Jess inadvertently form a support group of his former victims and their testimony gives him a sinister quality more effectively than if we’d seen him carry out some of the very actions they’re talking about.
Also, Officer Simpson (which, HELLO) shows up at Trish’s apartment in a distraught state, convinced he’s killed her. “He thinks he killed you,” Jess says when she spots him on the security cam. “How do you know?” asks Trish. “I recognize that look.” This is one of the great things about how this story is being told: it never forgets the victims of the crimes in the story. In fact, it’s the victims who are driving the story. Trish gets over the trauma of her attack by getting over her fear of the man who attacked her and pledging to do something about it, just as Simpson is attempting to get past the violation Kilgrave perpetrated on him by befriending the woman he attacked and pledging to help in any way he can, just as Jessica is coming face to face with what it’s like being on the receiving end of a stalker’s camera. It’s a feeling that makes her extremely paranoid while at the same time has her questioning her own camera-toting stalking career as a PI. This is all very smart and efficient writing, as far as we’re concerned. The theme of overcoming victimhood remains front and center in every interaction while at the same time all the main characters except Kilgrave are given time to introduce themselves a little more and interact with one another. That way, when all the players have talked themselves out and Jessica’s paranoia reaches a fever pitch, we come to find out that her junky neighbor Malcolm is the man who’s been spying on her all along. It’s an effective rug-pull of a moment. A perfect payoff both thematically and narratively.
And finally, we get the strange saga of Audrey Eastman, the rich jewelry designer who hates superheroes and wants to kill them all. It’s an odd story in retrospect, and doesn’t on the surface seem to have much to do with what’s going on in the rest of the tale, but it helps define the world in which this takes place, a world in which the Avengers fought killer robots and aliens in the sky, and situates Jess as very far from the main action.
“AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” picks up the pace a little by bringing the conflict with Kilgrave to the foreground as we finally get to see some action taken against him, even if it fails spectacularly.
But first, we get even more character work with a flashback to a period in Jess’s life before she met Kilgrave. We can see she always been a bit of a smartass. She gets fired from her job, meets Trish in a bar to commiserate, utterly rejects Trish’s urging that she use her abilities heroically, and instead decides to use them to humiliate a guy who definitely deserved to be humiliated. That’s a lot of character work for a couple of scenes, but it’s even more notable for what it’s doing with superhero genre conventions. We talked about this a bit in this week’s podcast, but one of the very best things about the series is that it very smartly and effectively takes the basis of all superhero stories – the power fantasy, which has traditionally ALWAYS been geared toward male power fantasies, from Clark Kent whipping off his glasses to Bruce Banner ripping through his shirt – but makes sure that it’s always about specifically female power fantasies, the kinds of things that’ll get the ladies fist-pumping with fuck-yeahs, like revenge against smarmy male bosses and sleazy pickup artists in bars.
The flashback continues throughout the episode, showing Trish with an absolutely hideous costume (lifted directly from the comics) that Jessica refuses to put on, while admitting that she does, in fact, want to give the hero thing a go. Later still, we find out that one of her very first heroic acts was to save Malcolm from a beating, only to come face to face with a Kilgrave who is utterly delighted to have such a powerful plaything at his disposal. In other words, the one time she tried to be a hero, she ran into the worst villain she possibly could and wound up paying a horrific price for it. There’s all her cynicism explained in one flashback. Especially since she can add Malcolm’s addiction and downfall entirely to her intervention, since it put him on Kilgrave’s radar. He actually would have been better off if she’d never tried to rescue him at all.
But she gets to still be a hero in the end, not through the failed kidnapping attempt against Kilgrave, which was clearly not going to work since there’s far too much story left to tell, but by being a friend to Malcolm, smacking around a bit, telling him what he needs to hear, and standing by while he struggles with his response. Once again, as this show so often does, heroism is depicted not through punching and superpowers (which are shown to be utterly ineffective if not downright dangerous) as you’d normally see in a male power fantasy, but through relationships and through personal strength of character.
Finally, a delighted Kilgrave calls Jessica and pulls every manipulative stalker/abuser trick in the world to show her that he’ll always be in charge of her. “Tell me we have a deal,” he purrs, “Let me hear your voice.” She noted to Malcolm, as she tried to convince him that his downfall wasn’t his fault, that Kilgrave went after him specifically to make her paranoid and to separate her as much as possible from any friends or support. This is also classic abuser M.O. and it’s viscerally horrifying to see it played out on a much grander scale. But while Jess does assent to his demand that she send him a picture every day in order to keep Malcolm safe, she doesn’t let him hear her voice. The only real power she has against him right now is the fact that she knows exactly what he is.
For more discussion on your favorite shows and movies, visit our TV & Film forum.
Pop Style Opinionfest: Robot Girls, Superheroines and Pink Ladies Next Post:
Coming Soon: Cinderella Style