Things went pretty far south for our hero in the previous two episodes. So much so, that our review of them noted that they were our least favorite of the season, partially because it’s no fun watching everything go to shit for people you’ve just started to fall a little in love with, and partially because they were bridge episodes, designed mainly to shift the players around on the board and take us into an explosive final act. Well, these two episodes were the ones where the explosions started going off. Things still keep going to shit – and occasionally in some jaw-dropping ways – but the delicously executed tension, the shocking twists and even the occasionally cathartic moments (TRISH WALKER FTMFW) were enough to make up for all the shit happening. In addition, we finally got some significant flashbacks on Trish and Jess’s early years together as well as a Rashomon-like dual point-of-view flashback of Jess’s time under his spell that shows how stunningly self-absorbed and delusional a stalker Kilgrave can be. In addition to all that, virtually every side character – including all the ones that had you asking why we were wasting time on their stories – suddenly had their existences explained to you.
It seems a strange thing to say, since there have been plenty of bomb drops both literal and figurative up until this point, but once Jessica and Kilgrave faced off in the first truly meaningful way (when she locked him up and tortured him), what had been a sort of cold war between the two of them immediately flared white hot, fueled by the dropping of a whole lot of pretenses. Jessica figured out that Kilgrave can’t control her anymore and Kilgrave figured out that Jessica doesn’t love him. He may still be delusional that she once did – their shared flashback of the eighteen seconds when he let his control over her lapse indicates his insistence that she loved being with him. But after the torture session in the sin bin resulting in him murdering his mother, he suddenly seems much more dangerously manic and angry, instead of his usual attempt at seductiveness.
This is where all the side stories and peripheral characters suddenly became crucially important in ways big and small, from Wendy being ordered to take her 1000 cuts out of Jeri to Robin foolishly bullying the support group into taking their anger out on Jessica, resulting in all of them dangling from the end of a rope on Kilgrave’s orders, to Officer Simpson going from mansplainer to psychotic in 60 seconds, to poor Hope Schlotmann, so traumatized and without hope that she’ll slit her own throat just to get Jessica to promise to kill her tormentor. We suppose the creators of this show felt they needed to push Jessica to a point where the audience will accept her as a hero who kills her villains, but honestly, we passed that point a long time ago. If anything, her reluctance to kill him up till now, while given a good explanation in the story (she wanted to get Hope out of jail), was a fatally flawed choice on her part as the body count starts racking up in an increasingly desperate Kilgrave’s wake.
In addition, Will Simpson is now a super-soldier, hopped up on red, white and blue pills that have the lovely effect of making him a Captain America-lite, but the unfortunate side effect of turning him into a psychotic killer. Yes, shit keeps hitting fans left and right in the story now. Admittedly, we find Simpson’s story to still be a distraction from the main events. You could remove him completely from the tale and it wouldn’t have suffered from the loss. Rest in peace, Officer Clemons. The Marvel Netflix series are now two for two on killing middle-aged black male allies in order to push the story forward. Daredevil went the same route and there was a distinct sense of been-there done-that when poor Clemons got in the way of Simpson’s mania. And here we were all excited that at least Jessica finally got a witness to Kilgrave using his powers. To our way of thinking, the only good thing that came out of this arc was seeing Trish beat the shit out of him in an unexpectedly cathartic moment of heroism. Once again, the series is at its best when it’s about former victims of abuse driving the story forward and actively asserting change if not outright revenge on their abusers and stalkers. And it manages to take what could be a very “Lifetime Television For Women” subject and turn it into a fist-pumping action movie when it feels like it.
But no side character’s turn was more horrifying than Jeri’s who selfishly dragged Kilgrave straight into her ongoing domestic drama with blood-splattering results: one life ended and another in ruins. If there was any good to come out of all the blood spilled in the wake of Kilgrave’s escape from the sin bin, it’s that Jessica no longer has to convince anyone, from her lawyer to Trish to Robin and even Luke, who wound up destroying his bar, of the insidiousness of Kilgrave’s abilities. Suddenly, everyone in the story has been victimized by him. That’s horrifying, but we couldn’t help thinking what a great thing it is now that she’s got a veritable army of believers behind her. Even so, it’s hard not to think Jess’s fucked-up plan to torture him into using his powers on camera is directly responsible for a whole lot of death. You can feel the story ramping up to what’s going to be a hell of a finale, but it’s hard not to be a bit frustrated with the floundering Jess keeps doing.
Again, though; this is of a piece with the insistence on former victims driving the story, and it’s a deliberate attempt to show her as a desperate and damaged person fighting as much for her own life back as she is to enact justice. One of the best things about these episodes was the extended flashback to her time living with Trish as teenagers; with scenese that go out of the way to show that even then, Jess was angry, cynical and distant, and that the currently kickass Trish, who’s shown as much or more heroism in this tale than the actual hero has, was once a traumatized girl whose mother beat her with People’s Choice Awards. It plays into the very comic-booky theme that heroism is born out of trauma while at the same time underlining the idea that victims of trauma can often feel isolated and desperate.
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