“I never realized you were such a bitch.”
“Yeah well this bitch is in control of you now, asshole.”
In the eighth and ninth episodes of the series, things get fucked up.
That’s probably not the classiest way to open a review, but the more we ponder these two episodes – and we’ve been pondering them a whole hell of a lot – the more we realize not only does that succinct summation make the most sense, but it’s actually touching on what these episodes are truly about. Things get fucked up because it’s time to show just how fucked up things are.
In retrospect, these two episodes were probably our least favorite of the season. They weren’t bad exactly, but the story needed to slow down a bit, motivations needed to be re-established or even re-cast (Officer Simpson, just what the hell is your deal, anyway?), the story needed a little broadening lest it become claustrophobic, and things needed to kick into high gear in time for the final act. In a lot of ways, they were bridge episodes, taking us from the introductory portion of the series; the “here’s the good guy, here’s the bad guy, here are the bit players, this is the conflict” beats that were all hit so expertly and resonated so strongly, and bringing us into the “now that you know what’s up, here’s really what’s up” portion that we’re now in, just in time for the “shit goes all to hell” portion of the story we’ll be entering in the final episodes.
That made sense, right?
Our point is, the pacing and storytelling here remain of the highest quality, but when your story is over 13 hours long, it’s not unexpected or unheard-of that there might be some stretches that either aren’t that exciting or make you wonder if certain characters haven’t worn out their welcome. These weren’t bad episodes of the series, but they were the episodes that brought Jessica to her lowest state and wound up empowering Kilgrave in unforeseen ways. These were the episodes that showed just how screwed up their dynamic is. And these were the episodes that showed what desperation can do to Jessica and how it’s not always a pretty thing to watch. In many respects, these were absolutely necessary parts of the story to show, but we can’t deny how creeped out we were watching Jessica willingly walk into her childhood home to live with Kilgrave and then later to torture him past a point that struck us as healthy for her psyche.
In “AKA WWJD?” we have to squirm our way through an hour of Jessica willingly doing Kilgrave’s bidding, even as he tortures and threatens his servants in front of her; even as he humiliates her former neighbor, in a scene that uncomfortably alluded to the idea that she enjoys watching him use his powers on people who bother her. Worse, we saw her wrestling with the idea of staying by his side forever and teaching him to use his powers for good. It’s an idea that struck us as unconscionably naive on her part, until we realized that she looked at it as a chance to right her own wrongs (because she’s still drowning in self-loathing) and that, like it or not, she has the capacity to be a bit hypocritical about Kilgrave’s abilities; choosing to think that there’s actually a right way to take people’s control away from them. Sure, in the isolated incident of a hostage crisis his powers are useful in the short term, but it’s not hard to presume, given what we’ve seen of Kilgrave’s former victims, that even the most innocuous use of his powers results in serious long-term damage to a person’s mental well-being. How could it not? In essence, after everything we’ve seen, and in an episode that comes right out and calls Kilgrave’s behavior rape, we have to accept that Jessica is toying with the idea that there’s a “right” way to rape people. It’s a bit tough to take, but we can’t deny it makes sense for her. She’s still desperate and still not thinking straight. And as these two episodes handily illustrated, still quite damaged from her experiences.
But thankfully, she’s not stupid, nor is she quite as screwed up as the episode would lead you to believe, since she unleashes her true plan for Kilgrave in the final minutes of the episode by knocking him out, getting him away from any civilians and literally leaping into the sky to prevent Simpson and his band of Special Ops goons (WTF?) from killing him. Unfortunately, with “AKA Sin Bin,” we might consider it a treat to see a former victim literally torment her tormentor (and it was, at first), there was still an uncomfortable under current; one that implied that Jessica is recklessly unconcerned with others and is losing sight of her goals in order to indulge her rage. At the very least, you have to admit the whole torture chamber scenario kept getting progressively more and more fucked up, until a high-powered defense attorney and a cop got not only tricked into participating, but in the latter’s case actually taken hostage by Jess and Trish (who’s pretty much the greatest best friend of all time) so everyone can watch Kilgrave torture and murder his parents. In terms of trainwrecks, this one’s a doozy.
So yes, these were the hardest episodes to sit through in the whole season, not because they were badly done, but because they went to very bad places for our hero. But it occurs to us that you could look at both of these episodes, which go to dark places for Jessica (both as a victim and as a survivor fighting back), as a sort of deliberate subversion of the kind of revenge tropes that tend to make up most male-oriented action fantasies. In this case, rather than diving through a window with guns-ablazing and a catchphrase at the ready, we see a hero who submits to the villain’s will, shows some uncomfortable predilections, and makes some highly questionable (on both moral and tactical levels) choices. Rather than having all the answers and perfectly executing her master plan, this hero is pushed to a point of desperation by a system that refuses to help her and damaged by a violation that has clearly had some long-term repercussions on her well-being. In other words, it works very hard to tell a story about a person who is a hero rather than a hero in the shape of a person. She has flaws, she makes mistakes, and she’s been subjected to an evil that has had an effect on her she can’t deny. Hard to watch? We’re pretty sure they’re supposed to be.
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