Monday, December 7, 2015

Jessica Jones Season 1, Episode 3, "AKA It's Called Whiskey" REVIEW (SPOILERS!)

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One of the great benefits of the Netflix model is the fact that episodes flow into each other almost seamlessly.  At the end of the previous episode, “AKA Crush Syndrome” (1x02), Jessica and Luke were in the process of discovering each other’s powers; “AKA It’s Called Whiskey” (1x03) begins with the continuation of that discovery.  This paves the way for our first real in-depth exploration of the relationship between Jessica and Luke, but this episode is far more than a vehicle for relationship drama; more of the significant characters are introduced, and one of Jessica’s major motivations for the series comes into sharp focus.

As mentioned, the episode begins right after Luke demonstrated his unbreakable skin to Jessica by running a power saw against his abs with no discernible effect.  She is in shock at this—evidently she was unaware of the extent of his powers until this moment—but recovers when the two of them begin testing their strength against the other.  Because of course that’s how Jessica Jones and Luke Cage would do foreplay!  They have sex for the second time in the series—as a side note this is the episode with the most sex in the series—and then afterward go out to eat at a food truck.  Their mealtime conversation is particularly illuminating, as it fills in some of their back stories as well as their awareness of other heroes.  The back story we receive is entirely incomplete—Jess is an “accident” while Luke is an “experiment”—but I suppose that’s how enhanced people would talk among themselves about their abilities.  They also discuss their powers, which gives us our first real understanding of Jessica’s abilities, specifically the fact that while she can’t really fly she does have something like a super-jump.  Her powers are expanded on several times throughout the season, but I think this is the closest she comes to explaining her “flight” ability—jumping and then falling.  It is also significant that while Jessica does not hide her powers, she also doesn’t “advertise.”  I can definitely see how easy it would be for her to hide her powers, but the idea of a hero—or at the very least powered person—who incorporates her abilities into everyday life seems unique compared to what we have seen so far.  I think it is more significant when their conversation turns to the other people like them (superheroes) that they know.  Luke only mentions the Avengers (“the big green dude and his friends”); Jessica doesn’t mention anyone else, though we know from the tie-in comic that she is at least aware of Daredevil’s existence.  Additionally, from the first episode we have some idea that there are more enhanced individuals out there—specifically the Inhumans (though the timing seems off, as the previous episode showed that Reva was killed on January 20, 2014, and we know that’s about a year before the season takes place).  I really like how natural this whole thing feels:  they are two people with extraordinary gifts who are trying to get to know each other better.

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A significant element in the series comes up in the second and third sex scenes between those two in this episode.  In the second scene, Jessica sees the picture in Luke’s medicine cabinet and runs out right away; in the third, Luke finally explains that she was his wife who was killed in a bus accident.  Unfortunately, Jessica knows what really happened:  Luke’s wife, Reva, was dead before the bus arrived because Jessica punched her into the middle of the street.  That their stories are so closely connected is a major deviation from the comics, but it is one that I can fully support because it helps bring the story together more.  It explains at least one reason for Jessica’s interest in Luke:  guilt over her part in killing his wife.  It gives Luke a motivation to want Kilgrave dead, because Kilgrave forced Jessica to do it.  It also gives Luke a motivation not to trust anything Jessica says, something which is pretty much guaranteed to drive a wedge between them if and when Luke learns the truth.  This kind of thing could have been handled very poorly, but the actors involved do an excellent job of bringing emotion and depth to their characters, so that all of their scenes together really pop.  As a fun side note, it is after the third (off-screen) sex scene of the episode that Luke first uses his comic book catchphrase: “Sweet Christmas.”  Just wanted to point that out.

The rest of the episode focuses in on Kilgrave—Jessica’s efforts to find him and neutralize his powers, as well as his own efforts to use his powers against Jessica and those closest to her.  First, Jessica talks to Hogarth about Hope’s chances in court:  Jess thinks that she is innocent anyways, despite the preponderance of evidence against Hope.  However, the only way to prove this is by finding people who have experienced Kilgrave’s mind control firsthand—like Jessica herself.  Jessica absolutely does not want to have to testify to what Kilgrave forced her to do, so Hogarth tells her to find other victims to testify instead.  To do this, Jessica begs Trish to talk about mind-control on her “Trish Talk” radio show, which Trish is hesitant to do.  Eventually, however, Trish agrees to interview Hope on-air so that Hope can describe what happened to her, in the hopes that the story will bring in more people who have experienced Kilgrave’s mind control.  While they’re at Trish’s apartment, we learn how Trish has been coping with what happened to Jessica the first time she was mind-controlled: Trish installed a heavy-duty security system in her apartment, complete with safe room and steel-reinforced doors, and started learning Krav Maga (which, interestingly enough, was developed around World War II by a Jewish-Czech vigilante looking to defend his neighborhood—what better fighting technique for a superhero to learn!).  When she and Jess were roommates, Jess protected her; now she doesn’t need Jessica to fight her battles.

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During Trish’s remote interview with Hope, we get some very interesting character development from Trish and Hogarth.  After Hope tells her story, Hogarth immediately explains it away as a figment of a delusional mind—seeking to preserve her own credibility.  However, this really gets under Trish’s skin, and she immediately starts defending the possibility of mind control (because she personally knows someone who suffered it).  To be honest, her argument in favor of it makes a ton of sense in this universe:  if aliens can open a portal over New York City, there really isn’t a lot that you can reject out of hand.  None of these characters know that Loki used mind control in The Avengers, but it makes sense for Trish to take that step from aliens to mind control.  At the same time, it also makes sense for someone like Luke—who himself has unbreakable skin—to doubt the possibility of mind control because all the abilities he has seen so far fall into the category of “visible” or “physical”:  Scarlet Witch’s and Loki’s powers would fall into the realm of the “invisible” (messing with people’s minds), but he has never seen that firsthand.  For someone like Trish, for whom the topic is very personal, there’s no question: mind control is real.  Unfortunately, Trish gets a bit carried away and starts insulting Kilgrave’s manhood on live radio, causing Jess to burst into the studio and put a stop to the interview.  The second phone call the studio receives, however, is from Kilgrave himself, giving Trish a not-so-subtle warning against insulting a guy as powerful as himself.  I love the reaction shots to this call:  Hope starts freaking out, Jess and Trish are both terrified, and even Hogarth appears concerned.  I think this might be the first truly Joker-like thing that Kilgrave does in the series:  he’s simply showboating by throwing threats around.

After the interview, Jess and Trish are both a little paranoid that Kilgrave will send someone to kill Trish for insulting him, to the degree that Trish attacks a fan in the station lobby when he touches her shoulder.  Jess escorts Trish back to her apartment and orders her to lock the door and not let anyone in until she gets back.  This provides the ideal set-up for the major action sequence of the episode.

Jess’s other major goal during this episode is to track down Sufentanil, a surgical anesthetic which she suspects will negate Kilgrave’s ability.  Her first stop is to ask Wendy, Hogarth’s wife, if she has access, but she prescribes Jessica an anti-psychotic instead!  Her next stop is to try stealing some from the hospital, but there are too many witnesses around for her to risk it.  Finally, she “borrows” the high-as-a-kite Malcolm and uses him as a distraction while she steals several syringes and a few bottles of Sufentanil.

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Turns out she got it just in time; after she left Trish a police officer (Sergeant Will Simpson) comes to Trish’s door claiming to be responding to the “assault” at the station earlier.  Trish is insanely suspicious of him, but eventually opens the door for him.  However, he immediately attacks her, and though she fights him off well, he proves almost impossible to stop.  Eventually Jessica arrives and saves Trish, but in order to do so she has to fake Trish’s death by injecting her with Sufentanil, causing Simpson to leave and return to Kilgrave.  This is the first time in the series that we see this:  mimicking the effect Kilgrave ordered in order to break his programming.  As a fun side-note, the initial proposal for this series replaced Trish Walker with Carol Danvers (Ms./Captain Marvel), and this scene is one of the main reasons I’m glad they went with the non-powered Trish:  if Carol Danvers were attacked by some mind-controlled cop hell-bent on killing her, the fight would end almost instantly when she blasted him through the chest with an energy beam or punched him into another hemisphere!

Jess follows Simpson back to the high-rise where Kilgrave is staying, where Simpson reports Trish’s death and Kilgrave then orders him to take the short way to the ground (off the balcony).  Jess stops Simpson by knocking him out before entering the house after Kilgrave.  However, Kilgrave sends the members of his “host” family to stop her, and they buy enough time for him to escape.  Before leaving the penthouse, Jess discovers that the office is filled with pictures of herself, all of which were taken without her knowledge:  Kilgrave has a spy watching her!  At this point, Jessica feels violated once again by Kilgrave.  She broke free of his control a year ago, but he still is not leaving her alone.

It’s not entirely clear how it happens, but we next see Jessica outside having seemingly caught Simpson after he woke up and jumped off the roof.  Whether she actually flew up to catch him or not is kind of up for debate.  This is not the only time in the season when her ability to jump is described as more like flight than jumping, but we never really see her doing anything that could be described as flying.  Jessica tells Simpson to forget about what happened and go home, but believing that he killed a woman really seems to have had a profound impact on him.

I really liked this episode, particularly the scenes at the radio station, Trish’s apartment, and Kilgrave’s lair.  The scenes of Jessica trying to get Sufentanil weren’t all that exciting, but they did help to develop her character:  she is willing to do just about anything, even knock a couple innocent bystanders unconscious, but there is a limit to what she is willing to do.  Additionally, the Sufentanil gets paid off pretty quickly in the episode (and recurs later in the season, of course), so those scenes do serve an important purpose.  Finally, this is a good introduction for Simpson, though it does little to suggest that he would become such an important character in the season.  I think that of all the non-main-cast characters, Simpson is the most intriguing to me.  I am very curious about where his story goes from here.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you like this introduction for Simpson?  Let me know in the comments!

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