Hot off her Alias reread, Tansy Rayner Roberts reviews Netflix’s Jessica Jones. In this post: “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” and “AKA WWJD.” Spoilers for season 1.
Episode 7: AKA Top Shelf Perverts
Written By: Jenna Reback & Micah Shrift
Directed By: Simon Cellan Jones
Not content with invading her childhood home, Kilgrave spends some personal time in Jessica’s apartment office, spraying his territory by peeing in her toilet.
Enter Ruben the soppy neighbour boy from upstairs, who blurts out to the stranger in the lovely suit that he has brought banana bread for Jessica “because he loves her.” Aw, Ruben, no.
Jessica meanwhile is getting thrown out of a bar into yet another pile of trash bags, so even the homeless dude in the gutter thinks she smells bad. Rock bottom.
She’s on a job to get Jeri Hogarth’s wife to sign the divorce papers “by any means necessary” and because she’s completely hammered, she misjudges the situation and ends up accidentally throwing the other woman on to subway tracks, then violently rescuing her. Awkward!
In a situation mirroring several earlier scenes of the show, a bright-eyed Malcolm (who has either been jogging or to Jazzercise) finds Jessica sprawled drunkenly in the lift of their building and helps her home.
I take what cheerfulness I can get from this show, and I find it amusing that Malcolm has shifted so quickly from deadbeat junkie to that judgy friend of yours who exercises more than you do. I want him and Trish to have a regular brunch date in which they conspire to make Jessica eat healthy. Please let him survive to be an AA counsellor and return to his social work career! I want to hug perky judgy Malcolm.
Jessica staggers home to bed only to find the bloody remains of Ruben waiting for her. Covered with his blood, she freaks out completely, and comes up with a desperate plan to end Kilgrave’s reign of terror by taking herself out of the equation and getting herself sent to “Supermax Prison”.
Clearly her guilt complex has its own guilt complex now.
Jessica calls Homicide to contact Clemons, that one detective she already knows is suspicious of her after Hope’s parents were killed—he’s not on duty until 8pm which gives her the rest of the day to tidy up all her loose ends before she turns herself in as a dangerous criminal.
Malcolm does not approve this plan!
Trish ignores calls from Jessica, not only because she’s busy having athletic sex with Will Simpson (in which she most definitely takes control, there’s that theme again) but also because she doesn’t want to talk to Jess until her new Kilgrave-catching plan comes to fruition. Simpson makes another attempt to convince Trish that assassinating Kilgrave is the best option, but she has a hard moral line on murdering people. Trish scoped out high end security firms and acquired a list of Kilgrave’s current team, which is A+ detective work/creepy stalking. Good on you, Trish! Simpson follows her clues to locate Kilgrave with his moving vans. Simpson lies to Trish about finding Kilgrave, and stakes out the house.
Jessica starts her day with Jeri Hogarth, asking leading questions about how bad a crime has to be in order to be sent to Supermax. Jeri is suspicious, but reveals only the top shelf perverts, psychopaths, cannibals etc, can expect a stay in that particular institution.
It’s good to have a goal.
Sidebar because I am obsessed with Pam’s wardrobe—Pam is wearing greys and pale colours this episode. Even Pam has been brought down by the grimdark of this show. Don’t let this happen, Pam! Bring back the brights!
When Dr Wendy arrives to throw her divorce papers back in Jeri’s face and attempts to blackmail her about past corruption in exchange for 75% of their shared wealth, Pam stands by her woman valiantly, despite being constantly disappointed in Jeri’s inability to share the important stuff with her. Pam is the literal best.
Jessica goes to say goodbye to Luke, but he’s not around, so she ends up giving her apology to that old dude who works in his bar. She promises that “the right people will pay” which probably includes her as much as Kilgrave.
She also, in an exciting twist, goes to call on Trish’s mother Dorothy (Rebecca de Mornay! Who recognised her?), who has turned ‘stage mom’ into a professional career as an agent for kid stars, and has an It’s Patsy poster on her wall.
In a side note, why do I keep having the It’s Patsy theme tune running through my head when I’ve only heard it badly sung by earnest fans? It’s not a real theme tune!
Jessica has been enforcing a private restraining order to keep Dorothy from Trish, and assures her that prison won’t stop her continuing to do so..
Given that she doesn’t have a lot of people in her life to make amends to, and Trish still isn’t picking up her phone, Jessica climbs a bridge to say goodbye to the city, and her freedom.
Malcolm has been a busy bee, calling Trish via her assistant ten times and getting himself flagged as a stalker before she made the connection and came to see him at Jessica’s place. Cue hijinks with a dead body as Jessica’s two best friends conspire to save her from herself! Meanwhile, Ruben’s erratic twin sister Robyn is hanging around with a tragic air, accusing Jessica of corrupting her brother.
Jessica returns to her apartment to find Ruben’s body gone, and Trish calmly cleaning up the evidence. She chases down Malcolm to the river where he has disposed of the body, and leaps in after it…
At 8pm, Jessica arrives at the precinct, dripping wet, with Ruben’s head in a plastic bag, prepared to play the part of psychopath and top shelf pervert. She presents herself to Detective Clemons and after realising Jeri Hogarth is too good a lawyer to let this happen, fires her and proceeds to interrogate herself. Because Clemons is not an idiot, Jessica’s continual demands to go to a specific prison are deeply suspicious, but the whole head in a bag thing goes a long way.
She goes so far as to demonstrate what a danger she is to society by wrecking a chair, and has made an impact on him when Sgt Brett Mahoney. (Hi, Brett! It’s Brett from Daredevil, you guys!) calls Clemons out and announces Jessica is free to go. She’s ropeable, but it isn’t her hotshot lawyer who made this happen…
As they step into the open plan office of the precinct they see every cop in the place has a gun pointed at them, by themselves or their partners. Kilgrave is here to rescue his girl…
Jessica is gutted, but also resigned to her fate. But Kilgrave isn’t planning to mind-control her this time—instead, he declares his undying love, and his determination to win her heart. Turns out that her letting that bus crash into him has developed some kind of ‘girls who can say no are so hot’ kink in him, and he has decided to court her the old fashioned way, with stalking and dead bodies.
JESSICA: This is a sick joke. You have killed innocent people!
KILGRAVE: Well… that… that… milquetoast little man-boy? He interrupted me while I was leaving you a present, which apparently you didn’t even find. Come on! You cannot pretend he didn’t irritate you, too. I wanted to slap him after 30 seconds!
Jessica is stunned and grossed out, mostly. But free to leave, for now.
It cuts the tension quite a lot to have Kilgrave changing his tactics, even though this has been a progression hinted at for some time—he has found the limits of his powers and has been working with a variety of resources. However, even if the immediate threat of him taking over Jessica’s body has been diffused, he’s still an armed man declaring his unrequited love. Any woman—and most men—should be well aware that he’s not less dangerous simply because he’s choosing not to use his weapon now. How many times will it take for the novelty of Jessica saying ‘no’ to him to wear off?
Back at her office, Jessica hunts for the ‘present’ Kilgrave left her, and finds her old high school diary inside Riva’s tin box. She heads out, refusing to talk to the increasingly desperate Robyn, who is still unaware of her brother’s fate.
Jessica approaches her childhood home, only for a—this is the distressing part—casually dressed “suburban husband” version of Kilgrave (damn you, David Tennant) to meet her. Simpson watches in horror from his car as the couple disappear into the house.
COMICS AND CONTINUITY
There are many high security prisons in Marvel Comics, with the most significant one to this story being The Raft, in which Kilgrave is imprisoned during most of Alias and New Avengers, and manages to escape several times despite all that soundproofing and high tech surveillance.
In one key issue of Alias, he escapes immediately after Jessica visits him on behalf of a client, thereby making her look like an accomplice.
In the MCU, most of the institutions set up to deal with super villains and the like have been top secret and run by SHIELD (the Fridge, for example, one of many facilities that were destroyed in the wake of Captain America: Winter Soldier, as seen in Agents of SHIELD).
Seriously, this is New York, why has no one discreetly passed Director Coulson’s cell number to Jessica yet? Stan Lee, I’m looking at you.
Door damage is minimal, though I can’t help noticing that Malcolm officially has a key to Jessica’s place now, which is really sweet as a gesture of trust and will also be helpful next time a locksmith turns on her for non payment of bills.
There’s very little destruction of property in this one. Just poor innocent Ruben. And his banana bread.
A moment of silence for Ruben’s banana bread.
Episode 8: AKA WWJD
Written By: Scott Reynolds
Directed By: Simon Cellan Jones
Jessica steps into her childhood home. Kilgrave has recreated it exactly as it was before the accident that killed her parents and brother (down to the CDs on the shelves, for which he had to use a magnifying glass on photos acquired from an old real estate agent). He has paid support staff including security, whom he claims are there because of the positive working conditions and not because he has compelled them to serve him.
The whole situation has a grim Beauty and the Beast feel about it, particularly when Jessica finds a purple frock waiting for her in her bedroom, and Kilgrave waits impatiently to see if she will join him for dinner. He maintains that his intention is to woo Jessica honourably, without using his powers on her, but that doesn’t mean that she is remotely safe. Neither are his staff, whom he regularly threatens and uses his power on cruelly to keep a sense of control.
Jessica demands that he not touch her, and Kilgrave agrees to this, though he doesn’t actually understand why she has a problem with him. We are told for the first time that he raped her while she was under his control—but he doesn’t consider it rape because he treated her to fancy hotels and restaurants and so on. The more she uses the word ‘rape’ the twitchier he gets.
Kilgrave’s moral compass and his confusion around consensuality doesn’t stop there. He claims earnestly that the deaths that happen as a result of his powers are not his responsibility. He tries to convince Jessica, for instance, that she chose to kill Riva of her own free will, because he didn’t give her explicit orders.
Jessica is grabbed by Simpson, who breaks into the house and attempts to rescue her, not listening to her insistence that she can handle the situation and that she has chosen it. (There’s a THEME going on here) She takes his phone, as Kilgrave confiscated hers, and it’s a way to record their conversations as possible evidence.
Simpson has gone full special ops and/or is having a mental break, it’s kind of hard to tell. But he has stopped answering Trish’s calls and he wired a bomb into the basement, not caring especially about potential collateral damage.
Jessica tells Kilgrave about the bomb because she doesn’t want to get blown up, but doesn’t snitch on Simpson.
Kilgrave has a breakthrough with Jessica when a bitchy next door neighbour joins them for breakfast—she remembers the Jones family and drops all kinds of passive aggressive insults to the family while pretending to be friendly, and gnawing on bacon.
Seeing Jessica get more and more upset, Kilgrave uses his powers to make the woman confess she was inventing mean things to make herself important. For the first time, we (and Jessica) see him using his powers to make someone feel better, rather than for himself. It’s… distressingly human of him. Stop that right now, show!
Jessica pushes Kilgrave to talk more about his crimes and his guilt (for her recording), only to discover that he has no moral compass at all. She decides to test out whether his powers can be used for good, and takes him on an outing to “do the hero thing.”
Working together, Kilgrave and Jessica end a siege, saving the gunman’s family. Kilgrave assumes the most appropriate thing to do at the end is to make the gunman blow his own brains out, and Jessica stops him. It’s a work in progress.
KILGRAVE: What a waste of energy.
JESSICA: Was it? You just saved four lives.
Kilgrave attempts to gain Jessica’s understanding and sympathy by showing her the film footage on the USB he took back from Riva the night of the bus crash—it shows him as a child, having his brain and body ruthlessly experimented on by his parents, and the point at which his powers came in and he was able to protect himself.
Jessica is in a quandary. Desperate for some perspective, she leaves Kilgrave to talk things over with Trish, admitting that this situation requires asking herself What Would Trish Do. Her friend has always been the heroic one, after all.
Is it possible for Jessica to use Kilgrave’s desire for her regard to help him learn how to use his powers responsibly? Can she stomach giving up her life to become his carer and mentor and killswitch all rolled into one? Trish claims she doesn’t have an answer. Jessica guesses Trish would take the heroic/altruistic option, but doesn’t want Jessica to do the same.
In a glorious final scene, Jessica figures out What Jessica Would Do, and it’s a doozy. She brings Chinese takeout to feed everyone, lulls Kilgrave by poison-tasting his food, and then sticks a hypodermic in his neck as his staff fall unconscious because she totally drugged their food.
Fleeing with Kilgrave across her shoulders, Jessica fights off his last security guard only to be faced with Simpson, who has gathered some old military pals (so ominous) to help him deal with this situation. After Jessica leaps away with Kilgrave (and doesn’t land—omg that’s flying, I’m so proud), Simpson is handed a gift by the bitchy neighbour—his bomb, which explodes all over the place.
COMICS AND CONTINUITY
There’s some important shifts in the story here, from the original Alias comics. Here, Jessica was born a Jones and then adopted by Patsy/Trish’s mother after the accident as a public relations exercise. In Alias, Jessica was adopted into the loving Jones family after her birth family’s accident—her adopted Dad in particular helped her work through her thoughts about becoming a superhero.
Speaking of which—I’m not sure if this is intended, but Jessica’s show of strength in breaking her brother’s Gameboy seconds before the accident implies she was already super strong at that point. In the comics, she got her powers from a chemical spill during the accident, though I suspect they won’t go that route in the TV show purely because it’s so similar to what we saw in Daredevil very recently. I guess we’ll find out later in the series?
A major change—one that I was greatly apprehensive about—is that Jessica was raped by Kilgrave during the time he had her captive. In the comics, it was a point of emphasis that Kilgrave did not sexually assault her, which felt subversive and revolutionary because the use of rape as a tragic turning point/backstory for female characters in comics was so overwhelmingly common.
Kilgrave’s crimes against Jessica were numerous and at least partly sexual in the comics—he used to rape other women in front of her and forced her to want him to do the same to her. Her PTSD came from an overwhelming horror of what he made her think and desire more than what he physically did to her.
I can see why they made the change for the show, though I was very dubious about it as a creative choice—having Jessica’s voice and experience to describe Kilgrave’s acts as rape is a powerful statement, as she demands he hold himself accountable for what he did. It wasn’t necessary for the story to work—I can as easily see Kilgrave smarmily using the fact that he did not rape Jessica while she was under the influence as evidence that he is redeemable—but having made that choice, the show is respectful about the topic.
In particular, I appreciate that we don’t see the rapes acted out on screen. As the showrunner Melissa Rosenberg said herself in a recent interview, we know what that looks like—we’ve seen it before so many times—you don’t need to show a graphic depiction of rape to explore the after effects on the victims or indeed perpetrator.
We already knew how much Kilgrave had damaged Jessica’s sense of autonomy and self, long before this particular aspect of their story was made explicit (and even before his rape of Hope was made explicit in the previous episode, though the scene in the bed in Episode 1 did imply this from the start).
The discussions of Kilgrave as rapist overlap and interact with the discussions of Kilgrave as murderer, as terrorist, as manipulator, as moral vacuum. His inability to acknowledge he has committed any crime, and his insistence that what he did was desired or initiated by his victims, is consistent across the board.
The fact that Jessica Jones did not tear her house down with her bare hands when she realised Kilgrave had stalked her childhood via second hand furniture is something of a miracle. The street outside isn’t looking too great right now, mostly because it has bits of exploded neighbour all over it.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is a Marvel Comics tragic, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. Tansy’s latest piece of published short fiction is “Fake Geek Girl” at the Review of Australian Fiction, and she writes comics reviews on her own blog. You can find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her onGalactic Suburbia or the Verity! podcast.