Hot off her Alias reread, Tansy Rayner Roberts reviews Netflix’s Jessica Jones. In this post: “AKA Sin Bin” and “AKA 1,000 Cuts.” Spoilers for season 1.
Episode 9 AKA Sin Bin
Written By: Jamie King & Dana Baratta
Directed By: John Dahl
This is the closest thing we get to a bottle episode! In a reversal of last week, Kilgrave is now Jessica’s prisoner in the hermetically sealed room that Simpson’s old special ops department had lying around unused. Kilgrave awakes to a nightmare scenario—his cell is ankle deep in water, there’s a live wire rigged up to a big red button that Jessica can press to electrocute him any time she likes, and the video of his childhood trauma as a lab rat is being projected against the wall.
Oh, and his powers don’t work via microphone. Jessica can even choose whether or not she wants to listen to what he has to say.
What follows is a hardcore dramatic hour exploring the nature of power and control – the loss of control, the abuse of power and particularly, how it’s still possible to control others from a perceived position of powerlessness. Jessica thinks she has Kilgrave exactly where she wants him, but she’s starting to fall to pieces as she realises how hard it is to get stand-up-in-a-court-of-law proof that Kilgrave’s powers exist, and that he is responsible for Hope murdering her parents.
As we’ve seen up to now, Kilgrave is a master at playing on people’s insecurities, and despite him mostly relying on his powers all of his life, he’s still pretty good at Manipulation 101 from a distance.
Jeri Hogarth lectures Jessica on how she can’t just torture a dude in a glass box, film it, and expect that to play in court. She needs legit witnesses, and probably to be following the Geneva Convention and that sort of thing.
Jeri’s own life mirrors this week’s plot—her wife continues to blackmail her over past professional misconduct, and is now claiming 90% of their assets. Jeri is not used to feeling this powerless, and it’s driving her up the wall that Wendy has the upper hand.
In one key scene, Pam uses her youthful sexual wiles to remind Jeri of the cutthroat legal shark she fell in love with, and all but dares Jeri to take it further to deal with Wendy. She even withholds sex, a classic example of ‘person with least control in the relationship plays her only card.’
Jeri, in other words, is primed and ready to have Kilgrave offer to fix all her problems, though she’s not easy enough to fall into the palm of his hand straight away.
Trish, having got Simpson to the hospital and summoned the mysterious Dr Kozlov (uh-oh, doctors with Russian names, that’s never good in the MCU) on his behalf, finds herself shut out of his healing process. His suspiciously speedy healing process. OH BOY I SEE WHERE YOU’RE GOING WITH THIS, MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE.
Trish still has time to come and sidekick with Jessica in Kilgrave’s prison, because ovaries before brovaries. To prove her friendship, uses the electro-button to prevent Jessica physically murdering Kilgrave while ‘encouraging’ him to use his powers on her for the camera.
That’s true sisterhood, right there.
One of my favourite things about this episode is that Simpson is totally trying to manipulate Trish into doing his bidding from his sickbed, encouraging her to distrust Jessica, to put a bullet in Kilgrave, and to follow his agenda. She not only chooses Jessica over him, but she chooses herself over him—Trish has several times explained to Will why she herself does not believe murdering Kilgrave (or anyone) is the answer, and he continues to not listen, or not understand that she’s working from her own moral framework, rather than following Jessica’s lead.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she says sharply at one point. Go, Trish. I love you, Trish. I believe in you.
A ticking clock is added when Jeri receives a plea bargain offer for Hope—she can get away with only 15 years in prison (rather than life) if she pleads guilty, but she only has 24 hours to decide. To Jeri’s immense frustration, Hope refuses to make a decision without consulting Jessica. When Jessica tells her how close they are to getting evidence from Kilgrave that would at least offer reasonable doubt, Hope rejects the plea bargain.
Everyone is trusting Jessica in this episode which would be nice if it wasn’t for the fact that she is an emotional wreck right now, and about to make some of the worst judgement calls in the show so far.
Determined to break Kilgrave, Jessica researches his missing parents, whom he claimed abandoned him once he got his powers. In her search, she recognises the face of his mother – full disclosure, from the picture I kind of thought it was Wendy for a few minutes there, and my brain exploded a bit on a totally wrong tangent.
Once again, Jessica crashes the therapy group (now totally Malcolm’s therapy group, it is adorable how quickly he has embraced the helping others routine) claiming she wants to talk. Actually she’s waiting for Betty, a scar-faced member of the group who is in fact Kilgrave’s mother.
Pausing briefly to inform a desperate-to-join-the-mission Malcolm that helping people is his superpower, and he needs to stay well away from the dangerous stuff, Jessica hunts down the terrified woman, and forces she and her husband to reunite with her son.
It turns out, of course, that Kilgrave was lying—his parents experimented on him originally to save his life, and after his powers came in they lived with him for many years, slaves to his childish desires, until finally fleeing in fear after he forced his mother to maim herself with an iron.
Jessica’s plan is to send them into the ‘sin bin’ (it’s a Rugby reference) with their son and film what happens. She drags Detective Clemons in as witness and has Trish hold him at gunpoint while she handcuffs him to a spot with a view of the proceedings.
This is where I lose all sympathy for what Jessica is doing, and indeed what the people around her are doing (especially the trained lawyer), because it’s pretty clear that she acting out of desperation rather than common sense. Getting Kilgrave’s parents on the stand as witnesses to their son’s abilities would surely be more useful than the witness statement of a cop she kidnapped to watch her enact some kind of Guantanamo Special Episode of Dr Phil.
No, don’t let the parents go into the room with him. That’s terrible. No, don’t base your plan around electrocuting two old people if their son tries to attack them, that’s terrible. This is worse than that episode when Jessica had to inflict head trauma on everyone in Kilgrave’s apartment.
Of course, it all goes wrong. I maintain that there was no ‘good’ outcome to this ridiculous scenario.
In any case, Kilgrave’s mother makes a vague attempt to stab him with some scissors, he tells her to stab herself once for every year that she left him, and Jessica can’t stop it because the massively overused cable she’s been using to electrocute people all week has finally given up the ghost.
Jessica opens the tank to try to save Kilgrave’s father, Trish starts shooting the glass to get Kilgrave (only serving to free him faster, good one, Trish) and it all goes to hell.
As he flees, Kilgrave tells Trish to put a bullet in her head (thankfully her own gun is empty though I presume that makes it still a long term plan for her), and for Clemons to follow him, which the cop does, breaking/dislocating his thumb to get out of the cuffs.
Incidentally, we also found out this episode that Clemons is 2 years from retirement. I’ll just let that sink in.
In the scuffle to escape, Kilgrave orders Jessica to let go of him, and she does not. He gets away thanks to Clemons, but she finally has proof that the moments between Riva’s death and the bus crash were not a fluke. She is immune from his mind control.
COMICS AND CONTINUITY
I’m not sure how I feel about this development—well, I feel relieved for Jessica, but doesn’t it reduce a hell of a lot of the tension in the story if she no longer has to fear him invading her mind?
In the original comics (HUGE SPOILERS FOR ALIAS) the revelation that Jessica was now immune happened at the very end of the story, shortly before very cathartic ‘Jessica beats up Kilgrave’ scene. More to the point, it was something she arranged herself, via the telepathic powers of Jean Grey.
Still, the show has been working overtime to show us how dangerous Kilgrave is even without his powers, and how vicious he is in using his powers against people who aren’t Jessica, so there’s still a lot to play for.
And… considering the horrible thematic resonance of Jessica smiling in this story so far, it’s kind of amazing to see a genuine smile on her face as she realises the truth. Kudos on finding an actress who looks super creepy and wrong when she smiles.
There’s a nice old-fashioned door breakage when Jessica hunts down Kilgrave’s parents, but the gold star for destruction this week goes to Trish Walker and her tiny gun, for shattering the hermetically sealed room. I realise the gold star is sending a mixed message about the end of this episode. I do not approve of your action, Trish. But I am slightly glad you have joined in on the mass breakages.
Episode 10: AKA 1,000 Cuts
Directed By: Rosemary Rodriguez
Written By: Dana Baratta & Micah Shraft
I bet you thought those 1,000 cuts were going to be metaphorical, yeah? So did I.
Kilgrave is on the run, and despite Jeri Hogarth being well aware of who and what he is, she pauses long enough to yell at him to keep away, and just like that, he has his getaway car. He orders her to take him to a doctor she trusts, and Jeri takes him to her doctor wife, Wendy. This is fascinating, because up until now, Kilgrave’s taunts about his victims and their responsibility have rung hollow, but in this case it feels very deliberate that Jeri has exposed Wendy to Kilgrave.
Especially as, it turns out, they cut a deal back in the makeshift prison—she cut the cable to the electrocution machine (I am actually disappointed it didn’t merely short out, because that seemed like a reasonable possibility no one had factored in) and he promised to make her ex sign the divorce papers.
Oh Jeri, your morals are so different to everyone else’s.
At one point, Kilgrave sarcastically snaps ‘tell me something I don’t know’ to Jeri and she pours out a secret she definitely never meant to tell him—that she and Jessica arranged Hope’s abortion, and the foetal remains are secured in a lab.
Back at the sin bin, Jessica finds Trish desperately trying to push a bullet into her own head. Jessica makes her place it in her mouth, soothes her that she has obeyed the order, and spit it out again. Trish is back to herself again.
Jessica is buzzed and excited to share her news—she is immune to Kilgrave’s power!
Detective Clemons is remarkably cool about everything. Did someone actually pass him a Xanax or two? He has taken on board his experience under Kilgrave’s power, factored that in with the desperate rantings he got from Jessica previously, and is moving on with how to deal with the current situation. At no point does he get even slightly sarcastic at the fact that Jessica and Trish kidnapped him at gunpoint and put him in this bizarre situation. Detective Clemons, you are too good for this world.
Kilgrave’s dad Albert has something useful to offer, despite being briefly wracked with grief at the death of his wife—they have been working on an inoculation for their son’s power.
JESSICA: He’s a virus?
Jessica’s blood might be the breakthrough they need! Trish volunteers to take Albert back to his hotel to get working. Clemons stays to secure the scene and come up with some creative explanations for his fellow cops. Jessica goes after Kilgrave. They’re working so nicely as a team!
Jessica, knowing Jeri cut the wire and may well be with Kilgrave, is cagey when Jeri tries to grill her on the phone about Albert’s whereabouts. Jessica hears Wendy’s voice at the end of the call.
Meanwhile, Kilgrave shows what a terrible ally he is, sympathising far more with Wendy than Jeri—mirroring her complaints about her cheating wife with his own gripes about what an ungrateful, unsatisfactory girlfriend Jessica has proved to be.
To make his escape, he echoes Wendy’s comment about how being abandoned is like a death of 1,000 cuts, ordering her to bestow that literal fate on Jeri. Wendy turns wild, pursuing Jeri around the house, one slice at a time. Jeri only survives because Pam arrives in the last instant, hitting Wendy with a statue.
Wendy is killed, colliding with the glass coffee table at a bad angle. Jessica, arriving too late to prevent the tragedy, is slightly consoling to Pam, assuring that what she did was in self defence—but she has no sympathy for a wrecked Jeri, who sided with Kilgrave for her own ends despite all the warnings.
There’s a particularly chilling character moment when Pam gets angry at Jeri, for bringing Kilgrave to Wendy and for putting her in this situation. Jeri totally attempts pull her own Kilgrave effect on Wendy, telling her that it was her own choice to pick up the statue and hit Wendy with it. Let’s hear it for my girl Pam, who knows bullshit when she hears it, and is SO DONE with Jeri at this point, even to the point of refusing to be represented by her at the police precinct. Pam, you deserve so much more than all this. Go find Karen from Daredevil and drink a bunch of tequila together!
Speaking of terrible people, Will Simpson arrives at the sin bin to find the wreckage, Kilgrave’s dead mother, and Detective Clemons. He convinces Clemons that he’s in the gang, and Trish trusts him, in order to get the location of Trish and Albert, at which point he shoots Clemons between the eyes.
I am really angry at Clemons about this. Yes, I know he got shot five seconds later so instant karma for trusting the wrong person, but it really upset me that he took Will’s word for it that he was in the circle of trust and should be told where Trish was hiding out—the whole thing has a really creepy ‘this is how domestic abuse happens’ vibe. Men, don’t tell your male friends where their girlfriends are if it’s supposed to be a secret. Especially if they’re looking particularly aggressive and strung-out.
Trish, I might add, can tell there’s something seriously wrong with Will the second he turns up at the hotel room—he’s not just throwing his weight around more than ever, his pupils are dilated, and he’s healed way too quickly from his injuries.
Anyway, ugh, Will is a super villain now I guess? Trish forces him out of Albert’s room, and he goes quietly. For now.
Meanwhile Kilgrave (who knew all along she was immune) has pulled a shocker move on Jessica—he has arranged for Hope to be freed from prison. Considering that Jessica main goal since Episode 2 has been saving Hope, it’s a masterstroke on his part (except for that tiny detail where it and Jessica’s sense of moral justice were the only two things keeping him alive).
Jessica and Kilgrave have a conversation in her office about a key moment in Jessica’s incarceration when he deliberately waited out the limits of his influence over her, and she chose to stay with him. She remembers it differently—she only had 18 seconds of freedom, in which she stood on the rooftop in a haze and imagined her escape (including riding away on a white horse) but didn’t manage to make a move before he ordered her inside again. Kilgrave has based his entire fantasy of their love on those eighteen seconds, while she claims that breaking free of his control was too hard and confusing, which is the only reason she hesitated.
Being Jessica, she ties him up and gags him rather than countenance his offer of swapping Hope for Albert—with a judicious use of duct tape, she can have both without any compromise!
Sadly, in a bizarre twist, Malcolm and the therapy group prove to be Jessica’s kryptonite. Because she and Malcolm seemed to have got it into their heads that they shouldn’t tell Robyn her brother is dead (even though it’s not a secret, his severed head is in the police morgue, right?), Robyn has been desperately searching for him. Malcolm, wracked with guilt, confesses all this to the group, only to be overheard by Robyn who starts acting all villainous and controlling. Somehow, she convinces the group (who are feeling rejected and abandoned) to attack Jessica, mob-style, which leads to Kilgrave’s escape.
This is such a surreal sequence, that I have to believe Kilgrave himself set Robyn on this path. He did say he had set up some traps with local people if he didn’t get to leave Jessica’s place, though he specifically said they would suicide.
I feel bad because Robyn has been treated appallingly in this—there is NO JUSTIFICATION for Malcolm and Jessica to keep her in ignorance of her brother’s death. But she’s also awful (and the fact she was likely to react in a big hot mess was of course the reason they didn’t trust her with the information).
The whole episode winds up in a sequence back in the anniversary restaurant, with Kilgrave holding Hope hostage at his table, and the therapy group (including Malcolm and Robyn) all standing on the bar with nooses around their necks.
When Kilgrave jokes that you have to admit this lot deserve it, I kind of agreed with him, and then I hated myself. Thanks, show.
Hope is desperate for Jessica to kill Kilgrave. Jessica still won’t, because hero. Albert’s cure is a bust, and does not protect him from his son.
In a final showdown, Hope cuts her own throat to force Jessica to change her mind about killing the villain, Kilgrave hangs the therapy group to cause a distraction, and Jessica only barely manages to save them by bringing down the beam in the roof. Hope, however, is beyond saving.
So that’s a thing that happened.
COMICS AND CONTINUITY
Will Simpson, as many have talked about across the internet over the last week, is at least partly based on a Marvel villain called Nuke, who has a military background, is dangerously mentally unstable, and is basically a killing machine who was a test subject of the supersoldier program. (Every army in the history of the Marvel comics universe wanted their own Steve Rogers, and the results were almost always terrible) His main appearances have been in Daredevil and Wolverine: Origins.
Nuke (Frank Simpson) has a nasty history with women, btw—he murdered his mother while under the creepy influence of his babysitter.
The pills we have seen Will Simpson take over the last few episodes—especially those sneaky reds!—are an element from the comics.
Mostly of the people variety, though Jessica also does a real number on that Asian fusion restaurant that continues to serve pasta matriciana exclusively to sociopaths in nice suits.
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.