Jessica Jones Season 1 Episode 13 Review: “AKA Smile”

Jessica Jones

Can an abuser ever be redeemed? Can an abuser ever learn? These are the questions that I’ve been thinking about throughout this excellent first season of Jessica Jones. This is a show about the abused learning how to recover from their abuse, on down from Jessica to the members of the support group. There is a lot of talk of moving on, and accepting that it happened, and continuing to be strong. But Kilgrave (and by extension the metaphor of him as the conduit for the issue of abuse) has to die to end it all.

As I said, I know that the point is that Kilgrave is an amalgamation and representation of abuse, but I do think it’s interesting that he cannot be educated and turned to good. I’m not saying that he should’ve been; far from it. Kilgrave was never going to stop. There is a reason that women and all those abused are advised to end the relationship post-haste; it never gets better, and that person never learns.

Could you ever forgive a rapist, if they had truly learned the evil of what they had done? I don’t know that I could. I don’t think anyone could. I think a big part of why the question even comes to mind (to tie this back into the show more concretely) is that David Tennant has given quite possibly the best performance of his career. I’ve been fan of his since his turn on Doctor Who, but that bouncy charm that he had in this role is only part of what he brought to Kilgrave.

Kilgrave was charming, and engaging, and so flippant about his crimes that it tugged at you. He was such a perfect embodiment of the charming sociopath that you almost forgot that he was one. Tennant as Kilgrave made me want to believe that he was innocent, even as I knew he wasn’t. That’s what the most dangerous abusers are: charming. He’s not a con man, or at least not in the traditional sense. The failure of Kilgrave (and what lead to his death) was that he genuinely thought he was a good person, and that he genuinely thought he and Jessica belonged together.

Too many times we allow charismatic men to convince us that they aren’t abusers. Jessica Jones points this out so poignantly and expertly that you wonder how we missed the point in the first place.

* * *

Here comes the complaint section.

I have only two, and they are the definition of nit-picky. But those nits must be picked!

I wasn’t super into Rosario Dawson’s character being introduced in this episode. I know she’s going to be important for the upcoming Luke Cage spin-off, but she takes up a lot of space in this final episode that I think would’ve been better suited in other places. For example: if Simpson’s turn had been more slow-burning than roman candle, you could’ve used these first minutes to show him start to go dark.

Really, it’s hard for me to complain too much, because there isn’t a bigger Rosario Dawson fan than me. But I wish that they would’ve done her introduction a little bit differently. Also, on that note: I found it a little absurd that Luke Cage was so badly hurt by that shotgun blast to the face. Dude had a bar blow up around him, and he walked away with nary a scratch. I have my sincere doubts that he would be knocked unconscious for so long.

My second nit involves Jessica’s plan to kill Kilgrave. She sends Trish into the train station (docks? I don’t know) to be a decoy while she sneaks up. But her version of “sneaking up” involves standing up on the top balcony and exposing herself. It was literally the worst plan I’ve ever seen. It’s so dumb, and so jarring in effect, that it pulled me out of an otherwise fantastic episode. It really was just so that a bunch of bullets could be fired and create a cool dramatic effect before she and Trish made it out to the back to fight Kilgrave one last time.

Alright, nits picked. I’m done with the negatives, I promise.

* * *

There’s really only one part of this episode that I want to talk about, and it’s the final confrontation between Jessica and Kilgrave.

Thematically, it’s near-perfect. Jessica walks up to this crowd of people, all under the spell of Kilgrave, and does her best to keep them from tearing each other apart. She and Trish go to work, headphones tight on Trish’s ears, and they push through the crowd as Kilgrave walks towards his yacht. Trish’s headphones come off in the scrum.

But then Jessica, spending all of her time trying to convince everyone the danger of Kilgrave, finally gives up. She stops trying to accommodate those who want to destroy each other because they just won’t listen. Trish, of course, stays behind; she is not Jessica, and this is not directly her fight, and her cleaning up the mess that Kilgrave leaves while Jessica goes to the source is the best way she can help her friend right now.

Jessica is finally done trying to mop up the mess. She’s done trying to save everyone. Kilgrave has to go, consequences be damned. And then he notices that Trish’s headphones have come off, and he calls to Trish, and she comes, and he sneers at Jessica. He makes Trish kiss him and mean it.

Can you imagine what Jessica feels in this moment? Can you imagine the frustration, and the pain, and the guilt? None of this is her fault, but she is literally the only one who can stop it. She’s the only person who can be the hero, and save the girl.

And then Kilgrave stops kissing Trish. Jessica is frozen, and crying. She can’t move. The look on Kilgrave’s face in this moment: genuine glee, and genuine happiness. He and Jessica are going to be together again, for real this time.

Kilgrave asks her to tell him that she loves him. And she looks at Trish, and does. And then she grabs that bastard by the mouth and breaks his neck.

There have been many villains that I have felt catharsis seeing them go. But never have I felt such joy to see Kilgrave so neutered and helpless. You realize as he is aloft that he is just a skinny man in a suit. He’s no threat. He’s just mouthy. And when he is muzzled, he is nothing.

* * *

For all the things I think could be worked on in Jessica Jones, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. It has themes that are near and dear to me, and explores them in thoughtful, careful, and unflinching ways. I think that Krysten Ritter is a star, and I hope that in the seasons to come they give her even more meaty material to knock out of the park.

I also want to give special mention to Rachael Taylor. I didn’t really go over this in my other reviews, but one of the things that I was puzzled about was how early on Trish felt like she was on a different show. It felt like she was acting out the part of a friend on a conventional prestige workplace drama, or something like it. But as the series progressed, she and the writers really found the core of her character, and by the end of it, she was one of my favorites, if not my favorite. Rachael Taylor also does a dope American accent, which I sincerely appreciate.

* * *

That’s all I got, friends. I’m worn out. I hope you’ve enjoyed this ride as much as I have.

Jessica Jones is the best television show Marvel has ever done, by a wide margin, and is second only to Captain America:Winter Soldier in overall quality. My sincerest hope is that they keep making stuff like this, because we need more TV shows with strong female leads and explorations of feminist themes.

[Photo via Netflix]

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