This weekend, A.V. Club contributor Caroline Siede is watching all of the first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix. After she’s finished with an episode, she’ll post a quick response. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting five reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and four reviews on Sunday. Weigh in on this episode in the comments below or discuss the whole season on our binge-watching hub page.
“AKA I’ve Got The Blues” (season one, episode eleven)
I’m happy to report Jessica Jones feels like itself again. The torture porn of “AKA 1,000 Cuts” is nowhere to be found in “AKA I’ve Got The Blues.” This episode feels oddly removed from the main action of the series, but, personally, I didn’t mind a little change of pace. “AKA I’ve Got The Blues” features a mix of flashbacks, friendships, and felonies, but I’m more interested in a different f-word (and no, not the thing that Luke and Jessica like to do). Let’s talk about feminism!
Considering how frequently I discuss women in superhero movies (for instance here, here, and here), it’s a little odd that I haven’t tackled the subject head on in these reviews. That’s partially because praising a show as “feminist” feels too vague to me. All shows have strengths and weaknesses, including in their feminism.
But regardless of what we want to label it, Jessica Jones gets a lot of stuff right when it comes to women and that’s definitely worth talking about. There are a large number (though not an equal one) of female writers and directors working on the show, which I’m guessing was a priority for creator and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg. You can feel Rosenberg intentionally subverting gritty drama cliches throughout the series. The show’s sex scenes are all shot with an eye towards female pleasure and power, which isn’t the case on, say, True Detective or Game Of Thrones.
Unsurprisingly, the best thing about Jessica Jones from a feminist perspective is its leading lady. Though she shares a certain cold, cutthroat demeanor with Marvel women like Black Widow, Gamora, and Agent Melina May, Jessica’s allowed to be messy, rude, self-loathing, and emotional in ways those characters aren’t. The show makes a point of noting that she was always kind of an asshole even before Kilgrave imprisoned her. But Jessica Jones asserts that people don’t need to be perfect to deserve basic humanity and respect—a lesson that’s too often forgotten in the real world as we jump to blame victims.
But before I praise the rest of the show’s onscreen representation, however, let’s get one critique out of the way: It’s frankly embarrassing that Jessica Jones doesn’t have a single woman of color in its main or supporting cast. Too often the call for “women and people of color” is answered by casting white women and black men, leaving women of color to slip through the cracks. The fact that Jessica, Trish, Hope, Hogarth, Pam, Wendy, Robyn, and even that random client Audrey are all played by white women is just as frustrating as when action movies act like women barely exist.
Thankfully Jessica Jones at least doesn’t make that latter mistake. “AKA I’ve Got The Blues” is lovely celebration of Trish and Jessica’s friendship, which goes all the way back to their teenage years when Trish’s mom Dorothy adopted Jessica to stir up positive publicity for her famous daughter. That initially uneasy living arrangement turned into a deep and meaningful friendship. Jessica’s the friend you call when a bad guy is after you and Trish is the friend you call when you need to bribe a morgue attendant or patch up a broken rib with saran wrap.
Though Jessica and Trish frequently disagree, the writers thankfully never fall back on the tired trope of making their fights catty. They argue like opinionated, intelligent adults, but when the chips are down they know they’ll be there for one other—whether that means answering an “Ow. Pick me up?” text or stopping Will Simpson from breaking into one of their apartments (which happens a lot on this show).
Just a few episodes ago Simpson was a pretty likable love interest for Trish, but over the course of the season he’s grown into a terrifying villain in ways I didn’t really appreciate until we reached this episode. Ever since he was victimized by Kilgrave, Simpson’s been desperately trying to reassert his masculinity by seeking revenge on his abuser and taking down anyone who stands in his way.
Though it’s inspired by his comic book origins, it’s a lovely coincidence that Simpson turns into a rage monster after taking a medicine that shares its name with an infamous Men’s Rights Activist group. During this episode Simpson treats Trish with a misguided sense of paternal protectiveness and, like Kilgrave, he justifies stripping a woman of her agency by claiming he knows what’s best for her. Thankfully Trish dissuades him of that notion.
It would be easy for a show about psychological abuse to focus solely on the ways evil men abuse innocent women, but “AKA I’ve Got The Blues” complicates that thesis in a couple different ways.
First of all, not all of Kilgrave’s victims are women. The show treats Malcolm’s emotional trauma as seriously as it does Jessica or Hope’s. There’s no implication that he’s weak for struggling with his recovering or that he needs to “man up” and get over it. Similarly, not all of the show’s abusers are men. This episode doesn’t make light of Trish’s domineering mother or laugh her off as a crazy “stage mom.” The physical and emotional abuse Dorothy inflicts on her teenage daughter in “AKA I’ve Got The Blues” is horrifying. Those details go a long way to making Jessica Jones’ message much more complicated than just “Yay women! Boo men!”
“AKA I’ve Got The Blues” also highlights the weaker aspects of Jessica Jones, including its subpar action scenes and propensity for spinning its wheels. But it’s hard for me to be too down on an episode that celebrates the power of female friendships. After all, that’s not something you see every day in superhero franchises or noirs.
Stand out moment: Luke Cage casually walking out of an explosion unharmed. All superheroes should get indestructible significant others.
Frustrating moment: As soon as the fight was over, why didn’t Jessica immediately go find those blue pills that Simpson kept saying were super important to keeping Trish alive?!?
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: None
Excitement to start next episode: 7/10
Hamilton lyric that sums up my binge-watching mental state: “Hamilton wrote THE OTHER FIFTY-ONE!”