At one point in “AKA It’s Called Whiskey,” Jessica Jones saves her junkie neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville) from a beating and he thanks her by saying, “You’re a good person, Jessica Jones.” Her response is quick, dismissive, and correct: “You’re high.” But is Jessica Jones a good person? Sure, she’s trying to stop a mind-controlling maniac and save a young woman from a life behind bars, but are her noble intentions enough to make up for her less admirable choices? Does hunting Kilgrave excuse Jessica sleeping with the former husband of a woman she murdered while under Kilgrave’s control? Does getting her hands on Kilgrave’s weakness, the surgical anesthetic sufentanil, excuse her exploitation of Malcolm in order to acquire the drug?
Jessica herself says no. During her date with Luke Cage (does going out for a meal between wild sex sessions count as a date?), Jessica talks about how she’s done good things in her life, but not enough to cancel out the bad. Her good deeds are atonement, and that’s an ongoing process that she doesn’t plan on ending anytime soon. She might find incredible pleasure in her bed-breaking sex with Luke, but she won’t allow herself to become comfortable in that gratifying headspace. Jessica knows what’s behind Luke’s bathroom mirror and opens it anyway so she can see the picture of Luke’s dead wife, wiping away any happiness and replacing it with the guilt that’s become so familiar in the past year.
“I’m sorry,” Jessica says to Luke before she hastily makes her exit, but she’s not apologizing for skipping out after sex. She’s apologizing for his wife’s death, a detail the audience learns later when Jessica finally sees Kilgrave for the first time since escaping his captivity. Once Jessica spots Kilgrave in his finely tailored suit, the episode flashes back to the last time she saw him, revealing Jessica’s murder of Mrs. Cage in the moments before Kilgrave was hit by the bus. It’s a moment that hits especially hard because of all the attention given to Jessica and Luke’s blossoming romance at the top of the episode, building up their bond with sweltering sex scenes (Luke Cage’s first utterance of his classic “Sweet Christmas!” catchphrase happens in bed) and intimate conversations that reveal more about the characters, their abilities, and how they relate to the rest of the world.
From the opening scene where Jessica rips off Luke’s shirt and starts manhandling him, the chemistry between Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter rages intensely in this episode, and it rapidly makes them the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most captivating couple. The sex is part of that, but it’s Jessica and Luke’s late-night food truck excursion that really solidifies the foundation of their relationship, which is their desire to find another person that can understand and accept their unique, somewhat mysterious circumstances. The scene is extremely refreshing in how it approaches Jessica and Luke’s origins and powers, with both characters staying as vague as possible simply because they don’t like talking about the “gifted” part of themselves.
Luke doesn’t know the limits of his unbreakability and he doesn’t intend to find out. Jessica answers the question of whether or not she can fly (“It’s more like jumping…and falling”), but she refuses to get into specifics regarding her brief foray into the superhero lifestyle, although she does admit to trying it out. When detailing how they got their powers, they have one-word summaries: “experiment” (Luke) and “accident” (Jessica). Some may find this show’s reluctance to delve into Jessica and Luke’s origin story frustrating, but it’s a welcome change of pace to be dropped into these characters’ lives without getting an in-depth chronicle of they were like before they had superpowers.
I understand why live-action superhero narratives typically begin with origin stories—it makes sense to start a story at the beginning—but there are benefits to jumping into a situation without knowledge of the characters’ backgrounds. There’s immediacy to the storytelling of Jessica Jones, and Jessica’s experience is more immersive because the writers focus on getting right to the meat of her narrative. Eventually we’ll learn more details about Jessica’s past, but at the start of the series, the top priorities are fully capturing Jessica’s PTSD and her determination to catch Kilgrave.
In “AKA It’s Called Whiskey,” that determination comes through in the desperate measures Jessica goes to to acquire the sufentanil that can shut down Kilgrave’s powers. She first tries Jeri Hogarth’s doctor wife Wendy (Robin Weigert), who refuses to help Jessica and instead writes her a prescription for an anti-psychotic. After Luke proves to be no help (because he has no idea where to find surgical anesthetic), Jessica grabs the drug-addled Malcolm, takes him to the hospital, and throws him into a nurse, causing a collision that provides the perfect distraction for Jessica to sneak away and steal some sufentanil from the hospital’s inventory.
It’s not an ethical way to get the job done, but Jessica isn’t too caught up in the ethics of her work. That muddy morality is a big part of her allure, and it’s interesting to see characters make moral sacrifices to realize their good intentions. She’s one of the few people that understands just how big a threat Kilgrave is to the world, and she’ll do some bad things if it means stopping a man who is much, much worse. Jessica makes some ill-advised decisions in this episode, but nothing on par with Kilgrave, who mind-controls at least four people to get their hands dirty for him.
First is Officer Simpson (Wil Traval), the policeman who attacks Trish Walker after she gives Kilgrave bad press on her radio show, and is then told to walk off a high-rise rooftop after he returns to his master. There’s also the family that lives in the massive condo Kilgrave has seized, who become the villain’s henchmen when Jessica Jones enters their home. This leads to a lot of violence, and “AKA It’s Called Whiskey” is the most action-heavy episode of Jessica Jones yet. Trish gets some good hits in during her fight with Simpson, but she learns that her Krav-Maga training has limits. I would have appreciated seeing Trish fend off Simpson for even longer, but she’s still early in her ass-kicking career so she’s going to face some losses, especially because she doesn’t have any powers.
Jessica has much more experience than Trish, but she’s in a position where she doesn’t want to hurt the people under Kilgrave’s control. Her descent through the condo exquisitely builds tension that is broken up by bursts of action when family members attack her, and its chilling to see these innocent bystanders overcome with rage as they fight to keep Jessica from reaching their master. But not quite as chilling as the big reveal at the end of this scene: a room full of pictures of Jessica, including giant images of her face composed of multiple sheets of paper stuck to a wall. The slow pan of the room highlights the Jessica’s increasing horror as she takes in Kilgrave’s shrine to her image, and once she sees the extent of his obsession, Jessica realizes that she needs to make some changes to protect those around her.
She starts by ending things with Luke, cutting him out of her life before he ends up on Kilgrave’s radar. All of the work put into building their relationship at the start of the episode makes this event especially painful, but it’s a necessary step to protect Luke, who might have unbreakable skin, but still has a very vulnerable mind. Jessica can’t risk Luke falling under Kilgrave’s control, so she wisely forces him out of her life before the danger becomes too big.
The danger for Jessica is already enormous, though, and now she has even more reason to be paranoid whenever she steps outside her door. In the final moment of the episode, Jessica stands on the street corner outside of Luke’s bar and feels the weight of this new discovery come crashing down on her; as the camera spins around her, Ritter’s face sells Jessica’s fear and paranoia, but once the camera stops, those emotions are replaced by firm resolve. It’s a subtle, but strong moment for Ritter, and even though Kilgrave’s hold on Jessica is getting tighter, her commitment to stopping him hasn’t wavered in the slightest.
- The first Captain America: Civil War trailer was released this week and it looks pretty bleak, which is fitting considering the source material. I wonder if Kilgrave will get a mention at any point during the movie, which involves the government taking significant measures to regulate superpowered people. A mind-controlling serial killer would be pretty strong evidence for regulation.
- The radio in the convenience store is the first time we hear a comment made about the ridiculousness of the name “Kilgrave,” made by a caller that says this obviously made-up name is proof that Hope is insane.
- Race is briefly brought up in this episode, first when Luke wonders what is bothering Jessica and later when Ruben tells Jessica that everyone is a little racist after they carry Malcolm to his apartment. The show doesn’t delve too heavily into race issues, although I expect those will be more prominent in Luke Cage, which will be the first Marvel Studios property with a predominantly black cast.
- This is the first episode that gives Wendy Ross-Hogarth extended screen time, and casting Robin Weigert (Deadwood’s Calamity Jane) in the role is a very quick way of making her a rich character. Much like Clarke Peters as Detective Simmons, she brings a lot of personality and weight to a role that is pretty small at this point, and makes the viewer want to see more.
- “Yes, well, you are very gifted.”
- “Tell me there was a costume and you still got it.”
- Luke: “Sweet Christmas.” Jessica: “Yeah. I think.”
- “I miss your red hair.”
- Trish: “I hate feeling this way. I don’t know how you handle it.” Jessica: “It’s called whiskey.”
- “I guess he is kinda scary, if you just wake up and you don’t know him and maybe you’re a bit racist.”