With Jessica Jones and Supergirl debuting in the same TV season, it was inevitable that the two shows would be compared. The tones and subject matter of the series are dramatically different, but they both star female superheroes, so they’re going to be pitted against each other by the fan community, especially considering the Marvel vs. DC rivalry. I’m not interested in discussing which show is better, but I’m very interested in exploring how they relate to one another and a pop culture climate that has seen a strong push for female superheroes this year.
Whereas Supergirl is a superhero show in the most traditional sense, Jessica Jones ignores the conventions of the genre to tell a noir-inspired psychological thriller with a character that just happens to have extraordinary abilities. Supergirl wears a colorful costume and has a secret identity, but, as this episode reveals, Jessica never has any interest in dressing up and putting on a mask. “Be the naked superhero, that can be your alias,” Trish jokes after Jessica shuts down her costume suggestion in a flashback, but that’s what Jessica chooses to do. She’s not literally naked, but she chooses not to hide her gifts, which ends up garnering the attention of a mind-controlling sociopath on the first night she decides to save someone. She isn’t on patrol or looking for a fight, but on that night Jessica meets the man that will become her archnemesis, and she has to become a superhero if she’s going to stop a supervillain.
The flashbacks in “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” detail the events leading up to Jessica and Kilgrave’s first encounter, beginning with the opening scene showing Jessica in an office job 18 months ago, passing her time by throwing a rubber band ball at her computer monitor. She’s not working because she has an exit strategy, and when her boss berates her, she blackmails him with evidence of his embezzlement so that she’ll be let go with 6 months severance. The flashbacks have a lighter tone than the tense present-day action involving Jessica, Trish, and Simpson teaming up to kidnap Kilgrave, and while these scenes aren’t quite as bright as Supergirl, they’re considerably less gritty and offer a very different look at the main character.
Jessica’s personality still has some hard edges in the past, likely a result of losing both her parents at a young age, but she’s far less grim before the trauma inflicted on her by Kilgrave. Krysten Ritter does very strong work capturing the changes in Jessica’s disposition between the two time periods, and the look of the show shifts with the character. The noir visual elements—the bold contrast, the sharp camera angles—are downplayed in favor of more traditional cinematography and direction, emphasizing the normalcy of Jessica’s life back then. She still had superpowers, but her life was fairly ordinary before she became Kilgrave’s obsession, and when she finally meets Kilgrave, those noir elements begin to seep back in.
The flashbacks add considerable depth to Jessica and Trish’s relationship, starting with a scene where they meet up for happy hour drinks and are harassed by a chauvinist asshole that interrupts their conversation so he can hit on Trish. Dana Baratta’s script lays it on pretty thick when it comes to the man’s wildly inappropriate behavior, but his aggressive despicability makes it all the more satisfying when Jessica humiliates him with the bar’s strength tester. Rachael Taylor has some really great reactions as she watches Jessica get ready to school this jerk, but Trish’s disapproval just makes Jessica want to embarrass the man even more.
Trish is the major force pushing Jessica to use her gifts to become a hero, going so far as to design a costume and create a superhero name for her adopted sister. This is the only episode where we see the costume Jessica wore in the comics as the superhero Jewel (a codename Jessica refuses in the TV show), and it’s a smart decision to never have Jessica actually put on the suit to fight crime. She never takes that extra step to create an alter ego, which plays into the theme that all she needs in order to be a superhero is herself.
This episode is all about Jessica being a hero and saving others, starting in the past with her standing up for Trish at the bar and later jumping into the street (while dressed as a sandwich) to save a little girl from being hit by a car. Things become more complicated in the present, though, as Jessica tries to figure out how she can rescue her neighbor Malcolm from Kilgrave’s control, which doesn’t come from the man’s superpowers, but by pushing drugs on Malcolm and turning him into an addict so he’ll exchange pictures of Jessica for his fix.
The Malcolm plot is the weakest element of this episode due to some heavy-handed dialogue that Eka Darville struggles to make natural and an overly convenient plot twist that connects Malcolm and Jessica in the past. The final flashback reveals that Malcolm was the person Jessica saved when she first exposed her powers to Kilgrave, and it diminishes the impact of the present-day events where Jessica tries to get Malcolm to curb his addiction so he can help alleviate some of the guilt Jessica feels for making him a target of Kilgrave. The hand of the writer is very obvious in the Malcolm plot, and all the pieces fit together a little too neatly when a little messiness and uncertainty would have made the situation feel more real.
“AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” is the most Kilgrave-heavy episode yet, offering our first look at just how charismatic and creepy David Tennant is as the show’s villain. He exudes severity when Jessica watches him from a distance in the present, but he’s much more congenial when she first meets him in the past, allowing Tennant to project a suave, seductive personality. He’s alluring, but he’s still an asshole, immediately sizing up Jessica’s looks and placing her in a diminished position by telling her that she has power like him, but not quite as good. This episode also shows that Kilgrave is a smart villain. He makes Malcolm his slave not through mind control, but by giving him drugs, guaranteeing his loyalty as long as the drugs keep coming. Kilgrave also hires a private security firm to protect him, so when Jessica, Simpson, and Trish kidnap him, there are people that can swoop in to the rescue.
Jessica fails at getting Kilgrave into the CDC safehouse, but she does get one good punch in, leaving a bruise that Kilgrave cherishes when he safely wakes up after being saved. The combination of this scene and the Kilgrave flashback make the character extremely compelling, and it’s fascinating to see how Kilgrave interprets Jessica’s hatred as affection. When he pulls out a tooth knocked loose by Jessica’s punch, he grins and gleefully licks the blood off his lips, taking joy in the fact that now he knows Jessica wants him alive.
Tennant’s performance is very unnerving, and his commitment to capturing Kilgrave’s delight makes the villains actions even more disturbing. The episode ends with Kilgrave offering Jessica the opportunity to be a hero to Malcolm by telling her that he’ll relinquish his control if Jessica sends him a selfie every morning at 10 A.M., putting Jessica in a difficult position where she’s forced to choose between her own agency and the life of another person. She ultimately decides to give in to Kilgrave’s demands, but she doesn’t give him everything he wants, refusing to show him the smile he’s so adamant about seeing.
Jessica Jones and Supergirl do share some qualities, including strong emphases on friendship and romance, and plots that are often driven by the lead women fighting for respect and agency in a culture that tries to control and belittle them. These are plot elements grounded in emotion and the specific experience of being a woman, and the creative teams of both series are pushing their superhero narratives away from the hypermasculinity that has defined the genre on screen. Just as there’s more than one type of woman, there’s more than one type of female superhero, and considering how much catch-up women have to do to get to the same level exposure as men in this genre, it’s very nice to see two female-driven superhero series that do very different things.
The darkness and maturity of Jessica Jones doesn’t in anyway diminish the quality of what Supergirl is doing, and while Jessica Jones has more intensity and higher personal stakes, Supergirl is doing important work by catering to a younger female audience. It’s a show targeted to girls while Jessica Jones is targeted to women, but the threads that unite the series highlight the things that don’t change as a girl gets older: the value of friendship and love, and the frustration of being treated as inferior because of her sex.
- The tension between Jessica and Simpson increases in this episode, exemplified by a funny, if overly blunt, scene where the two of them confess their issues with each other through soundproof glass. Simpson continues to be overly aggressive in his approach to Kilgrave, and this episode suggests that his violent behavior is rooted in his time as a military man.
- Great use of sex to build intimacy between characters in this episode, and Simpson performing cunnilingus on Trish highlights how this show’s sex scenes heavily focus on the pleasure of the woman.
- Unhappy with the fame and fortune of being a former child star, Trish would love to put on a mask and cape and patrol the city as a superhero if she could. Considering the character’s comic book history, I’ve got a feeling she’ll get her wish if Jessica Jones gets another season.
- Hope Schlottman returns in this episode, begging Jessica for cash before she gets beat up in her jail cell. We’ll find out why next week.
- Kilgrave casually telling a newspaper vendor to throw hot coffee in his face is so cruel. These smaller moments do a lot to make Kilgrave very terrifying.
- “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere and I need to update my resume. Would you put ‘day drinking’ under experience or special skills?”
- “I didn’t hear you, asshole!”
- “It’s more like guided falling.” I really love Jessica’s descriptions of her jumping ability.
- Trish: “He’s a war hero.” Jessica: “He was also the guy that was filled with remorse about attacking you until he decided to turn it into a booty call.”
- “Last night was fun, but that doesn’t mean I need your opinion.” No one cares what you think, Simpson!
- Simpson: “I’ll just grab some pants.” Jessica: “Good call!”
- “Hey, get off the road, you stupid sandwich!”
- “The sandwich saved me.”
- “The only place anyone is wearing that is trick or treating or as part of some kinky role-playing scenario.”
- “Jewel is a stripper’s name. A really slutty stripper. And if I wear that thing, you’re going to have to call me cameltoe.”
- Jessica: “If Kilgrave gets me—“ Simpson: “I’ll take you out.” Jessica: “I was gonna say ‘dart gun me,’ but sure, shoot me in the head.” Amazing delivery from Krysten Ritter during this exchange.