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Lazy, overstuffed storytelling makes for a messy Jessica Jones massacre

Illustration for article titled Lazy, overstuffed storytelling makes for a messy iJessica Jones/i massacre
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Jessica Jones gets messy with “AKA 1,000 Cuts,” and I’m not just talking about all the bloodshed that follows Kilgrave’s return to the general population. Writers Dana Baratta and Micah Schraft try to do too much with this episode, and they struggle to adequately develop the myriad plot threads they introduce. There’s the most pressing matter of Kilgrave’s escape, which leads to major events in the Jeri/Wendy/Pam story and adds a new thread involving Trish and Kilgrave’s father teaming up to create a vaccine for the virus that gives Kilgrave his powers. There’s also Simpson going on a murderous rampage to track down Kilgrave, Hope Schlottman getting released from prison, and Malcolm and Robyn revisiting Ruben’s disappearance. It’s a lot of material to cover, and the writers have to take storytelling shortcuts to make it all happen with some sort of coherent narrative through line.

One of these shortcuts is turning up the violence and killing off characters to amplify the stakes, which is a major aspect of Simpson, Jeri, and Jessica’s stories. Like Daredevil, this series starts to go kill-crazy in the final episodes of the season, and a considerable chunk of the supporting cast is wiped out in “AKA 1,000 Cuts.” Detective Clemons didn’t get much to do in this show, but casting Clarke Peters in the part made him a rich character in his few appearances, and the start of this episode suggests that Clemons may be taking on a bigger role now that he’s personally invested in Jessica’s investigation. That’s not to be, though, and Clemons is sacrificed to show how severely Simpson’s drugs have corrupted his mind.


Clemons’ death is prefaced by a conversation where Simpson argues that Kilgrave is a terrorist that can only be stopped by being killed, and Simpson uses that “terrorist” label to justify any of the crimes he commits to get to Kilgrave. Simpson functions as a metaphor for the post-9/11 aggression of the U.S. military, which has been responsible for some heinous acts as it fights “The War On Terror,” but it’s hard to see how this metaphor fits into the grander scheme of Jessica Jones. The show explores toxic masculinity from a number of angles and Simpson is the way to look at how that idea ties into military indoctrination, but the writers don’t fully commit to that concept, instead using the character as a hothead wild card that is primarily around to make things more difficult for Trish.

Apparently one of the side effects of Simpson’s pills is that they strip away any nuance from the character, and Wil Traval’s performance becomes less interesting as he takes on this shallower version of Simpson. His prior meddling was rooted in his anger at Kilgrave for making him feel vulnerable, which brought some emotional motivation to Simpson’s arc, but those emotions are replaced by blind, cold fury once he starts popping pills and goes on the hunt. That change in the character comes through in Traval’s acting, but it makes for a less engaging figure on screen.


Clarke Peters is the first HBO veteran to go in “AKA 1,000 Cuts,” and he’s followed shortly after by Robin Weigert, whose character is killed by having her head impaled on the edge of a glass table. All that divorce drama comes to a bloody resolution when Jeri brings Kilgrave into Wendy’s home, and while the outcome of the situation is unfortunate for all the women involved, there’s some strong material involving the shared frustrations of Wendy and Kilgrave, who bond over loving people that don’t reciprocate that affection. As Wendy stitches up Kilgrave, he tells her about all the recent things he’s done to show his love for Jessica, and she responds by telling him about a trip to Paris where Jeri spent the entire time on her phone. Wendy has felt personally violated by Jeri’s recent behavior and suggests Jessica has made Kilgrave feel the same, but she has no concept of the violation Jessica has experienced because of Kilgrave’s obsession.

Wendy doesn’t know the entire story of Kilgrave and Jessica’s and relationship, and because her primary interaction with Jessica involved having her life threatened, Wendy doesn’t have any reason to believe Jessica is anything other than ungrateful and petulant. Wendy’s largely ignorant of what’s happening here; she’s an innocent victim that gets pulled into Kilgrave’s orbit, and Jeri’s plot to use Kilgrave to compel Wendy to sign the divorce papers has grave consequences. Things don’t go as Jeri plans, and once Kilgrave gets all the information he needs from Jeri, he gives Wendy the opportunity to avenge her “death by 1,000 cuts” by commanding her to cut Jeri 1,000 times with a small knife. It’s a chilling sequence amplified by the intensity of Weigert, and Wendy’s rage doesn’t subside until Pam charges into the building and uses a small statue to bash Wendy’s head into the glass table, ending Wendy’s threat by ending her life.


Jeri’s been shady all season, but she sinks to new lows in “AKA 1,000 Cuts,” and unlike Wendy, she can’t blame it on ignorance. Jeri asks Jessica how she was supposed to know what Kilgrave was capable of, but Jeri knows about Jessica’s history with Kilgrave. She knows about all the people in the Kilgrave support group. She’s defending a young woman who was put in prison after Kilgrave raped her and forced her to kill her parents, so Jeri knows what Kilgrave is capable of, she just thinks she’s able to control him and use him to advance her own agenda because she’s used to having that kind of power. She’s a despicable, selfish person, and when Pam ends up in police custody for killing Wendy, Jeri immediately tries to deflect all blame away from herself.

The interactions between Jessica and Kilgrave are where this show gains most of its emotional depth, but their confrontation in this episode suffers from lazy writing that bluntly addresses the major symbols and metaphors of this season. The writers don’t trust the audience to catch the subtext that Hope is the living embodiment of Jessica’s guilt without having the villain explicitly break it down, so Kilgrave makes it all very clear before he tells Jessica that he’s arranged to have Hope “legally” released from prison. And in case the viewer hasn’t realized that Jessica and Kilgrave have different memories of the past, there’s a flashback sequence that reinforces this idea with a hackneyed metaphor.


During those six months being under Kilgrave’s control, there were 18 seconds where Jessica was free, and Kilgrave remembers those 18 seconds as a moment where he and Jessica shared a tender kiss on a balcony. Jessica’s memory is completely different; she turns down the kiss, sends Kilgrave away from the balcony, and then steps onto the ledge so she can finally make her brave escape. While standing on that ledge, she imagines a white horse coming down the street and waiting for her below, and in this fantasy she jumps from the roof, gets on the horse, and rides away. Jessica is her own white knight in this fantasy, but in reality, she’s not fast enough to jump before Kilgrave reclaims control. The fantasy represents Jessica’s desperate need to be free, so it’s strange that it’s contextualized as a moment of pause where Jessica is unable to break from Kilgrave’s power.

When Kilgrave regains control in that flashback, he makes Jessica put a knife to her ear because she doesn’t listen, and when Jessica shows Kilgrave the scar in the present-day, it’s impossible for him to deny her version of past events. He tries to touch the scar, but Jessica slaps him and sends him flying across the room, knocking him out so she can tie him up and throw him in her bedroom. Jessica just needs to wait until Hope is released and she can finally kill Kilgrave, but the interference of Robyn unravel’s Jessica’s best plan yet. Robyn’s dislike of Jessica makes sense given their first meeting involved Jessica grabbing Robyn by the throat and pinning her to a wall, and Jessica doesn’t make matters any better with how she approaches Ruben’s disappearance, but that doesn’t excuse how obnoxious and over-the-top Colby Minifie’s performance is.


Minifie isn’t entirely to blame here, though, as she’s giving a performance that fits the exaggerated nature of the character’s dialogue. There’s a cartoonish quality to Robyn that reminds me of the villains on Disney Channel series, and it’s completely out of sync with the tone of the rest of the series. The relationship between Robyn and Ruben isn’t well-defined, so the writers make up for that by making both twins caricatures. It’s difficult to believe that Robyn would be so effective at convincing others to join her crusade against Jessica Jones when she’s so clearly unhinged, but that’s just another shortcut the writers take to advance the plot, sending Robyn and the men of the Kilgrave support group to Jessica’s apartment as a way of freeing Kilgrave once again.

Robyn’s actions land her in a noose when Kilgrave sets up a new terrifying tableau for Jessica, and when she walks into the restaurant where he’s keeping Hope, Jessica discovers Robyn, Malcolm, and the two men from the support group standing on the edge of the bar with nooses around their necks. Like the police station from episode 7, the restaurant is an impactful visual that gives the scene a lot of tension, and that tension builds until the moment when Hope Schlottman stabs herself in the neck with a broken wine glass, killing herself so Jessica will finally be free to kill Kilgrave. “AKA 1,000 Cuts” ends with the death of Hope and a vow from Jessica to put an end to Kilgrave once and for all, but the writers have to rush through a lot of plot to reach that point. That results in an episode that never comes together, losing sight of the emotional truth of the characters as it forces the narrative forward.


Stray observations

  • Some of this episode’s shortcuts are pulled directly from the comics, like the idea that Kilgrave’s power comes from airborne virus he emits that allows him to control the actions of others. In the comics, chemical pheromones are responsible rather than a virus, but they both serve the same purpose of putting Kilgrave’s powers in a pseudo-scientific context. I would have preferred if the nature of Kilgrave’s ability were a mystery, and the virus reveal diminishes some of the character’s mystique.
  • There are a lot of close-up shots of violent acts (Clemons getting shot in the forehead, Hope stabbing herself in the neck) and their bloody aftermaths (Wendy’s head lodged in the edge of the glass table), and they are very gratuitous.
  • Jeri takes nearly 20 cuts before she realizes she should probably stop screaming and crawling on the floor and try to stop Wendy. Considering how much of a fighter Jeri has been all season, putting her in a terrified slasher victim position is incongruent with what we know about the character.
  • Robyn: “He can’t even tie his shoes without my permission.” Malcolm: “I’m serious.” Robyn: “I am too. That’s why he always wears slip-ons.”
  • “I have Hope. The person, not the feeling. Well, the feeling, too! I’m a hopeful man!” Tennant’s delivery of this line is fantastic.
  • Kilgrave: “You’re stalling, Jessica.” Jessica: “I’m peeing!”
  • “Speak up asshole. I’m all ears.”

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