[A note: Based on some reactions to this post, I’ve added a few clarifications in brackets. I take subject matter like this very seriously, and I want to make sure my intentions aren’t misconstrued.]
Marvel and Netflix’s Jessica Jones is great, and it does a lot of things well. It has the most unsettling yet compelling villain to come out of Marvel’s cinematic universe so far—seriously, he veers into horror genre territory at points. The plot could easily have come off in a really gross way for Marvel’s first female-led superhero property, but it didn’t, at least in my opinion. The show also generally does well at being just a good show in which superheroes exist, instead of a Superhero Show.
But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect—and that’s OK. I didn’t expect this show to be perfect, but as someone who thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait for more, I can’t help but want to talk about the elements that missed the mark, either by a little or by a lot. There be spoilers ahead. Don’t read on if you haven’t finished the first season.
1. Kilgrave’s death scene
Let’s admit this right now: Kilgrave had to die. I don’t just mean that he had to die due to the confines of the story—although I do think it was nice to finally see a hero realize that, sometimes, a villain can’t be stopped by the criminal justice system. In this case, it seemed like the right decision even more clearly, as killing Kilgrave was quite literally self-defense—even if, at that precise moment, he was completely at Jessica’s mercy.
But Kilgrave absolutely had to die for narrative reasons. He was just too powerful. It was already pushing suspension of disbelief that he hadn’t murdered pretty much every character in the show at that point, or had someone else do it for him. To have him live to fight another day, and expect the audience to believe he didn’t just slaughter everyone good in the world, would be too absurd, even for a world full of superpowers.
That doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy with how the scene played out, though. Kilgrave—who had, until that point, demonstrated himself to be an extremely careful, prudent sociopath—suddenly came up with the most convoluted, indirect way to test whether or not he had control over the one person who could do him in. Instead of taunting Jessica by threatening to put Trish through the Hell she’d once endured, all he had to do was order Jessica to kill someone to see if he’d truly gotten control back.
If he was afraid that such an order would break her free of his control like it did in the first place, he could’ve picked from plenty of other options, like ordering Trish to kill herself and seeing whether Jessica stopped her, which would’ve given him the time to try to escape. [Edit: It’s not about which is worse; it’s about which has more immediacy. He never actually took Trish away onto the boat. There was never a moment where it was, “Act now or lose Trish forever,” which is the kind of decision Kilgrave needed to force to test his control.] Jessica could’ve finally run him down and cornered him with no more victims to put between them, which would’ve been a nice moment.
If not, he could at the very least have been shown to work through the thought process of deciding not to try any risky commands that might break her free and landing on the option he ultimately went with, which got him killed. While still not perfect, it would’ve at least made more sense with his character.
Speaking of being afraid of Jessica breaking out of his control again …
2. It was never fully explained why Jessica was able to break free of Kilgrave’s control
Upon killing Reva against her own will, Luke Cage’s wife, Jessica snapped free of Kilgrave’s control … somehow. Despite no one else in the entire series being able to ignore any command, no matter how small or how momentously opposed to it they were, no one seemed particularly curious as to why. The show featured people getting forced to slowly maim and kill themselves and others in gruesome ways, but a relatively simple and clean murder is what snapped Jessica to her senses.
Was she the only person he ever kept around that long, and she eventually became immune through natural means, perhaps enhanced by her powers? Did her powers otherwise enable her to break free through willpower alone? Would Luke have been able to do the same, given long enough to try? This may seem like a small detail, and maybe it will get a better explanation in the future, but when so much of the show hinged on Kilgrave’s power being absolute, it felt strange not to get an explanation.
We didn’t even get a theory from the guy trying to use her tissue to make an antidote, unless I missed it. His antidote didn’t work, so maybe he never figured it out, either—but some explanation would’ve been nice, instead of everyone just kind of accepting it.
That reminds me:
3. Why did it take Jessica so long to realize she was immune?
Everyone makes mistakes, and Jessica was certainly under a lot of pressure with her PTSD not helping matters, but from the first flashback of Kilgrave’s little bus accident (within the first few episodes), it was readily apparent that he was no longer able to control Jessica. Again, that goes back to his power being absolute in every other instance. The second he called to her and she didn’t obey, it was obvious—especially to someone who understood his power as well as Jessica.
Maybe this was just an editing mistake. Maybe they put together the flashback sequence as a whole, and it somehow mistakenly got into the earlier episodes uncut, but the full version was only ever meant to be shown upon her realization as he escaped the hermetically sealed room. If they’d shown a slightly abbreviated version earlier, I wouldn’t have been so surprised when she had the revelation herself. I’d actually assumed she knew up until that point, which is why she charged into the room to save his parents—a move that seems completely nonsensical if she thought she was still vulnerable to his control.
Really, this one seems like more of an oversight than an outright error, but they really should’ve been more careful not to let the audience catch on that Jessica was immune until she realized it herself. It would’ve made the stakes seem a lot higher for much of the show. [Edit: I’m not blaming Jessica for not realizing it sooner; that’s perfectly understandable. However, since it also would’ve been understandable that she had noticed, the writers/editors just should have done a better job making that part of her memory seem fuzzy in the audience’s eyes up until the realization instead of clearly showing the flashback so early on—not to mention the slow motion on the realization was way more obvious than the audience needed.]
4. Hope’s death
Hope’s death didn’t make sense to me for one critical reason: she was no longer providing a reason for Jessica to keep Kilgrave alive. Hope was free from prison. In fact, once she was released, killing Kilgrave would’ve been a much more effective way to protect her. The only reason he needed to be kept alive before was to provide evidence that would set her free, and now that would no longer be an issue.
OK, so maybe Hope wasn’t thinking straight and didn’t work that out as logically as I did, but I don’t think that’s what the writers were going for. It was pretty sloppy, which just made it seem like an attempt to toy with the audience’s emotions, and I did not like it. [Edit: Maybe this was intended as a triumphant moment for Hope where she was taking control, even if it meant her own death, since Kilgrave could probably still use her against Jessica at some point in the future. Still, in that event, I would’ve liked her final line to be more directly about that. It would’ve been much more satisfying for her character, who really deserved to get that kind of moment.]
5. The whole Simpson storyline, complete with killing Clemons
Why does Trish love calling him by his last name so much? I get tying into larger storylines, but why did the combat drug thing have to seem so random? Why oh why did he have to kill Clemons for essentially no reason?
I wouldn’t have been happy with Simpson killing Clemons either way (c’mon, Ben Urich all over again, Marvel?), but at least it would’ve worked as a turning point for the character if he’d suddenly gone completely off the deep end. Instead, when he then shows up in the hotel room where Trish and Kilgrave’s dad are working on the antidote, he seems to have become a complete maniac, but then he leaves without much of a struggle after he hurts Trish. His actions were inexcusable, but the fact that he seems to suddenly realize that really takes away from the dramatic moment of killing Clemons and burning down the evidence.
He then quickly goes back into villain mode, but the unevenness is distracting and makes Clemons’ murder seem even more gratuitous than it had to. [Edit: For clarity, I get the abusive boyfriend theme with Simpson, and I appreciate that he’s a good juxtaposition to Kilgrave’s more obvious scumbaggery. It’s great to show that not all abusers are obvious monsters, and we need to be on the lookout for the more “everyday” ones who are always asking for forgiveness and for whose behavior people tend to make excuses.
That’s not the part of the storyline I have a problem with.
It’s just way too big a coincidence for me that Kilgrave sent Simpson after Trish, and he just happened to be involved in some kind of super strength program. The whole storyline felt forced and uneven just to get its (still valid and important) point across rather than feeling like it fit well into the show.]
6. The purple man (did not) cometh
There’s a whole lot of buildup when Kilgrave decides he hates (yes, hates, no matter what that little shit says) Jessica so much that he’s willing to risk death for the power to control her again. His veins take on a purple hue, and I said out loud (to my wife, not to no one), “Oooooh, I wonder if he’s going to be purple now.”
It would’ve made such perfect sense, and it would’ve been a great way to work in his purple coloring without being silly and distracting for most of the show. He’s such a spoiled, pathetic brat that he’d rather permanently scar his entire body by turning it purple than have one single person he can’t control. It could’ve also caused him ongoing physical pain that would’ve clouded his judgment and personality and ultimately led to his final slip-up and defeat. Instead of finding him his normal, confident self, Jessica could’ve tracked him down and discovered that his obsession with her was destroying everyone including himself.
He could’ve tried to blame it on her, again demonstrating how pathetic he is. For all the show did a great job at making him pitiable (at times. Only at times) without making him sympathetic, having his greed and selfishness finally show through on the outside and damage his carefully crafted appearance, due to his own actions, and showing Jessica’s disgust at the physicality of his hubris would’ve been an incredibly gratifying moment.
We did get some more purple veins when he yelled for everyone to stop just before the end, but not really. Using that element in a more obvious way felt like a missed opportunity to show a little more character progression for him. [Edit: And it wouldn’t even have really been about him. It would’ve been a visual way to show that Jessica was now truly the one in control. Maybe it would’ve been heavy-handed, but I think it would’ve been a clever use of an element from the comics to display a story point.]
Again, none of this is to say Jessica Jones was not a great show, and people more qualified to weigh in on its dealings with abuse and PTSD will find tons to analyze in it. There were just a few things that I think could have been even better, and this is the Internet, so I figured, why not talk about it?
I’ve seen people complain that the whole Jessica-Luke-Reva-Kilgrave connection was too big of a coincidence, which didn’t bother me, because I got the impression that killing Reva was the reason Jessica was following Luke in the first place—so, pretty much the opposite of a coincidence. Maybe I missed something, too, and some of you can find explanations that’ll make me feel better about some of these points in the comments below!
(images via Marvel Entertainment/Netflix)
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