Saturday, November 21, 2015

This Is The End They've Worked Themselves Into: "AKA Smile" Finishes Season 1 Of Jessica Jones.

The Good: Philosophical moments, Performances, Special effects
The Bad: Mundane plot direction
The Basics: Lacking in subtlety or some of the surprising aspects that made the first season of Jessica Jones impressive, "AKA Smile" ends the season well-enough to be satisfying, but not in a truly exceptional way.

Season finales are saddled with excessive burdens in most serialized television shows; they have to resolve a story that has been building for many episodes and create enough new threads to bring viewers back for the next season. Jessica Jones is no exception to that and, in fact, its burden might be even greater than most shows. The first season of Jessica Jones has been telling a long arc story when it gets to "AKA Smile" and up until "AKA Take A Bloody Number" (reviewed here!) it is almost inconceivable what the second season - if Jessica Jones gets one - would be about. The whole season with Kilgrave and Jessica Jones building to an almost inevitable confrontation feels like such complete character arcs that a second season seems like it would have to be a completely different show.

Picking up in the aftermath of "AKA Take A Bloody Number," "AKA Smile" is impossible to discuss without allusions to what came before it. It is the climax to so many plotlines and the the characters have gone through so many transitions that it is tough to even see it as a standalone episode, as opposed to the end of a story.

Opening with Jessica Jones bringing the unconscious Luke Cage into the hospital, the ER staff is stymied when no one there can get a needle into his skin. Alarmed that they are about to be found out when a drill cannot penetrate Cage's skull, Jessica Jones flees with the aid of Claire Temple. While Temple gets Cage back to the wreckage of the Alias Investigations office, Jessica Jones engages Kilgrave and the hospital residents in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Getting back to Alias Investigations, Jessica Jones helps Temple save Luke Cage's life.

Back at Kilgrave's apartment, Kilgrave demands his father give him the rest of the serum he has been developing. His goal is to once again control Jessica Jones, this time to compel her to love him. After the serum is administered, Jessica Jones leaves Temple to watch over Luke and she goes off for her final conflict with Kilgrave. She does not go alone, though; Trish accompanies her to Kilgrave's apartment and they follow the clues into Kilgrave's ultimate trap.

There is an energy to "AKA Smile" from the moment that Rosario Dawson appears on screen as Claire Temple. Temple plays off Jessica Jones wonderfully with some fun banter that energizes the early part of the episode. Rosario Dawson effortlessly slides into the cast that has truly hit its marks by this point.

"AKA Smile" sees Kilgrave finally becoming the inevitable villain that one might expect from him. Gone are the pretenses and subtlety brought forth in "AKA WWJD?" and "AKA Smile" has Kilgrave at his full potential for range and abilities. The transition is monstrous and David Tennant absolutely nails it. The lack of subtlety is somewhat irksome, but in the episode's final moments of conflict, Tennant once again earns his paycheck with a deep performance and the resolution to Kilgrave that reminds us why the character has been engaging to watch.

Despite all of the battles and the resurgence of the adversary as an actual villain, the best scenes in "AKA Smile" are the quiet scenes that explore the character relationships. Jessica Jones finally tells Luke Cage how she feels about him (albeit when he is unconscious) and the scene works because it does not diminish the character who has been established in the prior episodes. It does, however, make one want to see where the characters will go next. The difference between how Jessica Jones treats Trish in "AKA Smile" vs. "AKA Ladies Night" is exceptional and shows a real arc.

As well, the quiet scene between Malcolm and Claire asks important questions that those who appreciate the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been waiting for. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is completely set up for conflicts between mundane humans and those with powers, but it has neglected much of the philosophy in favor of big action sequences. "AKA Smile" finds the right balance and having two supporting characters talk about the ramifications of the superheroes on their lives is pretty awesome.

Krysten Ritter's performance in "AKA Smile" is once again wonderful as Jessica Jones and the real chemistry that makes the episode is between Ritter and Rachael Taylor. As Jones and Walker go into their final battle together, the love they have for one another is almost palpable and it is Ritter and Taylor who sell that with eye movements and the timbre of their voices. Their acting is an excellent embodiment of sisters working together through a common struggle.

For those who are squeamish, "AKA Smile" contains some of the most graphic scenes of the season. As one who is easily upset about eyeball damage, the needle to the optic nerve turned my stomach more than the man who clearly sawed off his own arms. The effects in the episode are impressive and decent, if not particularly subtle.

"AKA Smile" does what it needs to do; it resolves the Kilgrave arc. The body count in the episode makes it possible to return to the world of Jessica Jones in the future and have it be recognizable, but this episode clearly ends this chapter in the story of the protagonist. How we got here has had its highs and lows and at this point there is something almost mundane about the rising sense of conflict with the Big Bad of the season, but the resolution answers the questions for those who have hung in this long and is enough to celebrate for those who are intrigued about how this series will fit into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other works with Marvel season finales, please visit my reviews of:
"Beginning Of The End" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Daredevil" - Daredevil
"Valediction" - Agent Carter


For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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