Monday, November 23, 2015
Divergence Into Inevitable: Jessica Jones Treads Down With "AKA You're A Winner!"
The Good: Important character development, Decent performances
The Bad: Predictable plot, Oppressive tone
The Basics: Jessica Jones is hired by Luke Cage on a case that makes for an inevitable showdown in "AKA You're A Winner!"
To the credit of the writers and producers of Jessica Jones, it honestly seems like they worked together well to construct a very solid concept for the season. Unfortunately, it seems like that concept was about three episodes less than the commitment the executives had to Netflix and the creative team had to stretch it out by a couple episodes. I write that, not from any sort of industry knowledge, but because the flow of the the main plotline gets broken up a couple of times and then stretched in an almost painful way as the plot lumbers toward its ultimate resolution in "AKA Smile" (reviewed here!). The second significant divergence away from the main plotline in the first season of Jessica Jones is the episode "AKA You're A Winner!" To be fair, "AKA You're A Winner!" is something of a necessary evil episode and it comes at a decent time for a lull in the main plotline.
For several episodes in Jessica Jones, viewers have known that Jessica Jones is initially surveilling Luke Cage because she killed his wife while under Kilgrave's influence. Luke surmised that Jones could not get over the "dead wife" factor and let Jessica tank their budding relationship. Jessica, viewers knew, tanked the relationship because she felt unable to tell Luke Cage the truth of her part in his wife's death. That withheld truth has been a time bomb for the series and "AKA You're A Winner!" is when the producers chose to set off that bomb. Forming an episode around the revelation of the truth is a good idea, but it is almost a tangent to the main thrust of the plot (i.e. filling in another character on a backstory, as opposed to plunging forward in the main plot of finding and capturing Kilgrave). "AKA You're A Winner!" is made possible by the natural lull formed by the events in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" (reviewed here!). While Malcolm dries out and Kilgrave lays low following the botched attempt to capture him, there is a void that needs filling and the return of Luke Cage does that nicely.
The story picks up with Kilgrave playing poker in a high stakes back room game where he wins more than a million dollars with a seven and a two before he walks out. Jessica Jones and Malcolm sit around the Alias Investigations office trying to pool information on Kilgrave when Luke Cage arrives with a case for Jones. Cage is looking for Antoine, who is the brother of Serena, Luke's client. Antoine is in debt to a loan shark and has gone missing; Serena wants help in finding Antoine and getting him back safely. Jones takes the case, but Hogarth calls and informs Jones that Hope Shlottman was attacked in prison. Before Jones can move on Cage's case, she learns that Shlottman was attacked by another inmate - Sissy Garcia - who tells Jones that Hope hired her to beat her up. Jones learns that Shlottman is pregnant with Kilgrave's spawn before heading to deal with the Greer case.
After confronting the loan sharks outside Antoine's apartment, Luke Cage brings Jones back to her offices. There, Cage is confronted by Malcolm who tells the unbreakable man about Kilgrave and his powers. Outted to Luke, Jessica Jones falls back into bed with him. Jones entraps the man using Antoine's phone with a phony contest and tracks him back to a grow house where Antoine is holed up. But returning Antoine to his sister means that Luke will get information on the death of his wife and Jones does not want to risk that. Trying to control the situation puts Jones into an impossible predicament where she must balance the value of her secret against an innocent man's life!
"AKA You're A Winner!" has a decent pro-choice message and the episode eliminates all doubt over just what Kilgrave did to Hope. Shlottman gets beaten up by Sissy in order to try to kill the fetus because the prison doctor will take two months to get to her. The argument made in "AKA You're A Winner!" is an important one and one not discussed nearly enough in America's continuing debate over abortion and abortion rights. Hope Shlottman very articulately defines how feeling the fetus growing within her is a continued violation and it is one of the season's most universally poignant and powerful moments to hear Shlottman talk about the feeling of being continually raped.
The heady topics of rape and abortion are broken up with witty dialogue from Pam, he Catholic lesbian. But the episode treads more toward the serious and darkly real; Jones gets realistically upset at Malcolm for telling her past to Cage and before the episode degenerates into gunfights and an inevitable conflict, "AKA You're A Winner!" is almost oppressive for its tone and themes.
Despite his comparatively limited appearance in "AKA You're A Winner!," David Tennant blows away every scene he is in. Kilgrave has recovered from the attempted abduction and is seen shopping online for houses and playing poker. Between getting angry at the noise at the cafe he is at and his forced geniality when dealing with the owner of the house he wants, Tennant shows impressive range as Kilgrave in "AKA You're A Winner!"
On the character front, Jessica Jones finally comes clean to Luke Cage, but it is more out of plot necessity than any sense of genuine character development. Perhaps more important are the lengths Cage was ready to go to for his dead wife and Hogarth's pragmatism in creating a side project from the Shlottman case. Luke comes close to a monstrous act out of his sense of grief and Hogarth simply becomes quietly monstrous in a way that was only previously alluded to.
Antoine Greer is very much a subplot case, but it occupies most of "AKA You're A Winner!" Marvel afficianados with more knowledge than me might be hopeful that "Greer" indicates a future appearance of Tigra into the Marvel Cinematic/Television universe. If the producers are considering such, the District Attorney in "AKA Smile" played by Michelle Hurd seems like she would be ideal to cast for Tigra. Her face looks just like Tigra did in the She-Hulk> book I read that had the character! There is no hint of superhuman abilities in the pothead Greer in "AKA You're A Winner!"
Ultimately, "AKA You're A Winner!" is an incredibly average story, presented in an ultimately average way. It is not a horrible episode of Jessica Jones, but it feels very much like filler as opposed to a vital, essential, episode of the series.
[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!
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Battle Los Angeles
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