Sunday, November 22, 2015

Divergence Into Trauma: "AKA 99 Friends" Focuses On Effects

The Good: Good performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Plot is somewhat mundane; distracts from the season's flow.
The Basics: "AKA 99 Friends" is essentially a bottle episode that is stronger thematically than a component of Jessica Jones!

When "AKA 99 Friends" begins, the question for fans of the television show Jessica Jones has to be "how can they keep this going for another nine episodes?!" After all, over the course of the first three episodes, Jessica Jones and her principle adversary, Kilgrave, have been introduced and the viewer has seen the evidence of exactly what that enemy can do. More than that, Jessica Jones has discovered a heretofore unknown weakness in Kilgrave and acquired the means to exploit that weakness. It seems that all that is left is to actually stick Kilgrave with a syringe full of Sufentanil and exonerate Hope Shlottman.

Fortunately, Netflix, Marvel, and basic storytelling have more in store for Jessica Jones than that. "AKA 99 Friends" puts Jessica Jones on a complete tangent from the main Kilgrave storyline, though it plays wonderfully off the conversation Luke Cage and Jessica Jones about what it means to be extrahuman in "AKA It's Called Whiskey" (reviewed here!). That helps the episode fit into the overall arc of the first season of Jessica Jones, though the episode is very much a departure from the flow of the rest of the season.

Opening with Jessica Jone hunting for whomever has been taking photographs of her for Kilgrave, Jones is recalled to the office by a client. Intensely suspicious, Jessica finds that Audrey Eastman was referred by a lawyer at Hogarth's office to follow Audrey's philandering husband, Carlo. Jones is called away by Trish, who needs help because Officer Simpson has returned to her apartment. Jones quickly discovers that Simpson is no longer under Kilgrave's control and the two square off about how to defeat Kilgrave. That day, on Trish Talks. Trish apologizes to Kilgrave for the comments she made, which - as Jessica suspected - gets her off Kilgrave's hitlist.

Still suspicious of her new client and her motives, Jessica Jones follows Audrey and discovers her client has a private shooting range. Hogarth recalls Jones to her office to interview people who claim to have had encounters with Kilgrave. Hogarth also tasks Jones with getting dirt on Wendy, who has decided to make the divorce acrimonious. Jones narrows down the candidates who actually had contact with Kilgrave before she returns home to find Simpson has surveillance footage for her. Taking a break from the footage, Jessica Jones goes out for booze and is informed by a little girl under Kilgrave's influence that Kilgrave liked Trish's apology and Jones's sister is now safe. Meanwhile, Trish is visited again by Simpson, who brings her an illegal handgun and the two spend the night talking through Trish's door. Turning her attention from Audrey to Carlo Eastman puts Jessica Jones in a surprising position, though she discovers that the Eastman case has nothing to do with Kilgrave, but is all about vengeance!

"AKA 99 Friends" is the first episode of Jessica Jones that actually fleshes out Pam, Hogarth's secretary with whom she is having an affair. The brief scene where Pam and Hogarth run into Wendy coming out of a restaurant gives Pam the first clue as to Hogarth's potential for treating her horribly. Wendy is very articulate about how Jeri has cast her aside for Pam and Pam does simply accept Jeri or Jeri's wishes afterward. Pam comes across as very human all of a sudden, instead of simply being every middle aged woman's nightmare.

The return of Will Simpson also adds an interesting new layer to Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones has been very smart to avoid the ridiculous, but familiar, paradigms that Lifetime movies make for gender dialectics - i.e. if women are the protagonists, men must be either idiots or evil. The show has had strong women and until now, the two main male characters have been split between the highly ethical Luke Cage and the villainous Kilgrave. In other words, Jessica Jones has embodied the ideal; characters are characters and genders are not used to make overreaching statements on the whole of the gender. Simpson is a complicated character and "AKA Friends" starts to add some depth to him. Once a special ops officer, Simpson was used by Kilgrave in "AKA It's Called Whiskey" and now he is so wracked with guilt that he approaches Trish to try to understand what happened and to repent.

Jessica Hecht plays the hell out of the role of Audrey Eastman. Hecht has had a variety of bit roles throughout her career and the role of Eastman is unlike any that I've seen her in. Eastman is damaged and slightly deranged by her emotional pain, which is what brought her to Jessica Jones. Hecht plays the role with such realism and such a raw quality in her final scene that she almost makes the viewer forget that her part in Jessica Jones is detached from everything else.

"AKA 99 Friends" is all about consequences and the balance between the Eastman case, the post-Kilgrave support group and the fallout between Jeri and Wendy helps to establish a solid theme. More than that, "AKA 99 Friends" is actually quite funny at parts, especially the final scene between the Eastmans and Jones.

Jessica Jones continues her character arc with an odd plot direction. She is now obsessed with who took photographs of her, which she found out about at the climax of the prior episode. Compared to everything else Kilgrave is doing or can do, performing surveillance on her seems to be a comparatively minor piece of the much larger puzzle. That said, Jones's resourcefulness in tying the photographer to Kilgrave and using the support group to put together the clues is well-executed.

"AKA 99 Friends" is by no means bad, but it does tread toward more average television than anything truly extraordinary. While the final few minutes of the episode are essential in the larger arc of the first season, the rest of the episode feels less vital and focused than the episodes that preceded it.

[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 Jessica Hecht, please visit my reviews of:
Breaking Bad
Dan In Real Life
The Forgotten


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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