Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marvel Gets Its Perfect Work With The Jessica Jones Episode "AKA WWJD?"

The Good: Amazing character development, Impressive acting, Engaging plot
The Bad: Nothing! Not one frame!
The Basics: "AKA WWJD?" puts Jessica Jones in her childhood home with a very different Kilgrave than the one she remembers!

This has been a pretty Marvel intensive week with graphic novels, ornaments and episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Jessica Jones getting reviewed. In all my time reviewing, the elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have never quite hit perfection. The closest the franchise has managed thus far was the Daredevil episode "World On Fire" (reviewed here!) and the previous episode of Jessica Jones, "AKA Top Shelf Perverts" (reviewed here!). That inability to push over into a flawless work that holds up over multiple viewings ends with the Jessica Jones episode "AKA WWJD?"

"AKA WWJD?" explores an entirely different side of (the up until now villainous) Kilgrave and it is impossible to discuss without some references to where "AKA Top Shelf Perverts" went before it. After Jones's aborted attempt to get imprisoned to trap Kilgrave and get him to expose his powers on recording devices, Kilgrave told Jessica Jones what his resurfacing in her life is all about. Kilgrave professed his love for Jones and when Jessica finds her old journal left by Kilgrave in her office, she knows that Kilgrave is in her childhood house and she heads there to confront him.

Opening with the flashback to the last day Jessica Jones had with her family of origin as a child, an unsettled Jessica Jones enters her childhood home. Kilgrave has bought the house and he has bodyguards there now. Hank, the bodyguard, easily discovers the recording device Jones had to attempt to get Kilgrave's confession. Kilgrave agrees not to touch Jessica Jones without her consent and Jones reaquaints herself with the house, which Kilgrave has restored. Jones is surprised when Kilgrave keeps his word, even letting her take a call from Trish before she locks him out of her bedroom.

After an uncomfortable dinner, Jones discovers Simpson in the house and when he tells her that he placed a bomb in the basement, she kicks him out and finds and disarms the bomb. While Hogarth's lawyer tries to work out the details of the divorce with Wendy's lawyers, Trish hunts down Simpson and she finds him with old special ops buddies of his. The next morning, Kilgrave and Jessica Jones have breakfast out back when the nosy neighbor, Mrs. De Luca comes over and tells stories about Jones's family. When Kilgrave compels De Luca to tell the truth about a statement she made, Jones uses the moment as a test that allows Kilgrave to illustrate compassion. After Jones accuses Kilgrave of raping her, Kilgrave reveals his past and how difficult it has been for him to understand the difference between his will and other people's desires. Jones takes Kilgrave on a mission to use his powers for a positive result and with that successful, Jones has to choose how to proceed with Kilgrave.

"AKA WWJD?" is so good because it completely turns the expectations viewers might have about Kilgrave on their side and makes him into a truly complicated character worth watching. Kilgrave's backstory is finally laid out and understanding that he received his power as a child makes his character suddenly make a rich amount of sense. Kilgrave never developed an adult sense of rationality, so he essentially thinks like a ten year old and when he told people what he wanted from them, he got it, so his moral development was severely stunted. Kilgrave exposes Jessica Jones to an entirely different viewpoint on him and she discovers that they actually have common elements in their backstories. Kilgrave and Jones were both given superhuman abilities without their consent or understanding and when Jones starts to understand that, "AKA WWJD?" and Jessica Jones turns in a completely different direction.

Jessica Jones is an intriguing protagonist and "AKA WWJD?" because its end is not where it goes. "AKA Sin Bin," which follows, has Jones doing a truly reprehensible thing and the series takes a dive for it. But in "AKA WWJD?" why Jones makes her ultimate choice after getting advice from Trish is not yet clear. Instead, in "AKA WWJD?," Jones harnesses Kilgrave's powers for a good purpose. Jones and Kilgrave make an exceptional team in "AKA WWJD?" and there is something horrific about the truth of Kilgrave telling Jones that he cannot be a hero without her.

"AKA WWJD?" is all about the power of consequences and choices and part of what makes the episode truly great is that Jessica Jones is not a saint. Trish, who was abused as a child, has built up a fortress and has a somewhat forgiving nature - as previously seen with Simpson. Trish is protective of Jessica and she has a good heart, despite her backstory. Jessica is not Trish and the beauty of "AKA WWJD?" is that like Kilgrave, Jessica tries to do the right thing, but she does not succeed. She makes her ultimate decision in the episode based on her pain and loss and her horror of what Kilgrave did in her past. Jones is hampered by her own fears and the inability to move beyond the pain he caused. Jones makes a deeply human choice and it is sad to watch, but perfectly understandable.

Jones's decision in "AKA WWJD?" in no way undermines the episode. In part, that is because the acting is absolutely amazing. Both Krysten Ritter and David Tennant give career high performances as Kilgrave and Jessica Jones in "AKA WWJD?" Ritter delivers a powerful anti-rape statement without it sounding like a P.S.A. And David Tennant . . . wow. Just wow. His performance has to be seen to believed; he is so varied in his performance that he redefines the range of his acting in this one episode. Tennant makes the villain who viewers have spent the prior seven episodes believing is an absolute monster a character one can empathize with. He completely sells lines about how Kilgrave simply does not know the difference between right and wrong!

Director Simon Cellan Jones should have gotten a second take from Robert Verlaque when he blinked as Kilgrave was telling Laurent and Alva they could not blink, but that briefest moment cannot rob the episode of its greatness or its perfect rating. Instead, "AKA WWJD?" is a solid hour of television that makes bold statements, pushes the characters forward and allows the actors to completely explode their potential while playing out a plot that has an incredible potential to go in any possible direction!

[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 strong character-centered works, please visit my reviews of:
"Duet" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"4,722 Hours" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Father's Day" - Doctor Who


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

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