Monday, November 23, 2015

The First Knock-Out Jessica Jones: "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me"

The Good: Good character development, Decent performances, Wonderful plot development, Awesome reversals
The Bad: Minutia, A tad front-heavy
The Basics: Incredibly well constructed, "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" connects an incredible number of dots in the story of Jessica Jones!

As much as I enjoyed the first season of Jessica Jones, when it came time for me to review the whole of the first season, I found myself very much conflicted. In the last few episodes of the season, the show takes a left turn and while that turn humanizes the superhuman protagonist of the show, it also forces the first season on a beeline into the most conventional plot progression one could imagine for a super hero-based television show. And, as much as I might want to blame the late-season turn into the mundane for the problems in the first season of Jessica Jones, the truth is, the show had some erratic plotting long before the key turning point. After three episodes of rising action focused on a seemingly inevitable confrontation between protagonist Jessica Jones and her adversary, the mind-controlling Kilgrave, the show took a significant detour for "AKA 99 Friends" (reviewed here!). "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" recovers the footing lost by "AKA 99 Friends" and rockets the story ahead, once again forcing viewers to wonder, up until the last moments of the episode, just how the season could be maintained following the events of the episode.

The truth is "AKA 99 Friends" was not a complete stumble; it built character and the meandering plot comes into sharp focus in the episode's final minute for a big character reversal that leaves viewers shocked. Unfortunately, it is absolutely impossible to discuss "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" without referencing where "AKA 99 Friends" finished as that key reversal defines the new direction Jessica Jones takes in her hunt for Kilgrave. In "AKA 99 Friends," Jones discovers who has been performing surveillance upon her for Kilgrave and her theory that the heroin-addicted Malcolm has been under Kilgrave's control for quite some time is immediately confirmed by Jessica Jones in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me."

Using that information, Jessica Jones and her sister Trish Walker and the former special ops soldier, now police officer, Will Simpson rocket the plot of Jessica Jones forward in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me." "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" is a packed episode and it is the first real knockout episode of Jessica Jones.

Opening 18 months ago with Jessica Jones slacking off at her crappy job when her boss confronts her on it, she extorts him for six months severance pay. She and Trish go out and have a drink and it is a fun time for both, despite a drunken idiot at the bar recognizing Trish from her days as a child star. Flashing back to the present, Jessica and Trish find records of what Malcolm was like before he became a heroin addict and she tracks him to a meeting with Kilgrave where Malcolm delivers him photographs in exchange for drugs. Tracking him a second day, Jessica Jones arrives at Trish's apartment where she finds Simpson there.

Jessica Jones is advised by Trish to enlist Simpson and his skills in her effort to capture Kilgrave in order to exonerate Hope Shlottman. Simpson shows Jones an isolated facility he has access to that has a hermetically sealed room where they believe they can store Kilgrave after sedating him. Jessica begrudgingly agrees to wait until Monday so Simpson has time to build in some safeguards against Kilgrave. Simpson expresses curiosity and reservations about working with Jones, but Trish mollifies him. Jones visits Shlottman in jail, where the prisoner begs for money, which Jones provides to the increasingly distraught Hope. After all of the preparation is done, Jones, Simpson and Walker execute their plan to capture Kilgrave, with unintended consequences.

Through the flashbacks peppered throughout "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" the episode reinforces both Jessica Jones's integrity and her motivation at this point in the season. Simpson argues for killing Kilgrave, but Jones knows it is essential to keep him alive in order to exonerate Hope Shlottman. Jones exhibits kindness to both Hope and Malcolm and the show expertly develops the character as Jones transitions from an overqualified slacker to a professional working on a team for a common purpose. Jessica Jones is once again revealed to be exceptionally clever and the moment Jones and Kilgrave make contact in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" is electric and tense!

"AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" does a decent job of illustrating just how clever and manipulative Kilgrave is. He got control of Malcolm six months ago and the way he manipulates Malcolm is heartbreaking. Malcolm, we learn in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me," was once a promising student who wanted to become a social worker. Trish helps Jessica Jones put together the extent of the manipulation when they observe that Malcolm has left like clockwork every morning at quarter to ten since Jessica first started noticing him. The concept of Malcolm in Jessica Jones is a clever one as social commentary, as well as fitting the plot and characters of the specific show wonderfully. The idea of drug addicts as invisible in society, so much so that they could be used for surveillance for months is a clever one and "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" illustrates horrifyingly well how Malcolm is kept in place by his addition and the mind control.

Kilgrave is also proven to be an exceptional tactical thinker in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me." As the rising action of the episode occurs and Jones, Simpson, and Walker execute the plan to capture Kilgrave, the safeguards he has in place are incredible and illustrate his understanding of the dangers of taunting Jessica Jones. Kilgrave has spent the early part of the season taunting Jones and after coming face to face with her at the climax of "AKA It's Called Whiskey" (reviewed here!), it's clear Kilgrave understood the potential consequences of trying to unsettle Jones. Using intermediaries to set the location of the meet each time is a clever precaution for Kilgrave.

"AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" either misses an opportunity to connect to Daredevil or it makes a statement on how Hell's Kitchen has changed since Daredevil when Malcolm's drugs are shown. Madame Gao's drugs in Daredevil had a distinctive stamp and the drugs Kilgrave provides lack that stamp. It could have been a clever tie-in, but the show avoids making that connection, which is a little disappointing. There are other Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-ins, from the overt child in a Captain America costume to the references to the patient zero that required the CDC in New York to set up the hermetically-sealed room.

Director Stephen Surjik gets so much right in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" that it is surprising to an alarming degree when he doesn't. The most poignant example is when Jones tracks Malcolm to the news kiosk, Kilgrave looks directly at the camera/Jones and it is inconceivable that he does not see her/Surjik left the shot in the episode. The episode is constructed well with the time needed to get the ex-fil room set up spent with flashbacks and a weird scene between Jones and her upstairs neighbor Ruben, so Surjik gets a lot more right than the one awkward shot.

All of the performers in "AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" play their parts brilliantly. Taylor, especially, erupts over the course of the episode as an actress with an amazing ability to emote using only her eyes and the tiniest movement of her lips. Rachael Taylor makes Trish seem entirely vital and gives her enough screen presence through her subtle moments of performance to make a Hellcat spin-off seem entirely viable (hint, hint, Netflix!). Wil Traval continues to build the presence of Simpson through the course of the episode.

"AKA The Sandwich Saved Me" is packed with clever lines, good character development and wonderful performances, putting Jessica Jones right back on track to energize its audience!

[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 Rachael Taylor, please visit my reviews of:
The Darkest Hour


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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