Monday, December 21, 2015

Jessica Jones and the Case of the Karma Chameleon

Jessica Jones is the story of a psychotic narcissist, who sees other people as nothing more than tools or obstacles, and, through dint of superhuman abilities, manipulates or intimidates innocent victims into terrified compliance.

(Also, the Purple Man is in it too.)

Jessica Jones is kind of a horrible person.


The story works well as a metaphor for overcoming an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, it only works on that level. Even if you take the allegory away from the Narnia, you have a story about a talking lion and some kids. Jessica Jones is just a garbled mess as a narrative.

Stuff I liked:

Episode One was taut and tense and compelling, and the best hour of TV I’ve seen in years.



Luke Cage:  Sweet Christmas, he was great. He’s oozes charisma, he’s used in moderation, he’s interesting and sympathetic.



Trish: What a Hellcat! She gave a superb performance. She was best when she was her own person and not acting like an off-brand wannabe Jessica Jones.


Stuff I didn’t like:

Jessica: As a rule, I like shows with female protagonists.

I was hoping for Season One Veronica Mars.



I got Season Six Buffy.




Remember what I said about Luke Cage. Jessica is the opposite of all that.

I tend not to like anti-heroes anyway, but I stuck with Breaking Bad to the end, because it was interesting.  I don’t want to diminish the trauma suffered by the real-life survivors of abuse on whom Jessica is based, but this is a story that’s designed primarily to entertain and I found the lead neither interesting nor sympathetic.

"For thirty years you dreamt you were a hero, and condoned a thousand petty lapses--because a hero, of course, can do no wrong."

David Tennant: He’s part of the problem. I was nervous about watching the show, because I knew the subject matter. I had heard it had been toned down for TV, so tentatively, we began watching.

At least he was interesting, but I have mixed feelings about liking him more than Jessica. As a character, I mean. They’re both reprehensible, but at least he’s interesting when he’s on the screen. And I think that might actually be an interesting and possibly legitimate choice. It’s easy to sympathize with the charming rapist, and just as easy to ignore the words of his victim if she’s not as articulate or somehow marginalized. That’s a great message for a public service announcement, but a lousy choice for entertainment.

I’m not sure where they were going in trying to make him sympathetic halfway through the series. Probably because abusers often suffered abuse of their own in the past? It didn’t work, because the first impression we have is him compelling Hope to murder her parents, just to send a message to Jessica. Regardless of what happened twenty years in the past, you own that murder, dude.

The show can never decide if he’s a master manipulator even without his powers, or a ten year old boy who never had to grow up. The answer is, he’s neither. He’s an abusive ex-boyfriend with superpowers, and there’s nothing more to him than that. The dichotomy works within the context of the allegory, but it collapses if you want to look at it in any other way. (And when did he learn how to read lips?)

Kilgrave’s name: “Kilgrave” sounds like a name. It sounds like some Eastern European name anglicized at Ellis Island. It’s unusual, but I didn’t think it was fictional. (Notably, more people in America have Kilgrave as a last name than have mine.) The characters on the show find it so unbelievable that they dismiss out of hand any possibility that it might be real. Also, they use the same joke twice.




It’s not as funny as you think it is, and it doesn’t even make sense. Corpse and carcass aren’t synonyms with grave!

Will: I liked Will (and didn’t figure out who he was until they showed us the pills), but he existed only to serve the allegory as a different take on an abusive ex-boyfriend. But Will has a goddamned point. Kill Kilgrave when you have the chance! Only Hamlet is allowed to dither this much when planning a murder. Jessica was carrying around that syringe as early as episode two, as part of her ridiculous Rube Goldberg torture room plan. She should have been hefting a cinder block, and thrown it through the window when she saw Kilgrave for the first time. It would have saved a lot of innocent people, depending on when she got wise, Ruben, Hogarth’s wife Wendy, the next door neighbor and Will’s buddies, the courier, the guys in the penthouse, Kilgrave’s mom, Kilgrave’s dad, those he ordered to die if he didn’t return, presumably many others.  Hope would still be in prison, but she’d still be alive.

I could also have done without Trish’s “He was a good man, once” defense at the end. I get it, TV show.You don’t need to spell it out for me. Teeth had a more favorable opinion of men than this show.

Hogarth: Oh, I loved Carrie-Anne Moss in this role. At first. The show doesn’t trust us to figure out anything on our own, so she heavily foreshadows her heel turn by speculating about all the things she could do with Kilgrave’s power. Jessica sputters in righteous indignation. (She cares because she was personally wronged.) Later, of course, she gets her comeuppance, as do all who question Jessica.

Hogarth was interesting. Her character is very opaque, and as a viewer, you never know what's going on inside her head. Jessica is also inscrutable, but I didn’t get that impression of inner life. But when Pam asks her why she was at Wendy’s (after Kilgrave commanded her to take him to someone she trusts), she doesn’t tell the obvious lie (“He told me take him to a doctor and Wendy was nearby”), instead, simply floundering like a goldfish outside of its bowl.

Malcolm: I hate Malcolm so much.

He’s a convenient eunuch who only exists to tell everyone how great Jessica is, because it looks like bragging if she does it herself. (Still, you can see her lips moving when he’s talking.)

How to cure a junkie.



Handcuff him to a toilet overnight.

"Bless you, Jessica Jones!"

Fortunately for Malcolm (but unfortunately for the viewing audience), they have another secondary black character so that Malcolm can live, but Marvel doesn’t have to forgo its policy of killing a black dude to give the white characters a little extra motivation. (RIP, Ben Urich)

The Narrative:

Comic Vine called Jessica “A brilliant PI who is always two steps ahead of Kilgrave” but she couldn’t figure out her own neighbor was tailing her for weeks? Didn’t think to look in Hope’s purse?  I don’t think she’s a terrible detective, but there is no evidence to suggest she’s brilliant, either. I just hate this kind of fanboy bullshit.  “I love this character, so she has to be the best.” My impression is that she’s good enough to make a living at it, and that she leans heavily on her powers. Not that that’s necessarily a dig.  You use what you’ve got, and she’s got perseverance and a willingness to do the legwork on top of that.

(On a side note, while I love the character, I don’t think Veronica Mars was especially brilliant either. She was as successful as she was because she was underestimated because of her age, or she was plying her skills against other teenagers, who don’t have as much experience as adults. But she leveraged what she had to make it work. Usually. )

The protagonist-centered morality:  I really do hate protagonist-centered morality. Everyone’s virtue neatly corresponds to how much they like Jessica.

Trust me, I’m a PC: The virtue of other characters can easily be measured by how readily they trust Jessica. Night Nurse, I’m looking at you. Those cops three feet away are looking for you? Sure, I’ll help you escape, person I just met.

A subset of this is how characters friendly to the protagonists readily accept the reality of mind control, saying, in suspiciously similar phrasing, that hey, aliens/invulnerable skin exist, so why not mind control. I think the implication of the similar phrasing is that this only conclusion a reasonable person can reach, that if one impossible thing exists, all impossible things must exist. Any other response is just being arbitrarily skeptical or obstinate.

I don’t think the conclusion is self-evident. It’s reasonable to consider the possibility, but accepting it unconditionally is just as ridiculous as dismissing it out of hand.  It’s a minor thing, but I found it very annoying.

The dialogue:

“Go to hell.” “Already been there…”

No. Never say that again. That is the worst, most boring, predictable line, and it’s delivered badly. That’s like plagiarism on an academic paper. It’s an immediate failing grade right there.

At this point I was extending the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were going something very subtle here, and maybe the tough gal act was supposed to seem unconvincing, because her experiences had left her an empty shell and her bravado was a façade painted blood bright over rotten wood.

As I watched more, I rejected that hypothesis. Krysten Ritter is just kind of a lousy actor, and the dialogue is occasionally just atrocious.

Also, when the real housewife of New York City blames Jessica for getting her mom killed in the Chitauri invasion, she calls Jessica a freak. I wanted to insert a supercut of every time someone calls a superhero a freak, but, while I’m certain such a thing exists, because it’s such a lazy cliché that pops up in every movie, I was unable to find it. So here’s a screenshot.



What takes the cake is the scene in the diner. It's the worst kind of too clever by half bullshit that sounds like it was written at a You Too can write like Joss Whedon weekend workshop




I'm furious that you lied to me and covered up my brother's murder...but not so mad that I can't engage in a twee little bit of wordplay


It’s all about me: At one point, when Jessica is giving Malcolm his tough love detox, she tells him “He did this to you to get at me.”

That’s accurate in the context of the story, but man, it’s the dream of every narcissist to have it be true when she says it really is all about her. Characters in a story don’t make choices, the author makes choices for them. The creators of the show contrive to put them in a situation, so that they can tell the story they want to tell.  The authors here have conspired to give us a story where their glib, boring, unlikable anti-hero is the only one that matters. (It’s also worth noting that almost every major failure comes from another character not doing what she says. Jessica Jones can never fail; she can only be failed.)

The story is contrived so that she must always have the moral high ground. 

I guess I'll make the observation, because no one on the show will, that Jessica and Hogarth each sought to keep Kilgrave alive so they could manipulate him to serve their own ends. Jessica's goals are more altruistic than Hogarth's, but that doesn't change the fact that they're doing exactly the same thing.

There are little things I hate too. Like when Jessica sarcastically thanks Kilgrave’s father for correcting her phrasing (she said Kilgrave ordered the man to kill himself, whereas he tells her that he was compelled to cut his heart out). The thing is, not five minutes earlier, she exploited a loophole in the command given to Trish, who was ordered to put a bullet in her head. Jessica put a bullet in her mouth and satisfied the compulsion.

Sanctimony and hypocrisy, two great tastes that taste great together
And finally, let’s look at the end. It features a lot of what I hate about the show. Anyone facing Jessica experiences a precipitous drop in competence.

Her plan was put together with an attention to detail you'd expect from the underpants gnomes, a million moving parts and a structure that make it collapse if any one item outside her control occurs. These include:
  • Kilgrave’s updgraded powers function in a fashion differently than she assumes they do
  • Someone shoots Trish, who is completely exposed
  • Trish becomes compromised
  • Trish is taken as a hostage (Not quite sure why Trish is part of this plan, frankly)
  • Kilgrave brings a set of bodyguards comparable to the forces he’s fielded every time he’s expected opposition
  • Kilgrave issues contingency commands to his puppets comparable to the ones he’s issued in every previous encounter
  • Kilgrave actually thinks to test his control (“Kill this guy, would you?”) before walking right up to Jessica so she can murder him.
But it all comes together, exactly as planned  and I’m reminded of what Pixar story artist Emma Coats wrote: "Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating."

In the end, Jessica kills Kilgrave. I’m sure it’s cathartic, but under New York law, it’s also first degree murder, as it was preceded by torture. I’m not even saying it was a bad decision. If anyone was too dangerous to live, it was Kilgrave.

It would have better for Hope, Wendy, Ruben et al, had she come to this conclusion somewhat earlier. For Will, too, come to think of it.

The story that would come to define my tastes as an adult was noir, though I didn’t know the word at the time. Jessica Jones uses the trappings of noir, but doesn’t embrace the spirit, where victories are temporary and bittersweet. Nothing illustrates this better than the scene following the murder, when Hogarth, appropriately humbled and back in the fold, and thus, competent again, rope-a-dopes the prosecutor with a torrent of extremely weak flim-flam.  I think I would have been able to accept the show as a flawed, but well-intentioned effort, if not for this.

Is it a bad show, or something I just don’t like?

I’m usually good about making the distinction, but I really don’t know. It seems that the dialogue is more reliant on clichés than is strictly necessary. The metaphors are not subtle. I don’t think Kristen Ritter gave a good performance, but many other people did, though I’m sure at least some of them made the Comics Vine mistake of liking the character and believing the actor gave a good performance. Figure what I consider its failings are 30% things that could be improved and 70% things I just don't like.

How would I fix it?

Fix the dialogue: Get a script doctor to tighten up the writing and get rid of the clichés.

Smarter writing: Kilgrave just gets dumber as the series progresses. A smarter adversary is much scarier, so write him as someone who has been using these powers for years, and knows how to get the most out of them.

Tone down the allegory:  I sense this is a feature, not a bug for the creators of the program, but not everything needs to serve the metaphor.

Chuck the childhood sympathy arc: We know better by they time they get around to this. It doesn’t work in the aftermath of the first episode, and that episode is too good to lose.

Fixing Jessica: You can call her an anti-hero, a Byronic hero or what-have-you, but she’s an asshole. People want to be able to cheer for the assholes. You need look no further than Donald Trump  for proof. A lot of people like seeing someone who is rude being subjected to some sort of disproportionate revenge, but I don’t dig that. If Jessica rips off the arms of the guy who cut you off in traffic, he’s the underdog there, and my sympathy switches to him.

I said at the beginning of the post that I didn’t find Jessica interesting or sympathetic. I could cheer for her if she were likable and boring, and I could cheer for her if she were unlikable but interesting. Obviously, you want to go with the latter, here.  I think that means replacing Ritter with a better actor.

Make the morality less centered on Jessica: Give us characters who have legitimate disagreement on substantive grounds, not straw men. Give us good people who don’t like Jessica.

Finally, let Jessica own her mistakes: Have someone point out that her dad would still be alive if Hope’s freedom hadn’t meant more to Jessica.She went down like a punk when the therapy group stormed her place, and I knew exactly why. The writers had to once again contrive to a scenario where Jessica was not to blame for Kilgrave’s escape. Let’s see her alcoholism played for something other than laughs. Let her mess up, and deal with the consequences for once.

20 comments:

  1. "I was hoping for Season One Veronica Mars. I got Season Six Buffy."

    Ouch. Not entirely untrue, but man, even speaking as a fan of Buffy... That's a vicious burn.

    "30% things that could be improved and 70% things I just don't like."

    I'd buy that. Overall, I liked the show. I tend to like anti-heroes who are willing to do messed up things in order to accomplish their goal, provided the character and/or their goal is sympathetic and/or justifiable, and at least for me, both of those requirements were fulfilled here. (Abuse victim struggling with PTSD and depression, sympathetic, check; trying to take out one of the most dangerous men in the world, justifiable, check.)

    You do bring up some good points. As is often the case, while many of them I do not disagree with, personally, I enjoyed the show enough that these issues didn't stand out too much while watching. I think that's usually how these things work – every show has at least 30% suck, but if you enjoy the other 70%, it's easy to overlook. If you don't enjoy the other 70, that 30 appears magnified.

    That said, I do think you missed the mark on a couple points, or at least your interpretation differed considerably from mine.

    "Maybe they were going something very subtle here, and maybe the tough gal act was supposed to seem unconvincing, because her experiences had left her an empty shell and her bravado was a façade painted blood bright over rotten wood."

    Not sure that's EXACTLY what they were going for, but I think it's a lot closer than the conclusion you ultimately come to below...

    "[Malcolm]’s a convenient eunuch who only exists to tell everyone how great Jessica is, because it looks like bragging if she does it herself. (Still, you can see her lips moving when he’s talking.)"

    ...and this, right here, is probably the crux of our different reactions to this show. The implication that Jessica was full of herself baffles me. I thought it was made very clear, repeatedly and throughout the series, that she was riddled with self-loathing. That's WHY she was such an asshole.

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    1. Cfc: You do bring up some good points. As is often the case, while many of them I do not disagree with, personally, I enjoyed the show enough that these issues didn't stand out too much while watching. I think that's usually how these things work – every show has at least 30% suck, but if you enjoy the other 70%, it's easy to overlook. If you don't enjoy the other 70, that 30 appears magnified.

      J: I think that’s the crux of it right there. We agree on the basic facts, but we differ in our interpretation. The showrunners accomplished what they set out to do, and I just didn’t like what they accomplished. It’s not that they were incapable of making the show that I wanted, it’s that I didn’t *like* the show that they *made*.

      Cfc: Overall, I liked the show. I tend to like anti-heroes who are willing to do messed up things in order to accomplish their goal, provided the character and/or their goal is sympathetic and/or justifiable, and at least for me, both of those requirements were fulfilled here. (Abuse victim struggling with PTSD and depression, sympathetic, check; trying to take out one of the most dangerous men in the world, justifiable, check.)

      Sympathy doesn’t come into it for me. I mean, it makes me *sorry* for her, but not interested in her. Unquestionably, terrible things happened to Jessica, but that doesn’t make me want to watch a show about her. It doesn’t make me *less* likely to want to watch a show about her, mind you. It just doesn’t enter into the equation. To steal a line from Shakespeare “What’s past is prologue”.

      As far a her actions, as you point out, her goal wasn’t to kill Kilgrave at first. (I’m not actually sure *what* her plan was, as the penal system was not equipped to deal with someone like him, and his testimony probably amounts to hearsay if she snaps his neck after he exonerates Hope.) I actually found her much more interesting when she intended to fly to Hong Kong on Hope’s credit card. *That* was an interesting character.

      Cfc, quoting me: "[Malcolm]’s a convenient eunuch who only exists to tell everyone how great Jessica is, because it looks like bragging if she does it herself. (Still, you can see her lips moving when he’s talking.)"

      ...and this, right here, is probably the crux of our different reactions to this show. The implication that Jessica was full of herself baffles me. I thought it was made very clear, repeatedly and throughout the series, that she was riddled with self-loathing. That's WHY she was such an asshole.

      J: My argument was more towards her importance than her sense of self-worth. Jessica notes, rightly, that Kilgrave doesn’t care about Malcolm one way or another; he was just a means to an end. It’s all about her, she’s the only important one, she’s the only one that matters.

      Malcolm is also there to provide counterpoint when Jessica says “I’m such an asshole.” He’s there to tell the audience “She’s not an asshole. She’s a HERO!”

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    2. J: My argument was more towards her importance than her sense of self-worth. Jessica notes, rightly, that Kilgrave doesn’t care about Malcolm one way or another; he was just a means to an end. It’s all about her, she’s the only important one, she’s the only one that matters.

      C: It seems somewhat unfair to blame a character for being placed in a story that she's at the center of. It may be a legitimate complaint with the writing, but I don't see how it should affect one's opinion of the character herself. There's nothing narcissistic about assuming everything your obsessed stalker does revolves around you.

      J: Malcolm is also there to provide counterpoint when Jessica says “I’m such an asshole.” He’s there to tell the audience “She’s not an asshole. She’s a HERO!”

      Definitely. And I would agree that Malcolm's cheerleading was a little annoying at times and a case of the writers telling the audience something they should have spent more time showing. (TV Tropes calls this an "informed attribute," I believe.)

      But I don't think Malcolm's (and Trish's) opinion automatically outweighs the opinions of Jessica, Luke, and Hogarth's wife (I'm going to ignore the psycho sister's membership in the anti-Jessica camp since she was pretty explicitly lacking credibility). Some characters think Jessica's a hero, others think she's an asshole; her actions at various points support both opinions, but edge more toward asshole – which I think they tried to counteract (in admittedly the laziest way possible) by kicking Malcolm into a full-on cheerleader.

      On the balance, I took it that she's supposed to be both.

      Also, her deletion of those voice messages at the end seemed to be showing that if she is a hero, she's a reluctant one, and it will be Malcolm's faith in her that pushes her into it. (Yeah, I may be reading into that a bit, but I think it's consistent with the rest of what we saw throughout the series, with Trish initially taking that role.)

      Moving into pure speculation, I would guess that Jessica's arc throughout the series will be gradually developing from a semi-asshole who occasionally does good into a real hero – but at this point, she's still supposed to be a little bit more on the asshole side of the fence.

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    3. C: It seems somewhat unfair to blame a character for being placed in a story that she's at the center of. It may be a legitimate complaint with the writing, but I don't see how it should affect one's opinion of the character herself. There's nothing narcissistic about assuming everything your obsessed stalker does revolves around you.

      You're right, and it's more a matter of degree than of *kind*, but it seemed that Jessica was the *only* thing that mattered to the story, rather than merely the most important thing.

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  2. "The protagonist-centered morality: I really do hate protagonist-centered morality. Everyone’s virtue neatly corresponds to how much they like Jessica.
    "[...]
    "Make the morality less centered on Jessica: Give us characters who have legitimate disagreement on substantive grounds, not straw men. Give us good people who don’t like Jessica."

    Yes, there was absolutely some of this. But...

    Are you forgetting Luke Cage flat out calling Jessica a piece of shit? The look in her eyes that she KNEW it was true? Did you think we were supposed to disagree with him there, or that he didn't have a legitimate disagreement on substantive grounds? 'Cause if that's what you thought, I can't imagine why.

    Remember, so far as we know, Luke never did forgive Jessica for any of that. He was instructed by Kilgrave to give Jessica his forgiveness ONLY so that Kilgrave could later reveal the fake-out as a massive psychological gut punch – this was Kilgrave in the master manipulator mode, using her own self-loathing as a weapon. Maybe it didn't have much effect if you didn't like Jessica, but for those of us who did, that reveal was devastating.

    When he recovers from his injuries, he doesn't stick around to talk to Jessica, so far as we know doesn't even call or leave a note. He just takes off. That's cold. Justifiably so, but my point being that it certainly didn't leave me with any impression that his forgiveness was genuine.

    As you point out yourself, Luke Cage was awesome, and probably portrayed as the most grounded and clear-headed character on the show. The fact that they had him, out of all the characters, be the one to so soundly put down Jessica speaks volumes.

    "A subset of this is how characters friendly to the protagonists readily accept the reality of mind control, saying, in suspiciously similar phrasing, that hey, aliens/invulnerable skin exist, so why not mind control."

    Again, except Luke. He initially dismisses the possibility when she brings it up, and this is even something of a minor plot point. He doesn't realize it's an actual thing until he witnesses it.

    Also, this is more of a nitpicky one-off, but:

    "What takes the cake is the scene in the diner. It's the worst kind of too clever by half bullshit [...]"

    You're referring to the psycho sister here (don't remember her name), and ALL of her dialog was twee falling-on-face-while-trying-to-be-clever wordplay in an exaggeratedly annoying to the point of absurdity kind of way. I won't believe for one second that it wasn't intentionally so. If you want to hate the character for that, be my guest (we all hate Jar Jar for similar reasons), but I don't think it's fair or accurate to pan the dialog overall based on one obviously intentionally exaggerated character.

    "Kilgrave’s name: 'Kilgrave' sounds like a name. It sounds like some Eastern European name anglicized at Ellis Island. It’s unusual, but I didn’t think it was fictional."

    I did notice what it sounded like, so the first time there was a crack about it, I thought it was funny, and perfectly in keeping with Jessica's personality. That said, I still agree with your overall point here.

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    1. Cfc: Are you forgetting Luke Cage flat out calling Jessica a piece of shit? The look in her eyes that she KNEW it was true? Did you think we were supposed to disagree with him there, or that he didn't have a legitimate disagreement on substantive grounds? 'Cause if that's what you thought, I can't imagine why.

      Remember, so far as we know, Luke never did forgive Jessica for any of that. He was instructed by Kilgrave to give Jessica his forgiveness ONLY so that Kilgrave could later reveal the fake-out as a massive psychological gut punch – this was Kilgrave in the master manipulator mode, using her own self-loathing as a weapon. Maybe it didn't have much effect if you didn't like Jessica, but for those of us who did, that reveal was devastating.

      When he recovers from his injuries, he doesn't stick around to talk to Jessica, so far as we know doesn't even call or leave a note. He just takes off. That's cold. Justifiably so, but my point being that it certainly didn't leave me with any impression that his forgiveness was genuine.
      J: I may be reading too much into the your wording, but were you surprised by this twist? You and I tend to be omnivorous consumers of genre media and somewhat savvy to the turns they usually take. My wife is a smart cookie, but not especially clued into the quirks of the genre and she didn’t see it coming, whereas I thought it was pretty heavily telegraphed. Were you surprised, and if so, do you feel the impact of the revelation was magnified?

      I’m withholding judgment on Luke. It’s hard to say how much was Luke and how much was Kilgrave in that scene. (If I had to take a guess based on the information we have now, I’d say it was mostly Luke, telling the truth in the most hurtful way possible. When you love somebody, and you have to tell them something truthful that will hurt them, you do it in such a way to cushion it. Luke did the opposite, twisting the knife even as he told no lies.)

      When he left, I got the distinct impression he might be suffering from brain damage, as the procedure Claire performs on him was described in such a way as to evoke an icepick lobotomy, and it seemed to imply that he might wake up as a different man. I might be reading too much into that, though.

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    2. J: I may be reading too much into the your wording, but were you surprised by this twist?

      C: I assumed Kilgrave had some kind of contingency or lingering hold on Luke, but I also assumed it was more of a sleeper agent sort of thing; that is, that Luke was still basically Luke, but would turn against her at some key moment. The reveal that essentially everything he said and did from the moment he walked out of the smoking remains of his bar was choreographed by Kilgrave was definitely a surprise to me.

      J: It’s hard to say how much was Luke and how much was Kilgrave in that scene.

      C: Assuming you believe Kilgrave that he scripted Luke's forgiveness speech word for word – and I see no reason to doubt that – it seems pretty clear to me that it was basically all Kilgrave.

      J: I got the distinct impression he might be suffering from brain damage

      C: I'd be surprised if they're going the brain damage route with him, considering he hopped out the window into his own series.

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    3. I think I'm missing something here. The broken up back and forth format of the conversation doesn't help, and I think I might be reading something slightly different than what you intended to convey. (See also: The other times I read meaning into your words that wasn't there.)

      If he's just repeating what Kilgrave told him to say, doesn't that undermine the earlier point about Luke calling her out?

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    4. C: I'd be surprised if they're going the brain damage route with him, considering he hopped out the window into his own series.

      I was thinking more TV "Hit on the head with a coconut and forget about Jessica" brain damage.

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    5. Unless I misunderstood something with the timeline, Luke didn't meet Kilgrave until well after he dumped Jessica, basically right before he blows up his own bar and they get back together again. So it was the forgiveness that was scripted by Kilgrave, and the calling out that was really Luke.

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    6. The misunderstanding was mine. When you were talking about Luke calling her out, I thought you meant the exchange right before the big fight near the end of the series. But you mean when she tells him the truth so he won't kill the bus driver, right?

      Also, Law and the Multiverse has some insight into the show: http://lawandthemultiverse.com/2016/01/08/defending-kilgrave/

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    7. Yes, that's what I meant.

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  3. I do agree with a lot of your other comments. The point that probably bugged me most was Jessica's on-going refusal to just kill the bastard, especially since her reasoning for this, such as it was, wasn't even explained until later in the series. And once we finally know that she wants him alive to get Hope off, as it became increasingly clear that meant sacrificing a lot of lives for one person's freedom, it became even harder to justify.

    And yet, it seems to me that was intentional. After all, wasn't Hope's sacrifice in the end a result of her realizing that Jessica had lost sight of the true cost of her obsession, and taking matters into her own hands to force Jessica into finally doing what had to be done? I would argue, in fact, that the most powerful, most key moments in this show – Hope's suicide and Luke's verbal smackdown – are examples of characters losing faith in Jessica and calling her out on her shit through word and deed. Exactly what you say the show is missing.

    "Jessica Jones uses the trappings of noir, but doesn’t embrace the spirit, where victories are temporary and bittersweet."

    Jessica's goal was to save Hope, but also to take revenge on Kilgrave. As a result of this obsession, she ended up getting a lot of people killed, including the person she was trying to save to begin with. In the end, she's accused of murder (even if it's implied she can easily beat it), she's driven away her love interest, and all she's got to show for it is a broken window and a whole lot more work to do that she doesn't even want.

    That's not a temporary and bittersweet victory? What do you want, her to actually end up in jail? Noir or not, they do need to be able to do another season.

    Honestly, I can't help thinking you pretty much took exactly what the writers intended you to from the show, but somehow ended up thinking it was all accidental. I mean, I'll admit it's possible I'm giving the writers too much credit here, but given how consistently it all seems to fit together, I'm not inclined to think so.

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    1. Cfc: I do agree with a lot of your other comments. The point that probably bugged me most was Jessica's on-going refusal to just kill the bastard, especially since her reasoning for this, such as it was, wasn't even explained until later in the series. And once we finally know that she wants him alive to get Hope off, as it became increasingly clear that meant sacrificing a lot of lives for one person's freedom, it became even harder to justify.

      J: From the Dark Knight Returns: “I'll count the dead, one by one. I'll add them to the list, Joker. The list of all the people I've murdered by letting you live.”

      Kilgrave is the actor in question, and Jessica has no moral obligation to kill him. However, Jessica is actively working to keep him alive and out of police custody, so she’s morally and legally an accessory after the fact, at the very least.

      CFC: And yet, it seems to me that was intentional. After all, wasn't Hope's sacrifice in the end a result of her realizing that Jessica had lost sight of the true cost of her obsession, and taking matters into her own hands to force Jessica into finally doing what had to be done? I would argue, in fact, that the most powerful, most key moments in this show – Hope's suicide and Luke's verbal smackdown – are examples of characters losing faith in Jessica and calling her out on her shit through word and deed. Exactly what you say the show is missing.

      J: I found Hope…very problematic. Her name was little too on-the-nose, and she was barely a character. As soon as I heard the name, I suspected that she was going to die, so we could have the metaphorical “death of hope”.

      There is nothing wrong with the direction or the cinematography in the show, and the bit in the restaurant was especially good. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Those are the thickest ropes I’ve ever seen! Where did they come from? We know Kilgrave has a penchant for the theatrical, but this seems just too elaborate for the time he had. Also, it’s too bad for him that he had no way to stop Hope’s suicide.

      I read her suicide as *her* failure. She gave up hope (as it were), and thereby scuttled JJ’s plans, but if she had just hung in there a little longer, Jessica would have worked things out. You see it a lot in male-dominated entertainment (ie, most entertainment), where a woman is nothing more than a prize. It’s framed differently, but Hope seems like a character who exists only so she can fridge herself at the end of the end of the second act in order to push Jessica into the third.

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    2. Cfc, quoting me: "Jessica Jones uses the trappings of noir, but doesn’t embrace the spirit, where victories are temporary and bittersweet."

      Jessica's goal was to save Hope, but also to take revenge on Kilgrave. As a result of this obsession, she ended up getting a lot of people killed, including the person she was trying to save to begin with. In the end, she's accused of murder (even if it's implied she can easily beat it), she's driven away her love interest, and all she's got to show for it is a broken window and a whole lot more work to do that she doesn't even want.

      That's not a temporary and bittersweet victory? What do you want, her to actually end up in jail? Noir or not, they do need to be able to do another season.

      J: What, you don’t see the potential in an Orange is the New Black crossover?

      I’m curious about your phrasing, and I don’t want this to come across as the passive-aggressive Socratic dissection so often found online, but when you say she’s accused of murder, am I correct in inferring that you don’t think she’s *guilty* of murder?

      To put all my cards on the table, I do think it meets the criteria for first degree murder in New York state, and there is no self-defense exemption, as he had ceased to be a threat to Jessica or to others, at which point self-defense no longer applies. There are mitigating factors certainly, and if had been in her position, I would have killed him too.

      I think it would be in keeping with the noir genre to have *some* sort of consequence. Leave her fate uncertain, and have it hanging over her head. Or have her plead guilty to a lesser charge and start season 2 six months later, after she’s served the best deal Jeri could arrange. Have her lose her detective license. But this was resolved quickly, cleanly and completely in a way that is antithetical to the genre. It is almost literally a Get out of Jail Free card. This is the kind of thing I was talking about when I used the line “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”

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    3. J: I found Hope…very problematic. [...]

      C: I basically agree with everything you say about her and the restaurant scene, except this one point: "I read her suicide as *her* failure. She gave up hope (as it were), and thereby scuttled JJ’s plans, but if she had just hung in there a little longer, Jessica would have worked things out." As already noted, my interpretation of the reasons and significance of Hope's suicide was very different from yours.

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    4. J: I’m curious about your phrasing, and I don’t want this to come across as the passive-aggressive Socratic dissection so often found online, but when you say she’s accused of murder, am I correct in inferring that you don’t think she’s *guilty* of murder?

      C: No, that wasn't what I meant. The point I was making was something more like this: In a traditional upbeat heroic narrative, defeating the villain results in getting some kind of recognition and reward. What she got was almost the opposite of that: she has to deal with a legal indictment. (In this context I would think "indictment" and "accusation" could be used interchangeably, but I guess "accusation" brought with it some connotations I didn't intend.) Yes, it's implied she can easily beat it, but it still means she got a metaphorical slap on the wrist instead of the metaphorical pat on the back that she would traditionally deserve.

      It sounds like some of what bothers you here is that you wanted the ending to be darker. While, again, I don't really disagree with that (I would have preferred the murder charge left hanging as well), I think what it boils down to is Jessica Jones isn't straight noir, it's noir blended with a superhero narrative. As a result, the ending falls somewhere between upbeat and downbeat, mostly just returning to status quo. Still, given all the death (especially Hope's), it came across as something of a Pyrrhic victory to me.

      I want to comment further on some related issues the show had, but lunch is over and it's a bit of a tangent anyway. I'll probably get to it later, either here or in a Google+ post.

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    5. It's not so much that I want a darker ending, it's just that this one feels *unearned*. I think it's the second to last scene in the series, and it just feels like a lucky break, and that strikes me as thematically "wrong".

      It's more of a "Josh would have done this differently" than anything, but I do feel that the scene detracts more than it adds.

      Thanks for sharing what you thought of the series. It's always interesting reading what you write, even if our tastes differ.

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  4. First off, let me say that I appreciate your frankness and civility. These characteristics are always present in your writing, but it’s nice to have a disagreement online without swearing and death threats, and where the only misspellings are mine.

    You raise a lot of interesting points and I’ll have a longer response when I get home from work.

    Right now I can say that we both agree on the fact that this show is certainly no Supergirl. :)

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    1. Ah, crap. This post is chronologically first, but it appears last because the other ones are all replies instead of separate posts of their own.

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