December 15, 2016
Jessica Jones: "AKA It's Called Whiskey"
After two outstanding episodes in a row Jessica Jones hits a bit of a stumble with its third episode. While a lot of the elements that have made the series so strong out of the gate remain, "AKA It's Called Whiskey" manages to drag in a whole pile of problems that get in the way of it working. If this were a lesser show many of the faults probably wouldn't be noticed. After such an excellent start, however, they are glaring and oftentimes rather irritating.
For one thing, this episode makes things abundantly clear that sharing a fictional universe with Disney's high-budget Marvel movies is a curse and not a blessing. References are dropped in here to the Incredible Hulk and the Avengers, as well as to the Chitauri invasion depicted at the climax of the first Avengers film. While this expanded universe may benefit Jessica Jones in the future, for now it feels faintly ridiculous. This is a deliberately painful, nasty television drama about trauma and male violence against women. The idea that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are living just down the road seems to beggar belief. It punctures the reality that the first two episodes established so well.
The episode spends what feels like an inordinate amount of time in its opening scenes on Jessica and Luke having sex. A little of that goes a long way. Knowing two characters have had sex builds on relationships and can increase drama. Watching those same characters have sex very quickly becomes a chore. The episode also front-loads itself with the Jessica-Luke relationship, which makes the more action-oriented second half feel poorly placed and repetitive.
The action to some extent feels out of place and rather dull. When Jessica has to fight a mind-controlled police officer to save Trish's life, it is short, dramatic and cleverly resolved. When she later has to have a fist-fight with not one but three sequential strangers attempting to stop her from catching Killgrave, it simply feels a bit dull. The first two episodes excelled because they focused on story and character. This prolonged sequence simply felt like people hitting each other. The sequence climaxes with Jessica stumbling upon a room filled with photographs of her, which feels as if it supposed to be more disturbing than it actually is. We have been told multiple times over the three episodes that Killgrave is obsessed with Jessica, so seeing her face all over the walls merely confirms a fact we already know.
David Tennant finally makes a proper appearance as Killgrave, and he is exceptional in what is a horrifying and repellent role. He seems very timely too: at a time when aggressively offensive miogynists seem to infest the Internet, and the likes of Donald Trump can be elected President of the United States, a sociopathic controlling obsessive who actively manipulates and abuses women is pretty much a pitch-perfect choice. A key part of why the character works is that he is not simply evil but calmly monstrous. It is utterly believable that a man who can convince anybody to do anything he likes would slide so far into the sort of casual depravity in which Killgrave engages. Over in their films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has regularly struggled to present believable or particularly intriguing villains. Perhaps they can learn a little from their Netflix cousins; I've also heard great things about Wilson Fisk in Daredevil.
In the end, despite continuing strong performances and production values, "AKA It's Called Whiskey" feels like a disappointment. It's likely that, in isolation, it's still head-and-shoulders above other American TV drama episodes. In the context of Jessica Jones it simply does not work half as well as it should. Its two halves both feel a bit underwhelming and weak, and they are not combined particularly well. When the previous episodes went for unexpected moments and originality, this episode feels as if stereotypes and cliches were allowed to sneak into the script. Still: two out of three isn't bad, particularly when those first two were of such a high calibre. While the quality ratio slips to 67%, I remain hooked on watching the series.