Jessica Jones episode 13 viewing notes: AKA Smile

Our Jessica Jones episode-by-episode viewing notes reach the finale, AKA Smile, which delivers a mixed bag for fans of the comics...

Marvel’s Jessica Jones is available to view now on Netflix, and as with Daredevil we’ll be providing (mostly) daily episode-by-episode coverage for those who want to follow it with us. Each instalment of these viewing notes will look at how the show’s plot, characters and story relate to the comic source material, providing background information and pointers for those who want to know more.

Please note that while we might occasionally reveal the way plots developed in the comics, we are trying to be sensitive to any surprises the TV show may have in store. These notes are written immediately after the episode is watched, so any speculation about the way the story may go is purely that!

All we ask is that if you’ve seen future episodes that confirm, contradict or otherwise twist things we talk about in this piece, please respect people who don’t have the luxury of binge-watching and please don’t put spoilers for future episodes anywhere in the comments. You can, however, swap spoilers in our ‘What Did You Think? post. Thanks.

Episode Recap:

Jessica takes an unconscious Luke to the hospital, but his powers make it impossible for him to be treated. She bumps into Claire Temple, who goes to Jessica’s apartment/office and treats Luke’s injuries as best she can. Meanwhile, Kilgrave amps up his powers using his father’s help, then kills him. Jessica and Trish track him down and corner him, but he uses his powers to make a crowd of onlookers turn on one another than threatens to make Trish his new slave. Jessica fakes being under his control for long enough for him to get close then snaps his neck, freeing everyone. Luke wakes up, shaken but uninjured, and disappears before Jessica can return. Jessica is arrested for murdering Kilgrave but Hogarth gets her off without a trial. At the end of the episode, she’s bombarded with calls from people wanting help, and although she ignores them, Malcolm answers the phone and announces that Alias Investigations is listening.

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Episode Notes:

Well… it’s fair to say that wasn’t the ending I hoped for when the series began. Though it could’ve also been a lot worse.

On balance, I think most people would agree that dedicating a significant portion of your finale to enigmatic conversations with a supporting character from a previous MCU series is a bad idea. I get the need for connectivity – that’s the brand, after all – but there were ways Claire Temple could’ve been worked into this series more organically, especially given the amount of times they’ve spent in hospitals. As it was, if you hadn’t seen Daredevil I can’t imagine what little sense it made for that character to turn up and dominate the finale, taking time from characters we could’ve done with seeing a little more of (Hogarth and Malcolm, for instance).

Of course, if I were Jess, I wouldn’t be leaving Luke and Claire together. In the comics, Claire Temple was a nurse who became romantically entangled with Cage after treating him. (Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #3, October 1972). Presumably she’ll show up in Cage’s own series, so Jessica may not appreciate the competition.

The matter of how you treat Luke Cage when you can’t get in through his skin were an interesting exploration of how superpowers can hinder as much as help. It’s also got a lot of parallels with a similar scene from New Avengers, Vol.1 #57 (November 2009). It’s a shame Luke spent most of the episode out cold and I was actively livid that we didn’t get some kind of wrap up between him and Jessica, especially since the question of whether he forgave her or not was never really answered. Maybe they’re saving that for the Luke Cage series?

As I feared, though, the final fight with Kilgrave was a little anti-climactic. There wasn’t a lot of tension in the question of whether Jessica was still immune to Kilgrave’s powers or not, because this close to the end of the series it was highly unlikely that he was going to take Trish and beat Jessica completely. The reveal that Jessica wasn’t under Kilgrave’s thrall was quite clunky as well. From what I gathered, it seemed to think that her telling Trish that she loved her was the culmination of a series-long arc, rather than something they introduced much more recently.

Again, I feel like I’m trying to watch a completely different show than the one produced. This was introduced as if it was a story about a superhero with PTSD finding it in herself to become a hero again, and yet the very final scene involves her deleting messages off her answerphone from people desperate for help. Messages from women claiming that they’re being abused, no less. What happened to the Jess who declared in episode one that “sometimes, I give a shit”? Because she sure as hell doesn’t seem to by the end of the series. At least Malcolm got to find his true purpose in life, helping the people that others (including Jessica, apparently) don’t care about.

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As for Kilgrave, there were moments in this episode where I finally, finally saw the menace of Kilgrave that I was hoping to see earlier in the series. It was all in Tennant’s ability to drop the friendly façade and look like the psychopath he’s often said to be, but I felt like it came a little too late. Personally I’d have liked to see more of this sort of thing in his earlier appearances so we could’ve felt the threat of him more keenly.

Unfortunately we won’t be seeing it in any future appearances, because Jessica killed him by snapping his neck.

This is something I find sort of difficult to deal with. On one hand, it’s genre television. Murder is devalued to the point of being expected. It’s not like the show treated it as a moment of heroic triumph, so I’m on board with that, and Jessica’s no Daredevil (or Superman), so I can believe she’d take that step if she thought there was no other way.

But on the other hand, as we’ve discussed before, Kilgrave can be disabled without being killed. And there’s no guarantee that killing him will free the people he enslaved. And thematically speaking, it doesn’t feel like “you can always find and kill your abuser” is in line with the parallels we’ve been invited to draw between Kilgrave’s abuse and real-world abuse. So there are a lot of doubts and uncertainties

And worst of all, it took thirteen episodes for someone to go “oh, maybe if we can’t hear him he can’t affect us”. That doesn’t seem like a big enough twist to hang your finale on.

So as I said, it wasn’t a great ending. Part of me admires the low stakes of it – Jessica only really saved Trish and the people Kilgrave had ordered to kill each other (another scene taken from the comics) and not, as in most superhero properties, the entire city or something similarly huge. But relatively low stakes are fine if you’ve got a huge personal dilemma to shore them up, and I didn’t get the sense that this episode did.

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For a second I thought that they were going to end with Jessica in prison, and that massively intrigued me just for what it would mean for the future MCU Netflix instalments – and then we had a scene with Hogarth that was so contrived and convenient that I briefly believed we were supposed to infer that Hogarth had inherited Kilgrave’s powers. I can’t believe a lawyer could argue well enough to stop such an open-and-shut murder prosecution in its tracks using any tactics, let alone the argument she did. Which amounted to “I’ve got a bunch of witnesses who’ll say she was mind-controlled” (of course, she wasn’t. Hogarth is still encouraging juries to lie, apparently).

Admittedly, Jessica Jones isn’t a total write-off. I’d say at least eight of the thirteen episodes are comfortably great, the cast is mostly fantastic and it kept a very strong eye on its themes throughout. But if the series comes back, I’d like to see a tighter plot, less erratic tone and certainly a bit more consistency in the characters. There was a lot about the series that worked for me, but almost as much that didn’t. Considering that the comic is one of the greatest Marvel has published in the last twenty years, I’m ultimately just disappointed that the TV series couldn’t match that standard in its own way.

Read James’ viewing notes on the previous episode, AKA Take A Bloody Number, here.