Jessica Jones: AKA Ain't We Got Fun

"That thing you made is not my mother."

Mother and daughter bonding with snipers and a basement dungeon. You ain't getting that from This is Us.

Jessica Jones season two doubles down on its commitment to messy and complicated relationships in an episode that left me very unclear who the actual villain is.

There have been plenty of hours of television devoted to exploring the moment when you come to learn that your parents are human beings with flaws and weaknesses, but rarely has there been a show that allowed that exploration to get as multi-textured as we got here. Indeed, if all this episode had been was the interactions between Jessica and Alisa I would have been more than satisfied with it.  When Dr. Karl locked them in the basement I fully expected the rest of the episode to be the two of them trapped in that room working through their issues, and I would have been fine with that. But this is Jessica Jones, so Messy and Complicated is kind of their wheelhouse, and we got so much more.

I think the thing that impressed me most with the Jessica/Alisa dynamic is that the script very wisely avoided allowing either of them to really be 'right,' for lack of a better term. For instance, Alisa has absolutely committed a not insignificant number of rage murders recently, and while she kind of has the excuse that she can't control her particular combination of rage issues and super strength due to the procedures that were done to her against her will, the show never really gives her a pass because of it. Yes, she's had some profoundly messed up things done to her, but she's still ultimately responsible for her own actions. That's a level of nuance you don't get everywhere.

Similarly, it would be very easy to excuse all of Jessica's walled off emotional unavailability to the trauma of losing her family in a car accident at a young age – and indeed, Jessica herself makes that case pretty clearly early on. And yet, Alisa calls her out flat on it, pointing out that she was already kind of like that anyway and Jessica very tellingly never really disputes her claim.

Of course, at the time of the car accident that took her family Jessica was suffering from a wide-spread condition known as 'being a teenage girl,' known side affects including staying in your room listening to Nirvana and pretending to not want to ride the Ferris wheel with your Mother. She absolutely can be excused for being moody and reclusive at that point. However, just as with Alisa, explaining it doesn't mean that it didn't happen nor that it doesn't complicate their relationship now.


That above point is actually worth a brief side comment. I, personally, have never been a teenage girl. Nor a daughter nor mother. I was at one point a teenage boy, which has its own host of stupid behavior, but that's not relevant here.  The point is that it feels odd to me to make any kind of comment on mother/daughter relationships, particularly in light of the fact that all the episodes of season two seems to be in large part about that dynamic and all of the episodes are directed by women.

On the other hand...

As I was thinking this it occurred to me that kind of a lot of television is being made entirely by men and about men. Like, very nearly all of it, at a rough estimate. And female reviewers discuss and engage with the material without commenting on the fact or having to pause their review to make it all about them, like I am... currently doing.  I guess what I'm saying is that this show has actively made me question my privilege multiple times and made me aware of ingrained biases I wasn't aware I was still practicing, and that is on the whole a very good thing.

Meanwhile, back in the review.

The technique of Alisa's humming was used quite effectively, both as a way to humanize her in Jessica's eyes and to cue us in to moments where she was actively struggling against her anger. The selection of tune, and by proxy the title of the episode, was telling. 'Ain't We Got Fun' was one of those depression era songs deliberately trying to cheer people up and draw their attention to little moments of happiness in an otherwise bleak time. One of its more prominent lines is about how you don't have to worry about your fancy car getting scratched because you don't own one, which is a pretty dark joke when you think about it. This episode took that theme and ran with it, showing tiny moments of light in the characters' darkness in a variety of ways.

Jessica, first off, is firmly committed to not have any moments of light in her darkness, thank you very much. Most of her unwillingness to believe that Alisa is her mother stems from her fear of experiencing happiness and being hurt again. Alisa finally gets a reconciliation of sorts with her daughter, but loses creepy Dr. Karl and gets shot at by snipers. Oscar and Alisa share a perfectly delightful moment, and teach us about Helen Frankenthaler as a bonus, but it's bookended by danger for her.

Trish, on the other hand, is chasing moments of light in the way only an addict can. Look Trish, I get that you want to compare your magic super-power inhaler to caffeine or medicine, but that argument goes out the window once withdrawal and cravings like you're experiencing factor in. Actually, finding tiny moments of light in your surrounding darkness kind of sums up addiction perfectly, although it's not as pretty a usage of the metaphor as we like to have.

Which is the thing about contrasting light and darkness. The pretentious vocab term here is chiaroscuro, which is a piece of art that works through the contrast of extreme light and darkness. By adding a moment of light you throw into sharp relief how dark the darkness really is. This is most clear with Jeri. On the one hand, her visit to Shane has given her the first glimpse of actual hope she's had in some time. You can see the relief of finally experiencing that sort of moment in the champagne scene. But the direct comparison of the drunken despair sex with prostitutes earlier and the drunken hopeful sex we see here just underscored how dark her situation has been. And then let's not forget that Shane only diagnosed her problem, she still isn't cured. She's got hope, but she is nowhere near home and dry yet. And Shane didn't seem exactly on board with her medical plans.


The character who really won that episode was Malcolm. As a recovering addict, Malcolm knows the dangers of relapse. Indeed, Malcolm is in the same situation as Alisa – he technically was ordered by Kilgrave to become an addict, wasn't he? He didn't have a choice. But he doesn't make that argument at any point. He is a recovering addict, period. Which is what makes Trish successfully getting him to take her inhaler both believable and heartbreaking. God bless Malcolm both for immediately knowing it was wrong and running away from her and for calling Trish out on her addict behavior at every turn.

Also, while we're discussing admirable things that Malcolm did this week, let's talk about Whiskers and The Chocolate Bar. First of all, gay bars on TV and in movies always have better names than gay bars in real life. Although it was a little unclear why the charge on Benowitz' credit card statement was listed as the Chocolate Bar, as the bar itself seemed to be called Whiskers and was hosting a weekly event called The Chocolate Bar, but that's neither here nor there as both names are awesome. I do have some questions about the backstory on the name 'Whiskers,' however.

More importantly, huge thanks to the show for two things. First, for Malcolm refusing to use Benowitz' sexuality as a blackmail tool. He's right, that is ugly, and I appreciated the show taking the high road there. Plus it led to the much better solution of Malcolm playing Jerry's partners off against each other. I can't wait to see where that goes.

Secondly, I can't tell you how much I appreciated that Malcolm didn't try to stop the gay bashers by pointing out he wasn't gay. It's a small point, but avoiding the implication that gay people deserve it and he doesn't was hugely appreciated. Plus saying it does not in fact stop them.

A few random thoughts:

- How do people get these basement sex/torture rooms installed? Is there a specialty contractor for that? Can you just Amazon Prime that big security door?

- What role does Detective Costa have to play yet this season? He has to be there for something, right?

- Trish is spiraling hard, but she's nowhere near rock bottom. That's going to be a painful journey to watch.

- So who exactly was shooting at them at the end? It has to be a remnant of IGH, right? Alisa was the one killing off the loose ends, wasn't she? Or was that just a bluff? I'm completely lost as to who the bad guys are now.

- As I was typing this it occurred to me that Alisa is an anagram of Alias, which is either a clever in joke or an extremely ominous warning.

- Nice shout out to The Raft. Maybe Alisa will get to be roomies with Scott Lang.

- Jeri and Inez make a fascinating couple. I don't know if I like them, but I'm rooting for them, which is an odd feeling.

- Dr. Karl's full name is Dr. Karl Malus, which makes me hope the Legends of Tomorrow show up to kill him.


Quotes:

Jessica: "All that and a bag of hitwoman."

Karl: "Who wants a conventional romance."
Jessica: "Yeah, this is so much better."

Karl: "You could talk to her. That might calm her down."
Jessica: "Just so you know, I rarely have that effect on people."

Jessica: "He is a convicted criminal."
Alisa: "No wonder I like him."

A solid installment that left me with a lot to think about and eager to see what happens next. Random guess, nothing good for whoever the sniper is.

Three out of four bedtime restraints

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I loved your segue into discussing male privilege. :) Very well done.

I'm also confused about who the bad guys are. It honestly doesn't seem to be Dr. Malus, with his ponytail and his Doors tee-shirt. (I recently saw a documentary on The Doors, and that they took their name from The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.)

I don't like Jessica's mother and I don't think there is a good ending in store for Jessica there, but I feel badly about what happened to Alisa. I also liked the acknowledgement that Jessica's personality is what it mostly was before the accident and that she wasn't completely transformed by grief.

I like Malcolm more with every episode, and I liked him a lot before. (I hope that doesn't mean he's going to die by the end of the season.) Like you, I also really liked his decision not to blackmail Jeri's partner, and that moment when he was confronting the gay bashers and didn't bother telling them he was straight.

JRS said...

If this show kills the Big Bad concept which has managed to turn so much television into so much cliche lately, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Can a superhero show survive without a Big Bad?

Patryk said...

Maybe the Big Bad is life itself just like in season 6 of Buffy.

But I also hope that the Legends will show up to destroy Malus, wanted to comment that on the previous episode but I forgot by the time I got to the end of the review. :)