Jessica Jones: AKA I Have No Spleen

"My name on your case file does not make me a victim."

Jessica Jones is forced to confront her own vulnerability.

You can imagine how well that goes.

There's something interesting going on this season with Jessica Jones and the way they're layering the plot across episodes, and I'm really grooving on it.

'The Perfect Burger' and 'You're Welcome' pulled the time honored conceit of telling more or less the same story from two different perspectives for the sake of making some interesting character contrasts and burying a couple of reveals. That's usually a good trick, structurally speaking, since not only does it allow you to do some character exploration, it also has the bonus effect of making your season feel more tightly focused. 'I Have No Spleen' pulls another variation on this trick by essentially having Jessica spend the entire episode pursuing a false assumption that is ultimately revealed to be a mare's nest before it circles back to the exact same ending point that the previous two episodes shared and giving us some new and unexpected information.

So, that's essentially an entire episode's run time devoted to a side quest that turns out to be irrelevant and mostly serves to mark time until Jessica can be in the right place under the right circumstances to finally pick up the real scent. I say that pretty baldly, which makes it sound like a criticism, but it absolutely is not. It allows a lot of space for character work without feeling like the plot is treading water, and like the technique used in the first two episodes results in the storyline maintaining a lean and focused feel, which is a really good look for the show. If there was a specific complaint I had about season two, it was that it often felt more sprawling and unfocused than it was intending to be. These first three episodes feel like a very specifically designed course correction to that.

There's a clever use of audience assumptions here, since we're all more or less on the same incorrect page. We and Jessica are assuming that she was the target of the attack, and that therefore the attacker must be someone who has a beef with Jessica. This naturally leads both Costa and Jessica to assume that it's one of her clients, since the quickest way to get irritated with Jessica is to have met her. Jessica takes it one step further and assumes that it must be the work of Andrew Brandt, her most recent investigatee. Brandt is of course the ever-so-charming gentleman who had his sister beaten up in order to acquire a statue, and the resident of the apartment that Trish and Jessica both ended up in. See both previous episodes for that complete story.

Of course, that turns out to be not at all what's going on, and we'll talk about that in just a moment, but let's dig into what this episode really had on its mind when it wasn't pretending to be hot on the trail of Jessica's attacker. This episode was about two women who see themselves almost entirely in terms of eliminating all trace of vulnerability from their lives, and what happens when they have the illusion of invulnerability stripped away.

Speaking of invulnerability for just a moment, I can't have been the only one who'd forgotten that Jessica wasn't technically invulnerable, right? When she was stabbed I was genuinely surprised and had a very clear moment of, 'Wait, she can't be hurt, can she?' We get so used to heroes with super strength and the power of jumping really high that we subconsciously just assume that freedom from being hurt is part of the standard package.  And of course, it isn't. If it was, Luke Cage wouldn't be so special. Well, sure, his abs would still be pretty special, but that's beside the point I'm making at the moment.

One of the goals for Jessica this season is an attempt to live as a hero. She's genuinely trying to be a better person and to use her powers in a heroic way, as a result of the events of last season. But in her mind, in order to be a hero you have to be invulnerable and she has just had it proved that she is not. That's an incorrect assumption on her part, of course, but it really makes sense for her as a character that she would see things that way. This was actually a really nice way for the show to pick back up the most successful aspect of season one, the way it addressed the sexual assault survivor metaphor. In Jessica's situation, with what Jessica has been through, nothing can be as important to her as her sense of self protection. No burger is perfect enough to protect Erik Gelden if he was in any way responsible for taking that away from her.

Jessica's plan for regaining the sense of control that she needs just to get through her day to day life is to solve the mystery of her attack on her own and not let the police handle it, which is entirely on brand for her. It's touching that Costa kind of gets that and lets her do it. Her plan gets a bit of a setback when she finds out she's been on entirely the wrong track, however, and it's here where the episode shows what I was talking about earlier in regard to a 'treading water' plot not being without value. This is the story of Jessica Jones needing a win in order to regain her sense of security, and not getting it, and that's a story worth telling. Particularly as the thing that ultimately allows her to stay in the hospital and thereby metaphorically accept temporary vulnerability, is the text of help from Jeri Hogarth.

Jeri is Jessica's mirror at this point. She's starting to be unable to ignore the impending acceleration of her ALS symptoms and is desperate to find ways to regain the sense that she's in control of her own life. Unfortunately, for Jeri that seems to involve deliberately seducing her ex-lover in an attempt to break up that ex-lover's current happy marriage, which is... I mean, where do you even begin to unpack that? The look of disappointment on Jeri's face when she finds out that Kith and Peter have an open marriage, and therefore her successful seduction of Kith was entirely meaningless, is heartbreaking and complicated. And look at that, it occurs at exactly the same point in the plot as Jessica's lowest moment in the hospital.



What makes this all fascinating is the scene which is really the emotional core of the entire episode. Jeri comes to Jessica's office, and among other things they discuss one another's current weaknesses. What's fascinating is the fact that they're both constantly attempting to turn the conversation away from their own problem and instead express sympathy and support for the other's. Neither of them can bear to be the object of concern for even a moment, despite the fact that they both quite clearly do care about one another's troubles and the expressions of sympathy they're making are 100% genuine. They're just also a way to avoid receiving sympathy themselves. That's just a great scene.

As for the side characters, they carry on much the same. Malcolm continues his journey to the heart of 'pliable ethics.' Trish continues to embrace the life of a superhero with all the verve of a college freshman who just discovered environmentalism, and is just as intolerable while doing it, although it was hard not to sympathize with her when her co-host told her she was born to sell crappy clothes on shopping TV. Trish and Jessica's relationship has always been my favorite thing about this show, and I have such grave concerns about where this final season is going to leave them.

And while I'm sharing concerns and hopes, could Malcolm's new girlfriend Zaya maybe not turn out to be evil? Please? Because I'm getting a serious 'I'm going to turn out to be evil' vibe from her. Similarly, I'm really hoping that Erik the burger guy doesn't turn out to be evil, although I find him kind of attractive and everything in my personal dating history guarantees that that means he's evil.

Of course, the real winner of this episode is clearly Doctor 'I Love to Make Spleen Puns.' Totally loved that guy.



Bits and Pieces:

-- I really enjoyed the detail that the hospital totally understands about superhumans and factors that into patient care. That was just a really nice bit of world building.

-- Does Jessica's superpower set involve having a better than average immune response? Because what the show said was accurate; the duties of the spleen are also taken on by the liver and, to a lesser extent, the lymph nodes, but maybe Jessica doesn't want to put too much reliance on her liver handling the job. I'm just saying.

-- Did Jeri have any reason other than trying to break up Kith's marriage to have Malcolm spy on Peter? I think I might have missed something significant regarding that.

-- Minor quibble, but the hospital would have discussed her spleen situation with her before getting Jessica a medic alert bracelet. For one thing, insurance tends to not cover them, and for another they take a bit to get made. There's no way that she would have found out she'd lost her spleen that way. I get that it's 'show don't tell' narrative shorthand, but I felt obligated to put the real information out there.

-- While we're talking sound medical advice from your considerate television review website, blood in your urine (for males) is absolutely typical after blunt force trauma to the torso, and typically will be released before the flow of urine, not after. It's most often nothing to be concerned about, but check with your doctor if it persists or worsens. DouxReviews is not a medical practitioner, and should not be viewed as a source of diagnostic feedback.

-- I was just thinking that Jessica shouldn't be able to walk around as casually as she was doing when she collapsed and passed out. Thank you, show.

-- I suppose that, technically, what happened to Wendy in season one might be described as a tragic accident. But that feels like underselling it.

-- Reading between the lines, Jeri cheated on Kith with Wendy and then left Kith for her.

-- My favorite moment of kindness that I've seen on television for ages: Malcolm, knowing that Jessica would resent any help he gave her as pity, prepared a bill for his time in advance so that she had an out to protect her dignity. That actually made me go 'Awwww' out loud.

-- I adore Gillian, Jessica's new assistant, and have a million questions about her backstory.


Quotes:

Doctor: "That's what I'm trying to ex-spleen to you."
It's hard not to love the doctor.

Jessica: "Where would a liter of bourbon a day fall on the reckless scale?"

Jeri: "The Kale Caesar is quite filling."
Kith: "Talk about faint praise."

Kith: "See? All of the wine."

Jessica: "A hero is strong. A hero is invulnerable. A hero has a goddamn spleen."

Jessica: "You've been a hero for five minutes. I've been one half my life."
Trish: "You've been super, Jess. There's a difference."

Gillian: "It's 12:29. I'm taking lunch. And there's a client waiting in the office. Should I tell them you've recently been the victim of a violent crime and are currently indisposed?"

A really focused and well structured entry into a season that I feel is only just getting started. I mean that in the best possible way. I think the word I'm looking for here is 'disciplined.'

Eight out of ten cases of unabashed verve.

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.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

What a terrific review, Mikey. I was having similar thoughts about parallel difficulty in experiencing vulnerability, and that this episode was finally bringing me into this season's story. And what an amazing PI agency Jessica, Trish and Malcolm together could make.

I totally loved the doctor's spleen puns, too. :)