Hey, what do you know? Hot on the heels of “AKA It’s Called Whiskey,” the fourth installment of Jessica Jones, “AKA 99 Friends,” bears out some of the exact concerns outlined by Jessica and Luke in their cathartic bonding: Being a hero puts a target on your back. In Jessica’s case, that means being held responsible for tragedies she had zero involvement in, but “the incident” is the Marvel universe’s 9/11. Never forget the day that aliens rained down from the sky and a bevy of splendidly costumed heroes leapt into action to stop them. You’d think people like Audrey Eastman would be grateful that “gifted” folks exist at all. Maybe her mother wound up being collateral damage in New York, but without the Avengers, she’d have died anyway.
Which is sort of a cold way of looking at Audrey’s pain, but as Jessica points out in one of the most pronounced display of her powers yet, everybody’s lost someone. Just look at Luke, who, as we learned in “AKA It’s Called Whiskey,” is a widower courtesy of a Jessica Jones death punch delivered by way of Kilgraves’ mind control. Is Jessica channeling her guilt at that revelation when she blows up at Audrey in the finale here? Probably not; Audrey lies to her throughout “AKA 99 Friends,” and if the deception wasn’t enough, she puts a bullet in Jessica’s arm. She’s right to be pissed at her would-be client. But if Jessica Jones is letting the knowledge of Jessica’s pseudo-culpability in the death of Mrs. Cage lie, it’s for good reason. She’s putting it off.
Unsurprisingly, that means there’s a decided lack of Luke in “AKA 99 Friends,” and that’s okay. Jessica has plenty of her own stuff to deal with at the moment, in light of her recent find. The episode opens with angles and close-ups as Jessica rolls around in her mind the realization that Kilgrave has been “following” her; literally any single person she encounters on the street could be out to get her, or at least out to document her every movement (which is both more troubling and ninety nine times skeevier). That, of course, plays into the ways Jessica Jones examines matters of personal trust and women’s safety. Kilgrave is stalking her, always, no matter where she goes, or what she does. Pretty hard to feel secure when there’s a nattily attired misogynist out there who can make anyone do his bidding with just a sentence.
The identity of Jessica’s pursuant just drives that point home. It’s a great twist, though it’s not really a twist at all: Just a surprise, maybe, but the kind of surprise that lands with all the grace of a gut punch. Malcolm has been treated as so much window dressing. At best, he has served as an unlikely conduit for Jessica’s latent compassion. But that’s why he’s the perfect spy for Kilgrave, both as a function of plot and as a means of taking Jessica Jones’ audience off-guard. When Krysten Ritter sheds a single tear in the final image of “AKA 99 Friends,” it might as well be a deluge: Jessica isn’t the emotional, vulnerable type, so a single tear is about as much as we can expect from her. It’s proof, though, that while she’s superhuman, the abiding empathy she tries so hard to mask truly is her Achilles’ heel after all. (Which means we owe her an apology in regards to our “AKA Crush Syndrome” recap. Sorry Jessica! Please don’t death punch us.)
Duality is a big deal in Jessica Jones, a motif that’s been building since “AKA Ladies Night,” and it all stems from Kilgrave, which in turn feeds into the theme of rape and patriarchy as issues that affect everybody regardless of gender. On the male side of that coin, we have Malcolm, and now we have Will Simpson, struggling through his guilt over what he did to Trish, while under Kilgrave’s influence. There’s a stirring and complex abuse metaphor at work as Will heads to her fortified apartment to make amends; it’s possible that some viewers will pick up on that and reject the very notion of them becoming closer after he very nearly killed her just one episode ago. But to do so would be to betray the nuances that make Jessica Jones such a great show.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.